Lu Xun: the Father of Modern Chinese Literature
If Shaoxing can be described as a book floating on water, then the buildings along the "Lu Xun street" would undoubtedly be the quintessence of said tome.
Without question, Lu Xun is significant as the father of modern Chinese literature. Firmly rooted in the place and era that he lived in, many of his short stories (and anthologies) such as "The Story of Ah Q", "A Shout", "Medicine" etc are down-to-earth, yet stirring and strongly satirical of the society and era which he lived in. These have become classics of modern Chinese literature, which bring new insights no matter how many times they are re-read. From my limited knowledge of literature, I suppose you could compare these to the works of James Joyce and Pai Hsien-Yung (Bai Xianyong), except that Lu Xun's works are far more incisive and keen.
Lu Xun is only one of his hundreds of pen names, his real name being Zhou Shuren. Both of his younger brothers (Zhou Zuoren and Zhou Jianren) were also quite renowned for their literary prowess, though by far not as distinguished as he was. His literary works were of a height far above his 1.6m physical stature. Lu Xun was praised by Mao Zedong as a litterateur, thinker and revolutionary of the classless masses of China.
Born in 1881, his life took a turn when he reached the age of 13. His grandfather, originally a government official, was thrown into jail. His father fell ill and died, after which the family's wealth and position waned. The young Lu Xun acutely felt the drastic change of society's attitude towards him and his family. This left a lasting impact upon his young soul and he felt saddened that the Chinese people of those times were seriously lacking in genuine sympathy and love; instead they were snobbish and harshly realistic.
The east end of the pedestrian street on which your pilgrimage to this mighty man starts, is landmarked by a long white wall with black outlines of the man himself (in his signature pose, puffing away on a cigarette), a street view of old Shaoxing, and English and Chinese characters saying "Lu Xun Native Place". Many sightseers and tour groups stop here for an obligatory photo -- it's close to impossible to get a full-view photo without anyone else in the photo, so don't bother waiting!
On this one street are a number of places that have been made famous by his works or him as a person, as well as a museum/memorial hall that showcases various facets of his life and literary development. Explore his family's ancestral residence, Sanwei Study (San1 Wei4 Shu1 Wu1, where Lu Xun studied as a child), Lu Xun's own residence and the "Garden of a Hundred Plants" (Bai3 Cao3 Yuan2). Apart from being associated with the great man himself, these residences are also a good way to see what living conditions and architecture were like during the turn of the century.
Let's start with the museum/memorial hall. The museum has 2 floors, and also some tasteful exhibits/landscaping outdoors. On the 1st floor, there're informative displays about the life and literary creations of Lu Xun, such as photos of his family, him with his schoolmates, a list of his pen names, original manuscripts etc. Be warned that there're no English captions here, so if you don't understand Chinese, you'll have to guess, or hope that you have a friend or travel companion who'll be happy to translate for you. The 2nd floor is a continuation of the same content of the 1st floor; at the end, there's a rather Phantom-of-the-Opera-like plaster-of-paris mask made of Lu Xun's face after his death. Extremely interesting to say the least, if not a little morbid. Also there're books on display showing the different languages that his works have been translated into. Amongst them were common languages such as English (duh!), Russian, German, French and Korean; to very unexpected languages such as Bangladeshi, Albanian, Uyghur, Kazakh, Vietnamese, and even Braille. I suppose it just goes to show how widely popular his works are around the world.
A little warning about the museum: I think there was airconditioning installed, but for some reason when I last visited in mid-March, it wasn't turned on! Perhaps the administration thought the weather was at a comfortable temperature so they wanted to save on the electricity bill. Unfortunately this meant that the interior of the museum was uncomfortably stuffy and perhaps a little warm for some of my friends. Hopefully they do turn on the airconditioning in summer and winter. In any case, I'd advise sightseers visiting this spot to dress in layers if possible.
