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A classical Chinese garden featuring pools, walkways, bridges and rockeries, the Yu Yuan (豫园, yùyuán) was created in the sixteenth century by a high official in the imperial court in honour of his father. The Yu Yuan is less impressive than the gardens of nearby Suzhou, but given that it predates the relics of the International Settlement by some three hundred years, the Shanghainese are understandably proud of it. Despite fluctuating fortunes, the garden has surprisingly survived the passage of the centuries. It was spared from its greatest crisis – the Cultural Revolution – apparently because the anti-imperialist “Little Sword Society” had used it as their headquarters in 1853 during the Taiping Uprising. Garden connoisseurs today will appreciate the whitewashed walls topped by undulating dragons made of tiles, and the huge, craggy and indented rock in front of the Yuhua Tang (Hall of Jade Magnificence). During the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the traditional New Year, ten thousand lanterns (and an even larger number of spectators) brighten up the garden.
After visiting the garden, you can check out the delightful Huxin Ting (湖心亭茶馆, húxīntíng cháguăn), a two-storey teahouse on an island at the centre of an ornamental lake, reached by a zigzagging bridge. The Queen of England and Bill Clinton, among other illustrious guests, have dropped in for tea. These days it’s a bit pricey, but you’re welcome to poke about.