'Pearl of Suzhou Creek' evokes glory of city's oldest university

Yang Jian
Ten sightseeing features of the prestigious St John's University will open to the public on September 23 as part of a downtown section of the Suzhou Creek waterfront.
Yang Jian
'Pearl of Suzhou Creek' evokes glory of city's oldest university
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Historic campus buildings of St John's University along the riverside region of Suzhou Creek will open to the public on Thursday.

The Changning campus of the East China University of Political Science and Law features Shanghai's second-largest group of historic buildings, apart from the Bund.

The 27 remaining buildings of the prestigious St John's University dating back some 140 years have been listed as both national and city-protected structures.

Part of the campus with 10 well-designed attractions along Suzhou Creek will soon open to the public free of charge as a milestone of the city's campaign to open its riverside space along the creek and the Huangpu River.

The newly renovated section of the creek waterfront will officially open on Thursday, allowing visitors to closely see the university's over-century-old East-meets-West buildings.

The riverside development spans 42 kilometers and includes the districts of Huangpu, Hongkou, Jing'an, Putuo, Changning and Jiading. Each presents unique waterfront attractions with a continuous riverside walkway.

The overarching development plan, called "Striving for a World-Class Waterfront Area," involves extensive greenways, preserved historical buildings, new cross-creek bridges, "sponge city" technology, and an environment in harmony with nature.

'Pearl of Suzhou Creek' evokes glory of city's oldest university
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Visitors walk along the riverside path at the university.

When visiting the new section at the university last week, Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang asked to further improve the quality of the already-opened waterfront regions along the Suzhou Creek.

"The creek has abundant human resources and riverside scenery, which are treasure trove of Shanghai," Li said.

Two attractions near the Mann Hall, built in 1909, and the Gezhi Building, built in 1899, have already opened to the public.

The other sites include two Jiangnan-style -- Jiangnan referring to the regions south of the Yangtze River -- greenery gardens, a pedestrian bridge spanning the creek, as well as a 135-year-old ginkgo tree, a witness to the campus' development in the last century.

The historical buildings sit on a bay in the creek where the waterway makes a sharp turn. The 900-meter-long riverside area by the university is thus dubbed the "Pearl of Suzhou Creek" due to its beautiful landscape and unique historical ambiance.

A continuous path opened in 2019 after the university divided part of its campus along the creek as a public space. The district's transportation and construction authorities later launched a renovation project along with the university to further improve the riverside environment.

Walls and fences are being demolished to expand the 5-meter-wide riverside path into various gardens and backyards around historic buildings.

Eighteen buildings, including a public bath, water pump room, carpentry yard and warehouse, have been demolished for the new project.

The public riverside area has been expanded to about 21,000 square meters, compared with the narrow 2,400-square-meter creekside path.

'Pearl of Suzhou Creek' evokes glory of city's oldest university
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A bird's-eye view of the new section of the Suzhou Creek waterfront

Mann Hall, or Si Meng Hall, was built near the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to commemorate preacher Arthur Mann, a graduate of Yale University and philosophy teacher at St John's who drowned in 1907 trying to save a Chinese friend. Students of the university donated money to build the building, while Yale made a commemorative bronze tablet for the hall.

The nearby Gezhi Building, a three-story brick-and-wood structure, was built in 1899. It once served as the laboratory building, among the first of its kind in China, with labs for chemistry, physics and medical lessons.

The Yizhuyuan, or Leaning on Bamboo Garden, one of the new attractions to open, is near the Taofen Building, an iconic structure named after journalist and publisher Zou Taofen (1895-1944), a graduate of St John's.

The building, originally titled Schereschewsky Hall to honor the founder of the university, was built in 1894 in traditional Chinese architectural style. The two-story building has a central courtyard and a clock tower. It was renamed after the legendary journalist in 1951.

The Xiezhi Garden is named after the mythical creature Xie Zhi, representing justice. The typical Chinese garden features bridges, bamboo, maple trees and stones.

The garden leads to the Huazheng Bridge, another attraction that connects the Changning and Putuo campuses of the university. The bridge was originally built in 1934 of wood and has been repeatedly rebuilt over the decades since. The current structure was built in 2001.

A 135-year-old gingko tree has been preserved during the renovation of the riverside region. Authorities have set up a protected zone around the tree during the renovation project to ensure its safety.

'Pearl of Suzhou Creek' evokes glory of city's oldest university
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The Taofen building, or Schereschewsky Hall, along Suzhou Creek

A service station and café have been built along the new section as the last of the 10 attractions. Visitors can take a rest and enjoy the creekside scenery.

The section will be open free of charge between 7am and 9:30pm.

To make the riverside paths and flood walls harmonious with the historic buildings, senior masons and construction workers have been invited to build the waterfront amenities.

Some 80,000 ground tiles, for instance, have been made manually to restore the university's original ambiance. The flood walls were polished by senior workers to make them both beautiful and reliable during the city's flood season, he said.

St John's University was founded in 1879 and became China's first school with full English lessons in 1881. It was also the first modern religious college in the country. Five schools and an affiliated middle school were established by 1949.

Famous alumni of the university include diplomat Wellington Koo, influential writers Lin Yutang and Eileen Chang, then Chinese Vice President Rong Yiren and journalist and publisher Zou Taofen.

With the motto of "Light & Truth," the university was once the best in China and dubbed the "Oriental Harvard."

The university was disbanded in 1949, with different departments being allocated to other local universities, including Fudan, Tongji and Jiao Tong as well as the East China Normal University. The campus and the multiple historical buildings belong to the East China University of Political Science and Law.

'Pearl of Suzhou Creek' evokes glory of city's oldest university
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A Jiangnan-style garden with a stone structure resembling the mythical creature Xie Zhi, representing justice.

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