The ancestral residence is IMHO perhaps the least interesting of the lot, in comparison. Rooms used for various purposes are well-signposted in both English and Chinese characters, so you can read for yourself. I found the kitchen area rather extensive. :P
Located opposite the museum/memorial hall, Sanwei Study is where the young Zhou Shuren studied. This was a well-known private school in the late Qing dynasty. "Sanwei" actually means "3 flavours"; it is said that reading scriptures was akin to eating rice, reading about history was like eating meat and fish, and reading about schools of thought was like the flavouring for the food. The schoolroom was originally teacher Shou Jingwu's own study. Famed as "the most upright, honourable and erudite man" in Shaoxing, his meticulous teachings and moral guidance left a lasting impression on the young Lu Xun.
What most people come to see is Lu Xun's table, whereupon he had inscribed (the young vandal, haha!) the Chinese character zao3 (early) as a constant reminder to himself that he must not be late for school -- an aftereffect of being lectured once by his teacher for being late. Elsewhere in the study's grounds are a stone and a dish of water. This was the poor student's method of practising calligraphy, instead of wasting paper and ink.
Moving on to Lu Xun's own residence, personally I found his bedroom to be of the most interest, perhaps I've seen too many of such residences in this area to be wowed by the usual Chinese furniture and architecture! Lu Xun lived here for about 1.5 years during 1910--1912 when he was teaching in Shaoxing. This was also where he wrote his 1st novel in classical Chinese, named "Reminiscence".
Bai3 Cao3 Yuan2 at the back of Lu Xun's house was only a vegetable patch full of wild grasses when he was a young boy. Nevertheless, this didn't prevent him and his young friends from finding their own happiness within. Further inside I found a traditional opera stage built over water (quite pretty), and some tacky wax statues depicting wedding and other traditional rituals.
At either end of the pedestrian street (and also elsewhere, goodness knows which one is the real one) are the Xianheng Restaurants selling the snacks that're oft-mentioned in his works: for example aniseed-flavoured beans (hui2 xiang1 dou4) that were mentioned in the short story "Kong Yi Ji". The black statues of the slim, pig-tailed old man outside is the legendary Kong Yi Ji. In Lu Xun's time, Xianheng Restaurant was typical Shaoxing tavern. The name comes from The Book of Changes (Yi4 Jing1), with the word "xian2" meaning all and the word "heng1" meaning prosperous -- an auspicious name for such an establishment. In these restaurants as well as other small roadside stalls along the pedestrian street, you can taste these snacks, along with stinky tofu (a local specialty) and Shaoxing yellow wine. A word of warning though, the Shaoxing yellow wine sold here is cheap but not really tasty (it's more of an acquired taste, plus the stuff sold here won't really be of good quality) -- pay more and get a better experience elsewhere! If you really must, get a small portion and share between a few people. Same goes for those snacks which're more expensive here. Also, at some of the places we noticed flies everywhere, which wasn't hygienic.
Since my 1st visit a few years ago (can't remember the exact year, probably in 2004 or 2005) the admission fee gradually rose from about 60 RMB to 100 RMB. However admission is now free (since June 2008), so do go and pay tribute to this great author who wished to cure the then "Ill Man of the East" of its maladies, with his powerful words.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
- Arts and Culture
Shaoxing Museum has a wonderful display of the city's history and other stuff, with English captions! Admission is now free, which's yet another plus.
Photographing the artifacts on display isn't allowed, but they don't really mind if you photograph yourselves with the plaster sculptures/models.
The security guard we met was a really great tour guide, had lots of interesting stuff to say about the displays. We were impressed with the fact that even the neatly-dressed guy who looked like he's just doing odd jobs around the place could contribute some interesting info as well whenever he walked by.
Guidebooks are underrating this place, I'd say!
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Cangqiao Old Street
Walking north from the northeast corner of Shaoxing city square will lead you to Cangqiao old street, where you can find shops selling local craft and foodstuffs, as well as small restaurants. This is a good place to pick up some souvenirs to bring home.
- Budget Travel
Along with Hangzhou's West Lake and Jiaxing's South Lake, East Lake is known as one of the 3 famed lakes of Zhejiang province. On the east outskirts of downtown Shaoxing, East Lake actually used to be a mountain of stone, but which had been quarried since the Han dynasty for building purposes.
