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Seeking solace in a classic setting
By Tan Weiyun

ZUI Bai Pond Garden, with its centuries-old trees, lush greenery, rippling waters and stately pavilions, is one of Shanghai's oldest and most beautiful examples of a classic Chinese garden.

The garden in the south of Songjiang District has a history dating back more than 900 years. It is considered one of Shanghai's five most celebrated gardens.

Zui Bai Pond Garden covers five hectares. Its landscape architecture draws from the classical style of halls, waterside pavilions, kiosks, verandas and rockeries. Long corridors lead visitors to all corners of the garden, offering snapshot views on sunny days and sheltering spots during rain.

The garden boasts 300-year-old ginkgo and camphor trees and many ancient varieties of peonies.

It began as part of the private residence of Zhu Zhichun, a scholar from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). During the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the next owner of the property, painter and calligrapher Dong Qichang, added two halls to the mansion.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the villa and grounds passed to another painter, Gu Dashen, who expanded and designed the garden that survives today, including the 700-meter-long lotus pond, shaped by irregular rocks as its banks. Bamboos and plum blossoms were planted alongside.

A classical Chinese garden was meant to be gathering place for scholars and artists to find solace and inspiration.

Gu named this spot Zui Bai Pond Garden in honor of Li Bai, one of China's greatest poets. The name was meant to suggest that if Li ever had visited the garden, he would linger there, with no thought of wanting to leave.

Intricate carvings

Today, there is still much to linger over. Visitors are greeted by the original front door, estimated to be 300 years old and inscribed with scenes of ancient Chinese life.

Diaohua Hall, with its beautifully carved doors and window frames, owes its architectural wonders to Zhang Zunan from the Ming Dynasty. The carving contains a whole set of figures from the "Romance of Three Kingdoms," one of the four famous ancient Chinese classics.

Xuehai Hall, built in the late Qing Dynasty, is famous as the site where Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China, made an important speech in 1912. The front of the hall is guarded by a pair of imposing stone lions that originally guarded the tomb of the first wife of Xu Jie, a cabinet minister during the Ming Dynasty.

Zui Bai Pond sits at the heart of the garden. The inscription of the pond's name was written by Chen Shifa, a modern painter and native of Songjiang.

In summer, the pond is smothered by luxurious green lotus leaves that give birth to pink and yellow blossoms.

Art shows of Chinese ink paintings and calligraphies are held in the garden every month or two. Every May and October, the garden hosts azalea and chrysanthemum flower shows.

In the southeast of the garden are 30 stone tablets depicting 91 famous sons of Songjiang. The stone work was created by sculptor Xu Zhang during the Qing Dynasty.

Address: 64 Renmin Rd S.

Admission: 12 yuan (US$2). Visitors 70 years and older are admitted for free.

How to get there:

Take Metro Line 9 and disembark at the Songjiang University Town Station. Take Bus Line 9 or 13 to the garden. By the end of next June, the Metro line will extend directly to the garden.

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