A step back in time in any language in Songjiang

Yang Yang
Shanghai Daily recommends places to go in Songjiang during the Lunar New Year. 
Yang Yang
A step back in time in any language in Songjiang
Yue Cheng / Ti Gong

The Dacang Bridge in Cangcheng Historic Cultural Zone

For people who attach special sentiments to Oriental-style architecture, Cangcheng Historic Cultural Zone and Sijing Old Town are recommended places to go. The newly opened Museum of Language on Shanghai International Studies University’s Songjiang campus is also a good choice to learn the origins of languages and their vicissitudes throughout history during the Lunar New Year break. 

A step back in time in any language in Songjiang
Yue Cheng / Ti Gong

The interior of an ancient house in Cangcheng Historic Cultural Zone

Cangcheng Historic Cultural Zone

Cangcheng got its name from its function as the largest tribute grain storage site and water transport station in Songjiang in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Records show that in the mid-Qing Dynasty half of the 417,300 shi (a measure for grain in ancient China) of tribute grains Songjiang collected for the imperial city were stored in Cangcheng.

Nowadays, the zone’s well-preserved historic sites include the Mengjiang Pavilion, the Guanding Buddhist Temple, the Du Family Engraved Building and the Anjiu and Dacang bridges. City dwellers, when they tire of the hustle and bustle, can refresh themselves in Cangcheng by chatting with its elderly residents and visiting its ancient buildings and bridges.

Cangcheng is divided into east and west parts by both Yushu Road and Yushu Bridge. Near Yushu Bridge is the Guanding Buddhist Temple and in front of the temple entrance there is the Mengjiang Pavilion. Legend has it that Lady Mengjiang, whose new husband died from fatigue in the building of the Great Wall in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), started her tens of thousands of miles’ journey north to seek her husband from the pavilion.

On the other side of the pavilion is the renowned Dacang Bridge and at the south end of the bridge is a big blue stone that Lady Mengjiang is said to have once sat on.

About 127 ancient structures dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republic of China (1912-1949) are well preserved in the zone. Among them the Du Family Engraved Building, once the residence of local squire Du Lingmei, is praised as the most beautiful ancient architecture in Songjiang for its delicate woodcuts. The building, a three-courtyard, two-story Hui-style structure, is now an intangible culture heritage learning and teaching base. Nearly 20 intangible culture heritages including Jiangnan sizhu (string and wind music) and Gu-style embroidery are displayed here.

To the west of Yushu Bridge is Anjiu Bridge. Built in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and the largest stone bridge in ancient Songjiang, it is also known as Yunjian No. 1 Bridge (Yunjian is an alternative name for Songjiang).

In the annual water transport season in the Ming Dynasty, cargo ships belonging to different shipping groups would be anchored in the Gupu River and sailors, most of them hailing from north China, would sell cabbages, pears and jujubes from street stalls near Dacang Bridge. 

A step back in time in any language in Songjiang
Shanghai International Studies University / Ti Gong

Students of Shanghai International Studies University volunteer to work at Museum of Language. 

Museum of Language

The Museum of Language opened to the public on the Songjiang campus of Shanghai International Studies University on December 8, the 70th anniversary of the university. It is the first museum in China to focus on the diversity of languages.

There are more than 7,000 known languages in the world, but only about 60 language museums, according to Gu Yiqing, chief director of the new museum.

The museum covers topics from the birth of a language to its evolution in the digital world, from the world’s major writing systems to translation and intercultural communication.

To make the intangible subject more visible, the museum has many interactive installations. On entering, visitors will see a digital screen showing a world map on the ground and a curved screen on the wall. By pointing to an area on the map and moving it into the middle, visitors will see an introduction to the language of the area on the screen.

There is also a huge map on a wall that shows the distribution of different language families around the world.

Under the map, there is a pavilion where visitors can learn to say “hello, nice to meet you” in different languages and record the sentence in the dialect of their homelands.

A step back in time in any language in Songjiang
Yang Yang / SHINE

A back yard of the three Sijing stone-gate courtyard houses looks peaceful and quiet in a sunny day.

Sijing stone-gate courtyard houses

A traditional Chinese archway on Kaijiang Road marks the main entrance of Sijing Old Town. Behind that is the Anfang Pagoda, a landmark local people compare to an arrow. With the Pudu, Wu’an (both now gone) and Fulian bridges that were known as “the three bows,” the pagoda and bridges were believed to have kept the town safe.

Beside the pagoda are three traditional stone-gate courtyard houses that have been renovated.

The westernmost of the houses is the Cheng family dwelling, first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The other two, the homes of the Sun and Guan families, were built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The names reflect the current owners, not the original families.

The outer walls of the three buildings are connected, and each building has an imposing wooden door.

The Cheng family dwelling is now a guqin (a plucked seven-string Chinese instrument) study center. Guqin chords linger in the room, creating a Zen-like atmosphere.

The Sun family dwelling is now an architectural heritage conservation teaching and research lab of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. An exhibition of dismantled timber components is on display at the dwelling.

The exhibition originates from a migration story. More than 10 years ago, 15 traditional houses in Huizhou (now Anhui Province) were dismantled into more than a thousand timber components, later stored in the warehouse of the Minhang Campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Today, some of these timber components have been incorporated in a new building at the university. Others, intended for display, teaching and research, have become independent timber artifacts at Sun House in Sijing Town.

Guan House, with its white walls and gray tiles, has been converted into a new-concept bookstore called Nan Cun Ying Xue, or South Village in the Reflections of Snow.

Nan Cun, or South Village, is from Nan Cun Cottage, a building once south of the Sijing River and built by ancient writer Tao Zongyi. Ying Xue, or the Reflections of Snow, is from the Ying Xue Building, former house of ancient scholar Sun Daoming.

The three courtyard houses, after careful renovation that preserved the antique architecture as it used to be, irradiate a new life that amazes every visitor who happens to walk past the old town.   

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