Now fantastically "holey", the rocky outcrop and the still lake waters form a marvelous landscape. Find your way up steep stairs to the top of the mountain, where you can have a bird's-eye view of the lake and on a good clear day, part of downtown Shaoxing as well.
IMHO East Lake is perhaps the best place to enjoy a wupeng boat ride. Wupeng boats were an integral part of traditional Shaoxing life. "Wu1" means black and "peng2" means canopy -- a simple but accurate description of these vessels that ply on the canals around Shaoxing. Boatmen, now usually elderly, grizzled men, sit at the back of the boat and usually manoeuvre the boat's single oar with their feet, rather than their hands! About 4 metres long and 1 metre wide, each boat can comfortably hold 3 people, and perhaps an extra baby. If you're far bigger than the typical Asian then it might be best to limit yourselves to 2 passengers per boat though! :) I think it cost about 60 RMB for a one-way trip (around 15-20 mins) from near the entrance to all the way inside -- walk back to the entrance and enjoy a different perspective of the landscape.
Admission to East Lake is 40 RMB, which doesn't include the wupeng boat ride inside.
- Sailing and Boating
- Hiking and Walking
Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Stream...
Wupeng boats were an integral part of traditional Shaoxing life. "Wu1" means black and "peng2" means canopy -- a simple but accurate description of these vessels that ply on the canals around Shaoxing. About 4 metres long and 1 metre wide, each boat can comfortably hold 3 people, and perhaps an extra baby. If you're far bigger than the typical Asian then it might be best to limit yourselves to 2 passengers per boat though! :)
Nowadays, with the rapid development and efficiency of modern land transport, these boats are no longer a primary means of transport around town. Rather, they've become a unique traditional experience for sightseers to enjoy.
Boatmen, now usually elderly, grizzled men, sit at the back of the boat and usually manoeuvre the boat's single oar with their feet, rather than their hands! In colder seasons, they wear a traditional black felt hat which used to be a signature unique to Shaoxing. A few years back, my American girl friend and I bought one of those hats and wore them around town just for laughs. We attracted a lot of curious stares as we were apparently the only female, non-elderly persons wearing it! :P
Personally I'd say that the best place to enjoy a wupeng boat ride would be at East Lake. I think it cost about 60 RMB for a one-way trip from near the entrance to all the way inside -- walk back to the entrance and enjoy a different perspective of the landscape. Other places around town also offer generally shorter rides (no idea about the price though), such as at Lu Xun's residence and the city square.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Sailing and Boating
During the Spring and Autumn period, the production of yellow wine was already commonplace in Shaoxing. As the birthplace of yellow wine, it was fitting that the China Yellow Wine Museum find its home in Shaoxing. Formerly the site of the Gu Yue Long Shan wine factory, this is now a pretty comprehensive place to learn more about yellow wine. The museum isn't usually open to the public, but I managed to wangle a special visit for our group... with a guide and all for free, too! :D
Outside the museum, there're models of ancient bronze wine vessels. The museum starts with murals which depict various legends and stories associated with yellow wine. Inside, exhibits (unfortunately captions are in Chinese only) illustrate the history, production process, folk customs etc related to Chinese yellow wine.
The last stop on the guided tour was at a wine dispenser machine where you can taste 4 different kinds of yellow wine, for 1 RMB per each small cup. When you pop in the coin, a kewl 3D-ish video (with sound!) will appear on the screen in front, of a pretty girl clad in the traditional cheongsam pouring you the yellow wine, with actual pouring-out from the dispenser to match! I can't remember what all the 4 types were, but 2 of them were "Fragrant Snow" (Xiang1 Xue3) and "Extra Rice" (Jia1 Fan4).
The main ingredients for the making of Shaoxing yellow wine are white glutinous rice, yellow-husked wheat and water from the Jian Lake. These days, Shaoxing yellow wine is more commonly used for cooking (as a flavouring) rather than drinking -- Shaoxing chicken is one of the most classic dishes that come to mind.
