One of the things that I did find great joy in my recent Shanghai Adventure was the discovery of some rather delightful green spaces, spaces that are perhaps not what one expects to find in the midst of the urban sprawl of one of the world’s most highly populated cities.
Of the Shanghai’s wonderful parks and gardens, Yu Yuan (豫园) or Yu Garden, is its best known, and a well visited tourist spot. A classical Suzhou style garden, Yu Yuan’s origins go back to the reign of the Ming Emperor Jiajing in the late 16th century.
The garden does count as one of Shanghai’s main attractions, and while it does tend to be overrun by hordes of tourists and as a result lack that serenity (its name does mean “peace and comfort”) it was designed to provide as the private garden of Pan Yunduan, is still well worth the 40 yuan it costs to enter its 2 hectare landscaped grounds.
The grounds, encircled by a dragon on top of its perimeter wall, is a joy to wander through and in it one will find several fine examples of Chinese architecture that are mixed in with bridges that take the visitor over carp filled pools and labyrinths of walkways leading one to the garden’s many archways, rockeries and pavilions. A visit to Yu Yuan, would of course be incomplete without first negotiating the right angles of the nine-cornered bridge for that pause over tea at the Huxinting.
While calm may not be what one does now find within the grounds of Yu Yuan, it is a quality that there is no shortage of in two parks that I did get to see some distance from the hurly burly of the old city in Xujiahui on the western fringe of Shanghai’s former French Concession.
The first, the sprawling green oasis that is Xujiahui Park, is a more recent addition to Shanghai’s cityscape. The 8.6 hectare park, was apparently developed on a former industrial site that was occupied in part by the Great China Rubber Factory (大中华橡胶厂). A chimney seen rising over the tree-tops, a remnant of the factory, is now all that is left to remind Shanghai of the factory.
The park, now a popular place amongst the city folk looking for a respite from the insanity that city life does bring, is also where a gorgeous red brick villa – built to house the offices and recording studios of the Pathé Orient (a record company which was to be absorbed by EMI) is to be found. The Dutch style villa, which now houses a restaurant, was where the song that was to become the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China, March of the Volunteers, had first been recorded.
A stone’s throw from the luscious greens of Xujiahui Park, is another pretty pocket of greenery, just south-west of Xujiahui Cathedral. The green space, Guangqi Park, is where a path that one enters through an ornamental archway, leads to the tomb of Xu Guangqi, a Ming Dynasty official who is responsible for the Xu in the name Xujiahui – where there once had been a confluence of rivers over which some of the district’s boulevards now run over.
Xu Giangqi, also a learned scholar and an early Chinese convert to the Roman Catholic faith, collaborated and worked with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci whose influence was responsible for Xu’s conversion. It is not just in the tomb that the illustrious Xu is remembered, but also in a little memorial hall on the edge of the park, the Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall.
The memorial hall, in which one is immediately overcome by the sense of calm provided in the grounds of a traditional courtyard house, is where Xu’s tremendous achievements through his life and career are celebrated. The house in which it finds itself in, is also one to celebrate. The origins of what was previously the South (Nan) Chun Hua house also lies in the Ming Dynasty. Re-located from another location to the park, the house is a magnificent example of Chinese architecture and typical of the residential architecture of the period.
Guangqi Park as well as Xujiahui Park, given their proximity to the French Concession, is perhaps also a good starting point for a walking, or better still, a bicycle tour of what is another wonderfully green and architecturally rich part of Shanghai in the former French Concession. The area is well served by the Shanghai Metro, with the closest stop being Xujiahui. Yu Yuan, is also served by the Metro, with Yu Yuan Garden being the closest stop.
My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page (current deals include a pay one-way deal and a two-nights free accommodation deal).
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