It’s worth the search: a garden tucked away

It's worth the search: a garden tucked away

Qiuxia Garden also features the Chenghuang Temple, where locals practice Taoist rites twice during each lunar month. Editor’s note Suzhou is famous for its classic Chinese gardens, but one doesn’t have to leave home to appreciate the tranquility and grandeur of gardens that once attract-ed and inspired scholars and artists. This series will visit the most famous classic gardens in Shanghai — a panoply of pavilions, ponds, ancient trees, sculptures, flowers and rockeries right on our doorstep. Hidden in a humble old lane and overshadowed by the noise of a nearby commercial street, Qiuxia Garden in suburban Jiading District doesn’t attract as much attention as it deserves. This somewhat neglected site is one of Shanghai’s five surviving ancient gardens. Like a typical Suzhou-style garden, Qiuxia is not particularly large, covering an area only a little larger than three football pitches. But size is deceiving, and it’s easy to get lost in the garden’s zigzagging cobble pathways, dead ends, rockeries with deep caves, lush bamboo forests and sprawling corridors. One or two stray cats may pop up unexpectedly from the tall grass, giving visitors a fright. A rainy autumn day is an ideal time to visit Qiuxia Garden. The clear, crisp autumn winds dye the garden’s famed maple trees a flaming red, and the bamboo takes on a greener sheen in fine drizzle. Take a window seat in the lakeside teahouse and you can idle away the time chitchatting with the old waiter there, who speaks only local Jiading dialect but is always happy to share the garden’s history with customers. Established in 1502, Qiuxia Garden was once the private residence of Gong Hong, minister of public works in the Ming Dynasty . In 1582, local scholar Jin Zhaodeng built his own garden alongside Gong’s. It featured a lotus pond and a bamboo forest. In 1654, with the decline of both families, the two gardens were merged and sold to a salt trader surnamed Wang. He called the site Qiuxia Garden, meaning “autumn’s sunset glow.” In 1726, Wang’s descendants bestowed the garden to Jiading’s Chenghuang Temple as a shrine for locals to hold religious events. After centuries of warfare and political upheaval, Qiuxia Garden was confiscated by the government and opened to the public in 1979, after two renovations. Today, it features both a classic garden and also the Taoist Chenghuang Temple, where locals worship on the first and fifth days of a lunar month. The temple is the first complex to greet visitors at the entrance of the garden. Red candles and joss sticks flicker, and smoke curls lazily into the air. The temple is a place of peace and holiness. According to the Taoist beliefs, Chenghuang is the god of water and soil, who protects the land and the people living on it. The temple’s main hall stands more than 52 meters high and is carved with animals and the Eight Immortals on its roof ridges. Eighteen stone lions ring the hall, fending off evil spirits. Visitors can discover their personal god of p…