After Thames Town and Xiangwei Rose Manor, Songjiang once again delivers something grand, atypical and very Chinese. It’s the size of an entire Shanghai Disney Resort. In fact, the Guangfulin Ancient Relics Park, which opened in late June, is slightly bigger — 4.25 square kilometers. It’s covered with farmland and surrounded by water, and comprised of multiple exhibition halls, temples, tombs, F&B offerings, a really photogenic bookstore as well as three fancy hotels (including one Hilton hotel).
A bit of historical background from its Wiki page:
“At the beginning of the 21st century, discoveries in Songjiang Guangfulin Cultural Relics made great contribution to archaeology. Firstly, it clearly divided the primitive society into types like Songze Cultural, Liangzhu Cultural and Guangfulin Cultural, which was considered to be the cultural relics of New Stone Era in Taihu area; secondly, immigrants from the Yellow River were conformed to be the first group of immigrants coming Shanghai; thirdly, there were towns in Shanghai dating back to as far as Zhou Dynasty; fourthly, two unique types of houses in primitive society were found: stilt house and ground house” [sic].
Currently under trial operations, only the northern part of the park is running and open to the public. I got there before it became too crowded, on a day that shifted from really cloudy to really incredibly hot and sunny.
Guangfulin Park is located in the same area as Songjiang University Town, and can be accessed by Line 9, plus a 10-minute bus ride. It’s quite a long trip. About an hour and a half if you set out from the People's Square. Go there in the morning, as you can easily spend an entire day.
Many of the park's buildings look like they're emerging from a giant lake. Its main attraction, the Guangfulin Culture Exhibition Hall, for example, is mostly underwater (more on that later). And the parking lot pushed the envelope a bit further. When was the last time you parked your vehicle under a lake? That’s almost as cool as parking in the Batcave.
Archaeologists are an ethical bunch. They recognize their excavation techniques will be obsolete in the future so they often leave part of a site untouched for future archaeologists to explore. So, lo and behold, you’re looking at it right now. The massive farmland where the lovely "crystal" pears, lotuses, water caltrop, rice, and rape flowers are growing, is the exact spot where precious remains remain buried and protected, ever since local farmers discovered them in 1958.
A little more biodiversity here than expected. Various plants are labeled with their Chinese and Latin names. A squirrel, a collared crow (maybe), and a buffalo were spotted on my visit.
Though there isn’t much shade, it’s good to come here just to get some exposure to (man-made) nature. The scenery is enough to keep any city dweller excited for a while.
As I mentioned, the park is huge. I navigated the map by using a bone needle monument like a Google map marker. It stands in the center of the “Bone Needle Square” (骨针广场). Bone needles were the most commonly found artifacts at the site, as our ancestors used them to mend fishing nets. So the humble bone needle gets its own giant statute.
The square is also full of many ancient artifacts made of stones, like a sundial and some wash vessels; there are also statues of historical figures scattered around, standing by themselves or making conversation with each other. I have absolutely no idea who most of them are. They'll probably have descriptions later on when the park is finished.
I wasn't thrilled about the sunlight's sudden appearance, or the mugging heat that came with it. So I went underwater.
The Guangfulin Culture Exhibition Hall
Lots of hype aroung this exhibition hall, for good reason. The complex is mostly immersed in an artificial lake, with roofs peeking just above the waterline. No doubt a very challenging job to construct these remarkable buildings. It also looks spectacular at night (here’s some drone footage), but you won’t be able to see that during trial period, as the park closes at 5pm for now.
Walking past what is possibly Shanghai’s craziest-looking reception desk, you enter a large museum that tells the tale of Guangfulin’s archeology history. From the Neolithic period, Qing and Ming dynasty, all the way to 80s Shanghai.
Scenes from our ancestors’ daily life are recreated in remarkably un-lame displays, alongside nostalgic items from recent decades, which are presented at the very end. It’s kind of shocking to learn that the ancient Shanghainese used to have a deer-based diet. That's like having Chop Chop Club for every meal. Now look where we are: the largest wild animals in Shanghai are badgers.
The production value is quite impressive. The human sculptures are surprisingly realistic and the quality of those showpieces doesn’t look cheap at all. Songjiang is considered the birthplace of Shanghai, so when a whole traditional residential area is recreated, the sense of familiarity and vitality of the city is almost tangible. Whoever was in charge of designing these settings did a really good job.
