Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yu Yuan Garden

After lunch, we went to the Yu Yuan Garden, the largest Chinese Garden in Shanghai. Even in the gray and chilly weather, it was really lovely and it was here the Kevin really began to prove his worth as he was able to explain many of the garden's finer points.

The Yu Yuan Garden has five of these remarkable dragons, each one representing a different area of the garden. Officially, these are not real dragons (long) but are called jiao, a mystical "other" beast that looks a whole lot like a long dragon. That is because only the imperial family was allowed to use the image of the long dragon; and to escape the wrath of the emperor the garden's owner had two of the claws of all the dragons removed--claiming that since his dragons only had 3 claws and not the imperial 5, they were not dragons at all. Somehow he got away with it and the jiao beast, the 3-fingered wanna-be dragon, was born.
Perhaps the owner got away with it because he did not hesitate to use the garden as a device to flatter his superiors. For example,to get to the area that only friends or powerful officials would be allowed to enter, one passed through a round entrance way and then a rectangular one. This is because the round entrance way symbolizes heaven and the square one symbolizes earth. It is a compliment to those who pass through, that they are from heaven visiting the owners on earth.
Or perhaps it was just because imperial officials were willing to take any excuse not to harm this beautiful place, which visually balances the ying/yang elements of stone (symbolizing mountains and man) and water(symbolizing woman)with every glance...

as well as various creatures of interest. This is a dragonfish, one of the sons of the heavenly emperor whose special power is controlling water. He is placed on the roof as a protection against fire, a sort of spiritual firefighter.

This is one of the guardian lions. The unique feature of this lion is that it has a stone ball that moves around in its mouth, but cannot be taken out. Usually this is done by carving the lion and ball with one piece of stone; but the ball in this lion is made of marble--a completely different stone than what the lion is made of, which means the ball was made separately and then inserted. Apparently, the marble ball was cut in half and then placed and fused together seamlessly into the lion's mouth. The technology and skill to do this is now lost and this lion is the last one in China that exemplifies this vanished art.

But the most prized feature of the garden is this Jade Stone. It is not made of jade but it is treasured as if it were. A complete nature-made sculpture, this highly valued piece of rockery was on its way to the emperor when the boat it was on sunk and it vanished to the bottom of the river. Many years later it was found by a local fisherman and presented to the owner of the garden as a wedding gift for his daughter.

If one pours water on top of this stone, water will come out of every single one of its holes--a tribute to the interconnectedness of all things. This and its ancient age represents everlasting perpetuity, so many couples like to take their picture with it to symbolize their undying love. We, however, settled for eternal friendship. I think it wil work just as well.


pearl said...

thank you! i love learning about all of these things - so very interesting!
But now, after reading about the dumplings, i'm very hungry even though it's 10:30 pm!

A said...

I've seen the ball you mention in lion's mouths in other places in China. And it's only every ONE lion. Often outside banks. Do you know by any chance what the significance of the one lion having a ball in its mouth is. Feng Shui? Superstition?

This has been bugging me for years so I'd love to know the answer!