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2005-12-28 09:25:32

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Ningbo is known for many things in China:  the port city, fashion capital and robust economy powerhouse.  But travel hotspot is not among the usual vocabulary to describe it. Nevertheless, stereotyping can sometime cost you an interesting trip.  

Ningbo city is lucky to have one place – Tianyi Ge, or Tianyi Pavilion. Many Chinese scholars take it an honor to visit Tianyi ge, not merely for the fact that it is the earliest private library in Chinese history, but more for the symbolic meaning and the extraordinary stories behind the place.

The buildings were made of wood, and books in paper, so every precaution was taken to prevent catching fire. This is a so-called fire-proof corridor, in the case of fire, it stops fire being spread from the residential area to the library itself.

Another precaution taken was this pond. So in case of fire, they can take the water from here to put out the fire in the library.

Smoking and alcohol are prohibited. There is another door over here. So I guess this is it, the staircase leading to the Mecca of knowledge coveted by so many people.

It is said during the years this library belonged to Fan Family, only about a dozen people were allowed to climb up this staircase and go to the library to read the books, and they are all renowned scholars.

The library was built in mid-sixteenth century by Fanqin, a defense minister in Ming Dynasty, whose passion was reading and collecting rare and precious books. It only took about five years to build the library, but the accumulation and maintenance of the books has become the destiny of many generations of the Fan family to come.

Inside the bookcases are many valuable antique books. Actually being one of the largest, best-kept private libraries, Tianyi Pavilion has many volumes of precious antique books, and among them, the most talked-about is a gift given by Emperor Qianlong, It's the grand encyclopedia in Qing Dynasty. And among the most valuable are also the annals of counties and the list of those who passed the imperial exams in Ming Dynasty.

The success of Tianyi Ge came from the application of strict even inhumane rules. For example, non-family members were not allowed to get into the building or even borrow the books. For family members, only when all the branches agreed unanimously could the library be opened up.

Legend goes that a girl named Qian Xiuyun admired the books so much that she married into the Fan family just to earn the qualification to get inside Tianyi Ge. Sadly, until the day she died, she never got a chance to fulfill the dream because her husband was not from the main branches that controlled the keys.

This is a classic performance of Yong Ju, the traditional local opera of Ningbo.

Although Ningbo is always considered the birthplace of the Chinese modern businessmen, the idea of romance is not foreign to this land, actually, the greatest love story in Chinese history, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, started from this beautiful place.

The story took place in East Jin Dynasty 1600 years ago. Zhu yingtai, a girl with passion for books, went to a private school dressed up as a boy since women were not allowed to go to school at the time.

There she met a fellow student named Liang shanbo and spent three years together studying.

Of course, Zhu fell in love for Liang hopelessly, but Liang never realized that Zhu was a girl. Finally before she left for home, with the help of her teacher's wife, Liang learned the truth and promised to propose marriage to Zhu's father.

But as the case with Romeo and Juliet, the love between Liang and zhu was also star-crossed.

It turns out that Zhu's father already promised marriage of his daughter to the son of the mayor and wouldn't change his mind. Liang Shanbo soon died, heart-broken.

Legend goes that while Zhu Yingtai passed by Liang's tomb on her wedding day, the tomb split up and she jumped right into it. Then, two huge butterflies flew out of the tomb, allegedly the spirits of Liang Shangbo and Zhu Yingtai.

Photo Gallery: The City of Ningbo

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