Since the 18th century, this complex, with its traditional red walls and upturned tile roofs, has been a marketplace and social center where local residents gather, shop, and practice qi gong in the evenings. It is overrun by tourists and not as impressive as the ancient palace gardens of Beijing, but Yu Garden is a piece of Shanghai's rapidly disappearing past, and one of the few old sights left in the city.
To get to the garden itself, you must wind your way through the crowded bazaar. The garden was commissioned by the Ming Dynasty official Pan Yunduan in 1559 and built by the renowned architect Zhang Nanyang over 19 years. When it was finally finished it won international praise as "the best garden in southeastern China." In the mid-1800s, the Society of Small Swords used the garden as a gathering place for meetings. It was here that they planned their uprising with the Taiping rebels against the French colonists. The French destroyed the garden during the first Opium
War, but the area was later rebuilt.
Winding walkways and corridors bring you over stone bridges and carp-filled ponds and through bamboo stands and rock gardens. Within the park are an old opera stage, a museum dedicated to the Society of Small Swords rebellion, and an exhibition hall of Chinese calligraphy and paintings.