Xuhui study a beacon of light for readers

Li Qian
A reading room on top of a century-old Spanish garden villa is now a new cultural landmark in the district where reading activities and art performances will be held.
Li Qian
Xuhui study a beacon of light for readers
Ti Gong

The Beacon Light Study opened on Sunday on the rooftop garden of Cloister Apartments.

Xuhui study a beacon of light for readers
Ti Gong

Children look through some of the books available in the reading room.

A reading room on top of a century-old Spanish garden villa has become a new cultural landmark in Xuhui District.

The Beacon Light Study, referring to reading as a beacon of light and hope, opened on Sunday on the rooftop garden of the Cloister Apartments built in the 1930s.

It is in an attic at the corner of the garden on the third floor. It’s small, but well equipped with rows of books and comfortable seats.

People can also read in the garden, sitting around potted flowers under dappled light filtering through the overhanging branches of plane trees that flank Fuxing Road.

Cloister Apartments is a popular tourist destination and visitors can have an immersive experience by reading books about local history in the historical building.

“We hope to encourage people to explore more about the city by simply reading,” said Zhou Lei, co-founder of the Oriental Danology Institute. The social organization was in charge of the renovation of the reading room.

Jiang Yan, deputy director of Xuhui Culture and Tourism Bureau, said an array of reading activities and art performances will be held. “We will also combine it with a historical stroll around the area,” she added.

In the 1930s, the buildings served as the residence of US businessman Chester Flitz and his socialite wife whose guests include author Lin Yutang, Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang and Soong Mei-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek.

Today, people are once more gathering here, Jiang said.

“But this time, it was not constrained to celebrities or elites. It’s a cultural salon open to everyone," she said. “It seems like an echo of the history.”

On Sunday, author Zhao Lihong and dubbing actor Tong Zirong read poems in the reading room, accompanied by live erhu (Chinese two-stringed instrument) performances.

“I love the name of Beacon Light. For me, reading is like a beacon light. Once in my life, I lived in the darkness. It was books that accompanied me to get through the dark times. It allowed me to see the light of life,” Zhao said.

Tong said the reading room provides people today with a place to feel the charm of books.

After the performance, people went to the study to read poems and articles written by literati living in the surrounding area, including Ke Ling, Xia Yan and Wen Yiduo. They also wrote down sentences that impressed them most and put the slips into candles they had made.

When the lights were turned off, candles were lit, a true representation that reading is a beacon of light.

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