A hidden gem awaits visitors to Tinglin Park in the city of Kunshan west of Shanghai. Stroll through lush foliage, past running streams and tucked-away pavilions. — Liu Qi
For most people, there’s only one reason to go to Kunshan this time of year —hairy crab, a seasonal delicacy harvested from the city’s Yancheng Lake.
That was also my reason for visiting the city, which abuts the western outskirts of Shanghai on the road to Suzhou.
Taking a walk after a delicious meal of crab, I stumbled on a hidden gem amid the hustle and bustle of Kunshan’s city center — Tinglin Park. It’s named after Gu Yanwu (1613-82), a great philologist and geographer who was respectfully referred to as Lord Tinglin.
The 57-hectare park stands against the only hill in Kunshan, 80-meter high Ma’anshan, or Saddle Mountain. If you climb to the top of the steps, you are rewarded with a nice view of Kunshan.
The park, created in 1906, was originally named Ma’anshan Park after the hill. Three decades later, it was renamed after the patriotic scholar.
A native of Kunshan’s Qiandeng Town, Gu was regarded as one of the most outstanding Confucian scholars of the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. He devoted much of his life to anti-Manchu activities after the Ming Dynasty was overthrown and he lost his mother and two brothers when the Qing army invaded Kunshan.
He never served the Qing Dynasty, choosing instead to travel around the country and commit himself to studies. His best-known aphorism — “the rise and fall of the nation concerns everyone” — has been an inspiration to generations of ordinary Chinese people, not to mention their leaders.
What a delight to chance upon this most pleasant park. A visit starts at the elegant entrance, which is in the style of ancient architecture with delicate carvings and exquisite ornamental roof ridges.
Once you enter the park, a stone pathway leads straight to a full-size statue of Gu. He stands in dignified grandeur, his eyes gazing into the distance. His famous saying, in eight Chinese characters, is inscribed next to him. Viewers can’t help but feel a solemn moment.
Trees shade the left side of the path, and in between trees, small pavilions are tucked away. On the right side of the path is a large lawn area, with autumn foliage in full splendor this time of year. Nature’s palette of red and orange. Passers-by can’t resist taking selfies in such a picturesque setting. Fresh air and morning dews add to the charm of the walk.
Several steps past the lawn and Gu’s statue is a tranquil garden-within-a-park. A white arch invites visitors to enter, unfolding a quite different idyllic beauty. Fallen leaves rustle underfoot as you take the cobblestone path leading to a zigzag bridge that very much resembles the world-famous bridge in Shanghai’s Yuyuan Garden. At the end of the bridge stands a large pavilion. Underneath, a limpid stream reflects the trees and rock formations above. It is indeed a mini-version of Yuyuan.
The biggest attraction in Tinglin Park are the “Three Treasures of Kunshan” — namely, Kunshan stone, the “eight immortals” flower and the twin lotus.
Kunshan stone — also called “jade stone,” or “exquisite stone” for its uniqueness — is a miracle of nature. It is a most decorative stone with an intriguing appearance and texture. Top-quality Kunshan stone is snow-white and crystallized, hard as jade and punctuated by natural holes and mini-ridges.
It is listed among the “top four classic stones of China” — the other three being Lingbi stone in Anhui Province, Taihu stone in Jiangsu Province and Ying stone in Guangdong Province.
For centuries, Chinese writers and artists have been inspired by Kunshan stone, immortalizing it with their pens and brushes.
Lu You, a great Song Dynasty poet, once described it in one of his seven-character octaves: “With Yanshan calamus and Kunshan stone, Grandpa Chen relieves solitude with ease. Roots are dense, joints slender; pointy ridges of the stone are worthy of gold.”
On the east side of park are the two largest Kunshan stones in China. One evokes the image of a drifting cloud, the other of a flowing stream. They are said to be the only well-preserved masterpieces of nature handed down from the Ming Dynasty.
The “eight immortals” flower is very rare and unique to China. Each is formed by eight smaller flowers surrounding a center, with each smaller flower representing one of the Eight Immortal figures of Taoist legend. The flower is as big as a saucer and white as snow. Every April and May, the flowers come into full bloom.
Unlike the pure white flower, the twin lotus stands on one stalk, giving it a graceful appearance. Both the flowers and the lotus exude delicate fragrances.
Past the Kunshan stone showroom is the Museum of Kunqu Opera.
Kunshan is the cradle of this operatic genre, which is said to be the “mother of all traditional Chinese operas.” In 2001, it was included on the “List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
The museum was built in 1993 in the ancient architectural style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The design is mellow and exquisite. At the entrance are a clear pond and rock formations. Carved beams and painted pillars follow the winding corridors, and elegant pavilions and intriguing rockeries recapture scenes of Kunqu opera in ancient times.
The museum has seven exhibition halls, giving information on the traditional opera. In the No. 1 Exhibition Hall, three lifelike waxwork statues of the founders of the Kunqu opera are exhibited.
Playwrights of different performing schools and six main troupes of the opera are introduced in the No. 2 Exhibition Hall. Other halls in the corridors exhibit stunning costumes, fascinating facial masks and various musical instruments. In the past, corridors of this kind served as loges for audiences.
An ancient-style stage and an auditorium constitute the main buildings of the museum.
The stage, to the south of the corridors, has an overhang patterned with “two dragons playing with a pearl.” Some 420 elaborate woodcarvings of phoenixes are encased in a dome that soars toward the sky. Boards around the stage are engraved with the scenes of famous Kunqu opera settings. The stage itself is a precious work of art, vividly conveying the 600-year-old art form.
The beautiful natural scenery in Tinglin Park has not dimmed in the past century. In the background, the hill and blooming shrubs reveal nature at its best. Running streams, pavilions and small bridges add to the charm.
Opening hours: 9am-5pm
Address: 1 Ma’anshan Rd E., Kunshan
Admission: 20 yuan
How to get there: It’s about 60 kilometers from Shanghai to Kunshan. To drive, take the G42 (Huning Expressway) and exit at Kunshan. To take public transportation, you have two options. A high-speed train takes about 20 minutes and costs about 25 yuan. Once in Kunshan, bus lines Nos. 1, 9, 11, 18, 101, 105, 109 and 117 will take you to Tinglin Park. The other option is the subway. Take Metro Line 11 to the terminal Huaqiao Station, transfer to Kunshan 110 and get off at Chaoyang Road by Zhujing Road. Then take Kunshan 19 to reach the park. A taxi ride from the Metro station to the park costs about 50 yuan.