2009/05/27

Chinese time machine #5

Moving back even further – though not a lot – we come to 15 February 2009. It was clear and very cold in Beijing, but I chose to venture out to Daguanyuan (大观园), which I’m not even really sure how to translate. The English maps give it as Grand View Garden, which will apparently do.

One thing about this place that is unique among all the places I’ve visited in China is that it is not old, and not only is it not old, but it was built as a set for a TV series. It’s hard to explain the cultural importance of the book called 红楼梦 (Hong Lou Meng, usually translated Dream of the Red Chamber) to the Chinese. It is one of the Four Great Novels, and you probably would be hard pressed to find a single Chinese person not familiar with it on some level. In the 1980s, China Central Television produced a series based on the book, and instead of filming it on soundstages, they built an entire compound designed to match every description found in the book of the place where the main family lives. It’s the story of a prominent family in decline, so grandeur is called for.

Here’s the front entrance.
Yeah, it was February, so prepare yourself for lots of pictures with bare trees.

At Ұ55 (US$9), the ticket is a bit on the expensive side compared to a lot of Beijing sights.

There are many buildings arrayed around various water/ice features.
Helpful signs tell you what parts of the book involve the buildings, which character lived there and so on.
As you can see, they did a very good job of imitating the style of construction you see at the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and so on.

Inside some of the buildings are figures dressed as the characters.
Most of the major characters in the story are women.
This compound within a compound is the nunnery where Miaoyu retired to a Buddhist life.

Here’s a view across the largest lake.
I’ve never before seen a sign that said “Keep off the lake” – though of course while it’s frozen solid, the meaning is correct. The Chinese is a little more verbose, and says that the ice is not safe, so please don’t go on the lake. I presume they change the sign once it’s not frozen.

Since the family in the story was highly placed in society, they had some special buildings made just for occasions when the emperor would visit.
Any resemblance to the Forbidden City is no coincidence.

Inside one building is a bunch of Red Chamber memorabilia.
These are photos of actors who have played the various parts in various productions of the story, not just the 1980s series that was filmed here.
And this kind of tree...
...is called a “Dragon Claw Tree.”

Some visitors are not impressed by elaborate buildings.
And for a price...
...you can dress in period costume and have your picture taken.

As I promised, you’ve seen lots of pictures of bare trees. It seems that such a situation is intolerable.
So the staff has provided some trees with a little help.

I guess there’s a new version of Red Chamber currently in production, and they had some promotional posters of the new cast.
I’m hoping that for the actual filming, they will have more authentic hairstyles.

There you go. I think about when I’ve visited Universal Studios, and it’s kind of hard to imagine sets like this ever being built for an American production.

Daguanyuan is in the Xuanwu (宣武) District of Beijing, not a long taxi ride from Changchunjie Station (长椿街站) on subway line 2. It is certainly not on the short list of Beijing places you must see unless you are a Chinese literature buff or maybe interested in TV production, but it was interesting, and I’ve already seen the things on the short list. There is also an underground theater at Daguanyuan where they show a computer animated 3D short feature that involves a dream in the Red Chamber. A character falls asleep and drifts through various scenes somewhat resembling events in the book. Or so I’m told – I haven’t read the book yet.

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