Yu Yuan Garden Pond-heart Teahouse
The Yu Yuan Garden Pond-heart Teahouse 猫卤芦氓艙鈥櫭β光€撁ヂ科捗ぢ郝ㄅ捖睹βㄢ€?in the old city of Shanghai is one of the most famous, and venerable in years, in China. It is also one of the few genteel traditional-style tea establishments that survived even during the Cultural Revolution. It features in Michelangelo Antonioni"s fascinating if somewhat notorious (although now generally forgotten) 1972 documentary film "Chung Kuo, Cina".
Earlier in the Shanghai segment of "Chung Kuo", Antonioni had visited the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in that city in July 1921 at a gathering of twelve men. They supposedly were seated around a table drinking tea. The Italian director shows the empty room now a display of what would be a momentous event. The camera pans over the surface of the highly polished conference table and notes the carefully arranged teacups and pot, all that remained to mark a spectral moment that altered the course of Chinese history.
Even in the impoverished days of the early 1970s, the teahouse next to the Yu Yuan Garden continued to served desultory customers. The teahouse is housed in a building that was re-constructed in 1784, in the dying years of the Qianlong reign era. Renamed the Yeshi Pavilion 盲鹿鸥忙藴炉猫禄鈥?in 1855, during the Xianfeng reign era, tea was sold there and today it is one of the most famous tea establishments in the People"s Republic. Even in 1970s it was a popular spot. Although the various confections and delicacies for which it had once been renowned were reduced to naught, customers could meet friends there, visit with family members or simply read the paper while they sipped tea, chatted and looked out over the scenery.
In "Chung Kuo, Cina", Antonioni"s camera first pans over the lotus growing in the large pond in which the tea house is situated. It then follows the crowds along one arm of the zigzag bridge linking the shore to the double-storied tea pavilion. The voiceover claims that the teahouse is reserved for senior citizens and their families (this was definitely not the case when I first visited Yu Garden in early 1975). The bridges connect it on one side to the Ming-era Yu Garden, and on the other to the old Temple of the City God 氓鸥沤茅拧聧氓潞鈩? The sounds of the time are recorded with the same care with the languid atmosphere of the teahouse is captured. The camera lingers on some of the sparse artwork on the walls of the pavilion; they include a large Mao slogan in golden lettering reading "Long Live the Great Unity of the Peoples of the World" 氓鈥βぢ糕€撁р€⑴捗ぢ郝好β扳€樏ヂぢモ€郝⒚烩€溍ぢ糕€∶ヂ猜?and a poster from the film version of the Beijing Model Opera "Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy" 忙鈩⒙好ヂ忊€撁ヂ伱ㄢ劉沤氓卤卤. The voiceover tells us:
The atmosphere is strange: nostalgic and jovial at the same time. The recollections of the past mix with the confidence of the present.
The lens then loiters, seemingly transfixed by scenes of normal citizens of Mao"s China in casual and relaxed conversation. Customers drink out of small teacups, not the elaborate covered bowls or lidded tea mugs that are now common; they play with children, smoke, sip tea, smoke, chat芒鈧?Nonetheless, the sounds are muffled, a low din that reflects the de rigueur atmosphere of a world that had survived the Maoist-Lin Biao "red terror" that had by then reigned for half a dozen years. Through an upstairs window we catch sight of the last words of a popular Mao slogan: "Down with American imperialism and all reactionaries"