Swallow Garden

Since this

is pretty much the entirety of my tea consumption today (guesses anybody?), it won’t make for a very interesting blog entry. Where I visited, however, might be of interest to some of you. It’s slightly off topic, I know, but indulge me.

After going to the library and reading a whole bunch of family genealogies (that’s my research here) I decided to take another stroll. I was told that there was a… house? mansion? I don’t know what the right word here is … that was owned by one of my ancestors about a few blocks away, so I decided to look for it among the narrow alleys of Changshu.

The place I was looking for was found after a little search. It’s called the Swallow Garden (Swallow as in the bird). It was, for a few decades at least, a property of my great-great-granduncle. If that’s confusing… he’s my grandfather’s granduncle, or my great-grandfather’s uncle. In late age he styled himself the “Old man from the Swallow Valley”, a reference to his residence (ah, this is the right word).

This is the gate to it:

It’s firmly shut.

The place was apparently under renovation, but after looking around, I saw that it was accessible by a side door, and after asking the workers there if I could go look… they let me in.

This is what you see after taking a few steps inside

It’s really quite a nice place. I never knew that a relative of mine owned this place. I do know that it was owned by another prominent local family, but whose fortunes waned. It was apparently a classic case of son gambling away the house, like in the movie To Live. My ancestor eventually bought it after it changed hands a few times.

Much of the house was relatively inaccessible, but it was rather large with a few different gardens. The most distinctive thing is that you can never see too far once you’re in it… you have to walk around and gradually discover the place, piece by piece. Something looks like it’s really close, but you can’t get there easily. It’s a maze.

So I turned right and walked through this corridor

Which eventually got me to the other side

I then walked into the back garden

There were more buildings further back, but the way was pretty much blocked by construction materials and that sort of thing. Oh well. But you can see, for example, a little gazebo overlooking another pond with some rocks. I would kill to drink tea there.

Apparently quite a few structures in this complex was destroyed after 1949, and so the current size is already reduced. It’s a pity, really, but at least they’re restoring it as much as they can.

The same thing cannot be said of our other family residence, this one being where my grandfather spent his first 20 years or so. The battery on my camera was running low so I was only able to grab a few pictures. If people are interested, I’ll post some tomorrow as I’m going back there, along with seeing other residences, pay my respects at some family tombs, and look at some more local sources. This is all work! 🙂


Comments

Swallow Garden — 7 Comments

  1. Mon Dieu!  That is a fabulous estate!

    My ancestors (father’s side) is from Jinjiang in Fujian and mother’s side is from Guangdong.  My maternal grandma is from Guangzhou.  Paternal grandparents were poor farmers who escaped the civil war by boat in the 1930’s.  While I’m mostly peasant-blooded, my wife had some family connection with a Russian Count, she said.  Whatever…  🙂

  2. It looks to me like a classic “Scholars Garden” were bureaucrats and the like would retire to in order to keep a low profile and work on their memoirs and poetry when the winds of fortune had shifted and they were out of favor.

  3. Yes, that’s hongcha in a glass.  I guess I gave it away :p

    I believe my ancestor retired after serving (as they often do), and then just stayed around, writing a novel (which is probably why wisdom_sun knows his name) and hung out with other local scholars. 

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we have his manuscripts anymore.  I can’t remember if he had descendents — I think only a daughter.  I can check the family genealogy, but wherever the papers are it would’ve passed on to his direct descendents… and probably destroyed during the CR.

  4. Well, I wasn’t thinking of the “Old Man from the Swallow Valley” when you mentioned Changshu; the first famous person to come to mind actually was Weng Tonghe (ÎÌͬý˜). But even then, of course, the two must have had some kind of relation, right?

    Too bad the manuscript of the novel hasn’t survived.

     

  5. Of course, Weng Tonghe is the first on the list of anybody mentioning Changshu. He’s only the most prominent man from this town in the last 150 years. 🙂 The two must’ve at least known each other, and a little more than in passing, I’d imagine. Changshu is a small place and walking from Yanyuan to Wengjia Nongtang (i.e. the Weng Family Alley) is only about 5-10 minutes.

    I was going to go to Weng Xincun’s house (he’s Weng Tonghe’s father) today to take some pictures (now turned into the Weng Tonghe museum). However, by the time I was done with going to the tombs, it was too late to go, so it will have to wait till tomorrow.

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