Once in, visitors aren't allowed to take pictures. Not that anyone stopped me. Same for my fellow visitors. You just feel compelled to take pictures, it's like you’re strolling around a movie set. Phone booth, salon, tavern, theater, kids taking a class and not enjoying it at all, an expat policeman taking care of an expat criminal. They even put in a train carriage, with seats, posters, luggage and everything. It's all too much not to live-stream.
After spending about two hours in this museum, I looked for a place for a quick refreshment.
There are a couple of small cafes nearby, selling dispenser quality coffee priced at over 30rmb. Duoyun Bookstore is your best bet.
The Duoyun Bookstore
Duoyun Shuyuan (朵云书院) belongs to Duo Yun Xuan, Shanghai’s renowned art collection and publication organization. Consists of two courtyards, it’s a renovated traditional Huizhou-style two-story wooden structure built in the Ming Dynasty.
Duo Yun Xuan somehow managed to transport the whole building as a whole from Yellow Mountain to Songjiang, and then applied a neo-Chinese aesthetic to its decor. I couldn’t access the courtyards to get a better shot of the stunning architecture, so you'll have to go see for yourself.
The bookstore has a couple of multifunctional rooms for meetings and exhibitions, and a floating cloud in a glass display which is placed at the center of the courtyard ("cloud" = "yun"). The book selection here is focused on Chinese culture and literature. There are also special book sections dedicated to rare antique books, ancient Songjiang history, and Shanghai-specific publications.
Like many modern bookstores these days, Duoyun is photogenic as heck. It offers various stationery and pointless souvenirs, as well as a cafe that serves Kungfu tea and single-origin coffee. You'll be inundated by quotes from famous poets while ordering your drinks. For a touristy place, their menu is actually reasonably priced, mostly in the 30-40rmb range.
In the same area as Duoyun, there is a memorial hall dedicated to Songjiang-born politician and poet Chen Zilong, some small exhibition halls displaying ancient and modern handmade drums and traditional wood carvings. Really neat stuff, don’t miss them.
The Zhiye Temples
A short walk from either Duoyun or the Culture Exhibition hall will take you to The Zhiye Temple (知也禅寺), which is a decade-old renovated Tang Dynasty-style temple that embraces “intelligence” literally and metaphorically. 1) Its name comes from the phrase “I get it!” (zhiye). 2) It’s the only temple in Shanghai that enshrines the five forms of Manjushri — a bodhisattva that embodies transcendent wisdom. This may or may not have something to do with the University Town nearby. Just going to leave that piece of information here.
It’s impolite to take pictures of buddhas. Let’s just say the temples and the buddhas are incredibly built, nicer than many temples I have been to. Yes, everything looks very new here. A bit "sterile" some might say. If it bothers you, wait ten years, then come visit.
The Fulin Pagoda, Sanyuan Palace, and the Zhiye Temples form a triangle that highlights Buddhist and Taoist culture. Towards their east side are two other large-scale temples, right by the serene river, coated in bright red lacquer with beautifully drawn patterns. Although not completed yet, the temples are already very eye-catching. Equally eye-catching was a girl decked out in voluminous layers of traditional Chinese costume, in 35-degree weather, leaning against the pillars and posing for her photographer friend.
This large ancient tomb has an underground kiln exhibition hall, which is still being built. I jumped in and took a few shots, and again, nobody stopped me. The same thing happened when I walked out of the park to the street, and then headed right back in under the noses of two security guards. I guess you get an idea about the current state of employee morale at Guangfulin Park.
The Overall Experience
There are so many exhibition halls and attractions waiting to be explored, all in the same color palette, with some unconventional architectural design. It makes total sense that they have three hotels in one park; this place is like a Disney Resort for people who're maybe a bit more advanced in years (and maturity). I'll definitely go back when the weather cools down and the F&B offerings fully open.
Especially this nice tea house by the lake.
How to get there: Take Line 9 to Songjiang University Town. At Exit 4 and 3 you will see a bus terminal station. Take Songjiang No. 15 or 24 and get off at the East China University of Political Science and Law (华东政法大学).
During the trial opening, Guangfulin Park runs from 9am to 5pm. Adult tickets are 40rmb on weekdays and 50rmb on weekends. Half price for children and senior citizens. You can get tickets on-site or through their official Wechat (search: 广富林文化遗址). There’s no information about when the park will be 100% completed yet, so stay tuned.