The Old City -Hidden Secrets

The Old City -Hidden Secrets, Shanghai, China (A)

Step back through Shanghai's history, from the tranquil and magnificent Ming dynasty Yu Gardens, through streets echoing with Shanghai's past. See temples, an ancient tea house, then tour through the lanes of the old city only the locals know, and see how daily life is lived. Spend time hunting for curios and treasures at the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market, ending your walk in the calm tranquility of the ancient Confucius Temple.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: The Old City -Hidden Secrets
Guide Location: China » Shanghai
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: Fiona Reilly
Author Bio: Fiona lives and breathes life in Shanghai, spending as much time as possible out on her bicycle enjoying the traffic and avoiding copy watch sellers. She loves the fascinating lanes of the Old City and the tree-lined streets of the French Concession. While living in Shanghai she hopes to become expert in the art of making those famous soup-filled dumplings, xiaolongbao, and to have a taxi driver understand her appalling Chinese. Just once.
Author Website: http://www,
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Yu Gardens
  • Huxintin Lake Pavilion
  • Commodities Market
  • Town Gods Temple
  • Fangbang Lu Old Street
  • Bird and Insect Market
  • Dongtai Lu Antiques Market
  • Confucius Temple
Yu Gardens

1) Yu Gardens

This beautiful Ming dynasty garden will be the starting point of our tour. These gardens were established nearly 600 years ago by a city administrator, who wanted to make a quiet place to relax. Outside the gardens the bazaar is full of noise and bustle, but inside it is quiet and tranquil, with meandering paths, entrancing pavillions and still ponds, filled with auspicious goldfish. Of course fish are very important in Chinese culture, because the word for fish, yu, sounds the same as the word for prosperity. So gold fish will bring an abundance of gold. Atop the white walls within the garden you will see a black dragon wind his way. Because the emperor's dragon had four claws, this dragon is permitted only three. As you enter the gardens, look behind you to see the small pavilion in a lake. This will be the second sight in our tour.
Image Courtesy of MojoBaron.
Huxintin Lake Pavilion

2) Huxintin Lake Pavilion

If you have ever wondered where the inspiration for the little Chinese house on a blue Wedgewood willow pattern plate comes from, look no further. This exquisite pavilion sits in the middle of an ornamental lake and is reached on either side by the Bridge of Nine Turnings, whose zigzags are designed to prevent the entry of evil spirits. Apparently evil spirits, and in particular Chinese evil spirits, have trouble turning corners, so once you’re over the bridge you can enjoy the pavilion in peace without any ghostly interruptions. If you turn right as you walk through the front entrance of the pavilion you can learn about Chinese teas and how to serve them, or you can climb up the stairs to find a restful teahouse where you can savour traditional Chinese teas, like oolong and green teas, and eat small delicacies, such as tea-cooked eggs and dried fruits. I particularly love the flower teas, which appear to bloom before your eyes inside their glass teapot.
Commodities Market

3) Commodities Market

Locals love this indoor market and I do too – it sells everything from safety pins to wigs, and the stores on the ground floor are a great place to find lanterns, traditional Chinese decorations, and Chinese games and mah jong sets. Need a pair of Year of the Tiger underpants? The second floor is the place to buy those, along with inexpensive jade jewelry, shops selling nothing but Chinese silk tassels, and a number of stores specializing in wedding paraphernalia. You’ll know these by the flower garlands covering every inch of space, and by the mountains of small gift boxes used for wedding favours. If it’s cheap, if it’s kitsch, you’ll find it here. Be aware that the market gets very crowded in the middle of the day, and really bustles with activity.
Town Gods Temple

4) Town Gods Temple

If you have a business in Shanghai, then you need to offer up some incense to the Taoist Town Gods at this temple. Intriguingly, the three town gods were all once real people - Qin Yubo was a scholar, Huo Guang a chancellor and Chen Huacheng was a qing dynasty general, all born several hundred years apart but deified after their deaths and assigned the task of watching over the city of Shanghai. Together they can be seen in other places around the Yu Gardens Bazaar, keeping an eye on all those transactions taking place. The temple dates back to 1403, but it fell into disrepair and was used as a market during the Cultural Revolution, and only restored to its use as Taoist temple once again in the 1990s.
Fangbang Lu Old Street

5) Fangbang Lu Old Street

This part of Fangbang Lu gives you a glimpse into Shanghai's past. Walk through this winding lane, and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells as you pass. This is where local people live, eat and work. There are wonton stalls, outdoor restaurants, rosewood furniture restorers, a tiny temple, and fruit shops selling all kinds of intriguing fruits. As you walk past the noodle stall at number 638, take a look at the noodle pullers making Langzhou hand-pulled noodles, a specialty from Western China. It's really entertaining! After you cross over busy Henan Lu the street is now lined with stalls selling light bulbs, shoes and belts and all sorts of odd things. This street is an unofficial men’s market. You may spot live chickens for sale, black market tea, and bootleg traditional Chinese medicine supplies.
Bird and Insect Market

6) Bird and Insect Market

This is one of Shanghai's most popular markets, and it’s open every day. The entrance is a little hard to find, hidden between two pet shops on the street front, but if you just follow the flow of people you'll find it easily. Inside, it’s literally buzzing with the sounds of thousands of crickets for sale. Some large, some small, the crickets are sold as pets and to take part in cricket fighting, an ancient Chinese hobby that is alive and thriving today. Look out for the tiny carved mahogany cricket boxes, the miniature bamboo cricket cages, and the various different tools for cleaning, grooming and goading your cricket. Who knew so much stuff was required to look after such a small pet? But this is all extremely serious business for cricket enthusiasts and you can watch men endlessly argue the finer points of each particular cricket, while nearby shops play footage of famous cricket fights on continuous loop. At the market you will also see birds, and exquisite hand-made birdcages, turtles, fish and everything you could possibly need to care for your pets.
Dongtai Lu Antiques Market

7) Dongtai Lu Antiques Market

I could spend hours here every weekend, and I frequently do! This antique market is full of treasures both old and not so old. You’ll need to bargain hard when you find something you like! Look out for interesting jade pieces, old acupuncture models, and woven bamboo wedding baskets. You can also see the popularity of mao memorabilia – mao era statues, teapots, badges and posters line most of the stalls, while the shops in the rows behind the stalls sell the real antiques. As you walk along, look down into the tiny laneways running off each side of the street – these lanes are home to hundreds of families and daily life carries on regardless of what's happening in the market.
Confucius Temple

8) Confucius Temple

This temple pays homage to the Chinese scholar Confucius, and has been a school and place of worship since the 12th century. The courtyards are peaceful and lined with huge magnolia trees. Outside the first small temple you will see a statue of Confucius, and notice the nearby trees are covered in red ribbons and cards. Visitors to the temple write their wishes on the back of the card and tie it to the tree for luck, and in the hope their wishes will be granted. This is where the tour ends, so take time to enjoy the tranquility of the temple grounds before heading back out into the hustle and bustle of the Old City.

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