I visited the Yu Garden for the first time in 2009. That was also the first time that I went to China and to Shanghai. By the time I visited the garden for the second time in 2016, I had nearly almost completely forgotten how beautiful it was. I was very happy to go back, revive my memories and enjoy in its splendour once again.
Pan Yunduan – the Ming dynasty government officer – started the construction of the garden in 1559 and completed it in 1577. Yu in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying. Pan built this garden for his parents, to enjoy tranquil and happy times in their old age.
Designed in the famous Suzhou style, the garden was the largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai.
It went through many changes in 400 years of its existence. With the decline of the Pan’s family during the late Ming Dynasty, the garden became very dilapidated.
Some rich merchants bought it in 1760 and spent more than 20 years reconstructing the buildings. The garden was severely damaged during the First Opium War of the 19th century.
During the Taiping Rebellion, the Small Swords Society had its headquarters in one of the halls within the garden. By the time the Qing Dynasty troops recovered the garden, the rebels had nearly destroyed all original structures.
The Japanese inflicted further damage to the garden in 1942.
The garden that we can see now is a result of the five-year restoration project that started in 1956. The garden was finally open to the public in September 1961 and declared the national monument in 1982.
Yu Garden is not very big, especially if compared with very famous Chinese gardens in Suzhou. Regardless, it contains a lot of exquisite structures, pavilions and other details. One of them is the magnificent Dragon Wall, with skilfully crafted dragons that keep an eye on the garden as its permanent guardians.
You can see many other similarly beautiful details all over the garden.
The true treasure of Yu Garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock. The rock is 3.3 m high and it has 72 holes. What’s interesting is that, if you burn a joss stick below the rock, the smoke magically floats out from all holes in the rock.
Similarly, when you pour water into the rock from the top, it comes out from each hole. It creates a spectacular image. Pan Yunduan was very fond of the Exquisite Jade Rock. He built the Yuhua Hall directly opposite the rock, where he used to sit and admire it.
If you are in Shanghai, I strongly suggest that you visit Yu Garden. The garden is not very big and it takes approximately two hours to see everything properly.
Of course, you can spend more time there and enjoy in its tranquillity. It’s in a very vibrant area, but while you are in the garden, you would never tell that you are actually in a very busy part of Shanghai.
Like every other beautiful site in the world, this garden is also a very busy tourist attraction. Thus, the best time to visit is in the morning, immediately after it opens. Hopefully, there will be fewer people at that time and you will be able to walk around and see everything in relative peace.
Make sure that you visit all pavilions and halls, because in most of them you can also see some beautiful furniture.
One other good thing about the garden is that there is a very big market in its vicinity. There are many places where you can eat and have a drink. There are also numerous shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and other things. You can easily spend several hours wandering around.
To get to Yu Garden, take the metro line number 10. The stop where you need to get off is Yuyuan Garden. From the metro station, it takes approximately 10 minutes to reach the main entrance of the garden. The walk is very interesting and you will pass a lot of shops that sell the most unimaginable things.