The Pity of It All, Part 4

And now, finally, the final chapter in what was actually just a 2 hour tour!

This is the stone at the entrance to Grey Gardens or the Secluded Library. This garden dates from the 16th century when a literary scholar built the garden to live here and store and categorize thousands of ancient books.

The family Guo (one of the last members, standing on the right above, welcomed us) from Fujing Province, a shipping family, bought the garden in the early 19th century. Of the original 2700 sq meter, 70 room garden, only 20-30% of the original remains, and that as you will see, is a sorry sight.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but what the Chinese call gardens, were actually people’s homes. They typically didn’t look like what we would think of as a home–a big building with many rooms, but rather many rooms on a lot of acreage, some connected around courtyards, some carefully placed amongst garden elements and serving a specific purpose.

Right away everything looks pretty overgrown and we are told that during the Cultural Revolution all the ornate brick paths were covered over with concrete.

The first building we came to is the sedan chair house where the sedan chairs would have parked to wait while their charges were visiting the residents of the garden.

This is the building where visitors would have been greeted after arriving. It’s also where we were first presented with the devastation that had been ravaged upon this garden as a consequence of the Cultural Revolution.

The Guo daughter’s father was a famous architect specializing in ancient Chinese architecture. That got the whole family a quick trip to the countryside. As was typical, the Red Guard saw the beauty of the garden and tore down all the bourgeoise carvings and architectural details from the garden. They’re plan was to burn it all.

The Guo father told them it would be better to kill him if they burned everything and that was enough to stop them. The windows and doors, etc may not have been burned, but they are no longer hanging either. They are now in piles, scattered throughout the garden

It must have been beautiful.

Do you notice anything different about the entrance door to this garden from other doors we’ve seen? I’ll give you a second……Ok, this one is made of stone, because it’s fireproof. What did this garden have a lot of? Books!

The back of the gate inside the first courtyard. The fancier the carving, the richer you are. No surprise, this one is pretty fancy.

This is a story of a fairy tale. Why wasn’t this destroyed? Who knows.

The interior of the first garden These are the windows that were installed during the Cultural Revolution to cover up the fretwork to make the garden into a toy and clothing factory.

This panel shows the gods of happiness, longevity and career success–the Chinese’ 3 favorite gods.

Some more of the decorative woodworking.

This is the only room on this huge estate that is habitable and so this is where the daughter lives. Her son is mentally ill, therefore she must stay in China, although the rest of the extended family has emigrated elsewhere.

The other side of the daughter’s room.

We leave the daughter’s room and right away things go downhill fast.

I liked this passageway to the next garden, which surprisingly, survived unscathed.

Once again, this garden has been rather ruined by the ugly structures put up during the Cultural Revolution.

The Daughter remembers playing around this arched doorway when she was a child.

A brief description about the next picture from the Cultural China website:

Gold bricks produced by the imperial kiln in Suzhou in eastern Jiangsu Province are not actually made of gold. The smooth, shiny bricks are big and square. They got their name from their quality, the tedious manufacturing process and the high cost involved. When the brick is struck, it echoes with the sound of gold and the mixture used in the earthen bricks is so enduring that the bricks can be as hard as metal. The bricks can still be seen today in the Taihe Hall, which is the most important building in the Forbidden City.

The famous “Golden Brick”. The Red Guards tried mightily to break it to get to the gold they were sure was inside, but as you can see, superior craftsmanship defeated their greed.

Carved molding juxtaposed next to an old torn safety poster from the toy factory.

An old Russian TV, Model Pekopa B 312

Items left behind

An original Chinese television.

The character “fu” in ancient characters. It either stands for happiness or good fortune. On the bottom left is the symbol for food and on the bottom right for water. The top has the “eyebrows” over round eyes.

In ancient times this wall, built to protect the garden, was the tallest wall in Shanghai.

More doors ripped from their frames.

Another golden brick. It was in this room and upon this brick that the daughter practiced her calligraphy as a child. For some odd reason, this room wasn’t destroyed.

Different view of one of the courtyards

Needless to say, we didn’t visit any of the second floors.

Some more abandoned rooms….

This narrow area was called “one line of the sky” because it was like being in a well. We are looking up at the mother’s house where she lived when she was first married. She is now 97 and has just moved to Canada.

Some things had been left here a very long time.

A panoramic of the entrance garden as we were leaving it.

Another way guests would come to the garden was by water. Originally a creek ran along this pavilion and guests would dock their boats here.

Some detail on the pavilion.

This is the kitchen area of the garden, quite overgrown now.

The gate into the actual kitchen. Made of metal to protect the books from fire.

The passageway to the “facilities”

This is where the “facilities” once were. No idea what the daughter does for that issue now. My guess is she uses the public facilities.

This visit has reminded me of my visit to Ellis Island before it was restored. Ellis Island had more of a feel that everyone had just walked out the door and turned the key, however, than this place. Clearly, most of the factory equipment has been carted off since the property was returned to the family.

Perhaps you’re wondering why the Family Guo still has the property? Unlike a lot of rich landowners before the Cultural Revolution, they did not flee to Taiwan. After the C.R. was over and people came back from the countryside, it was possible to get your property back, if you hadn’t left the country. (And probably knowing the right people didn’t hurt either.)

As is true with most large estates, the Daughter doesn’t have the money to restore it. Unfortunately, the government has no interest in renovating either or in allowing other companies or organizations to come in and do the job either. According to the daughter the government has resisted all her efforts at restoration. Quite odd, since they have been so proactive in building and restoring other parts of the city. Perhaps, it’s because it’s restoration, not new construction.

Thanks for coming!

Who would guess that there was anything extraordinary behind that plain red wall?

More scenes from the street…

Where socks go.

Not quite so squeaky clean on this side of town, as on my side.

This lady is still sitting in her chair, but she’s having a snack now!

How’s your progress on those fava beans? Pretty good it looks like.

And so our tour is complete. The lady above has shelled a pile of fava beans and we’ve seen some parts of Shanghai that most foreigners never set foot in. Hope you enjoyed the trip!

Elevator flowers


About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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One Response to The Pity of It All, Part 4

  1. Linda Mahoney says:

    Marissa – I copied and pasted the url into my web browser and was able to see all of the pictures. They were so much better. Thanks again for sharing all of this with us!

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