There's also a small shop where you can buy a great variety of yellow wine, as well as wine vessels of different kinds. Great keepsake if you don't have a problem with taking them back home.
- Food and Dining
- Wine Tasting
- Museum Visits
The Bane of Floods
This is the tomb of the legendary Yu the Great, who was instrumental in stopping countless floods in ancient China. He was also the founder of the earliest dynasty in Chinese history, the Xia dynasty. Murals on the walls of the temple halls illustrate the legends associated with him.
A Chinese saying commends him on his diligence and perseverance in his work. He passed by his home numerous times (the saying uses "3", which's figurative) over the years but never once stopped to visit. I guess I would say he's a good workholic, but not a good family man!
Unfortunately, somehow the actual place paled in comparison to what I would've expected after hearing about his exploits. It's probably worth visiting if you have more than 2 days in Shaoxing, but otherwise it's not worth the longish trek out here. Also, I found the admission fee of 50 RMB a tad high.
Nevertheless, there're still a number of items worthy of mention in the grounds. A Ming-dynasty copy carving of Goulou Stele (originally atop Goulou Peak in Hunan province) tells of the exploits of Yu the Great and his flood-taming efforts, in a paltry 77 characters. The pictograph script is ancient and quite different from the Chinese characters of today.
A rather tall (just over 2 metres in height), odd-looking stone, called Bianshi, is said to have been the stone used for his burial. With words carved on it since the Han dynasty (but now mostly illegible due to weathering and erosion over time), this is the oldest relic here.
A large, "fake old" plaza near the entrance of the grounds is most probably used in the memorial rituals which take place every Qingming (Tomb-Sweeping) Festival which usually falls in April. A kite-flying festival is held on 22/3 to 15/4.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Calligraphy and Orchids
During the 3 Kingdoms era, Shaoxing was the capital of the Kingdom of Yue. One of its rulers, King Gou Jian, first planted orchids here, giving this place its name.
Located some distance southwest from downtown Shaoxing, Orchid Pavilion (Lan2 Ting2) is best-known to Chinese people for the great calligrapher Wang Xizhi. His main claim to fame is the Orchid Pavilion Anthology (of poems), called Lan2 Ting2 Xu3 in Chinese. The story behind it goes that Wang Xizhi invited a total of 41 friends, all contemporary literati, to wine and dine here. Cups of wine were floated down a stream and whoever had a cup stop in front of him had to compose a poem on-the-spot, or drink up. A total of 37 poems were produced that day; Wang Xizhi collected and penned a preface for them. Unfortunately the original has been lost to the world since a Tang dynasty emperor liked it so much that he took it along to his grave.
Chinese calligraphy, written with a Chinese writing brush, is a traditional art form that pays attention to control as well as beauty. Every spring, starting on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month, a month-long Orchid Pavilion Calligraphy Festival is held here in memory of Wang Xizhi; calligraphers from far and wide come together to share their expertise and love of calligraphy. During April and May, there's also an Orchid Festival as the orchid is the city flower of Shaoxing.
Admission should be 40 RMB.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
This small garden, nestled in the alleys near Lu Xun's residence, owes its fame to a Romeo-and-Juliet-ish love story between poet Lu You (of the southern Song dynasty) and his cousin Tang Wan. Due to the objections of Tang Wan's family, they were forced to marry other suitors of their families' choice. 7 years after their parting, they met again in the garden. Broken-hearted, Lu You translated his feelings a poignant poem on the garden's walls, named The Hairpinned Phoenix. After reaching home, Tang Wan responded with a similarly sorrowful poem of her own, and died of depression not long after. In the remaining years of his life, Lu You wrote many poems to express his feelings about his ill-fated cousin Tang Wan and their love that was not to be. As prolific a poet as Lu You was, it was unusual for him to write so many poems at a single place, except in this garden.
This garden is not just simply a classical Chinese garden, but also more of a monument and tribute to their undying love.
Admission is 40 RMB.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
This is a nice place to see some rockformations and some nice chinese bridges. It is a rather small park, but well worth it.
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