Yuewei Cottage (Yuewei Caotang)

Yuewei Cottage, located at 45 Hufangqiao (Tiger Lane Bridge) Street, is the former residence of the Qing Dynasty scholar Ji Yun (1724-1805).

It was here that Ji wrote the famous collection of literary essays called Yuewei Cottage Sketchbook, which ranks among the most assiduous work, however, was not done on this book but on the Synopsis of the Library of the Four Branches of Literature, which took 13 years to complete. For only after reading the more than 36,000 volumes of the Complete Library of the Four Branches of Literature could the synopsis, which takes up more than 200 fascicles, be compiled.

Ji Yun (courtesy name Ji Xiaolan) was born in Xianxian County, Hebei Province, and was a successful candidate in the imperial examinations during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. He had a carefree, humorous disposition and was generally regarded as something of a comic. A man of profound learning and an eloquent and out-spoken writer, Ji Yun made many valuable contributions to Chinese scholarship. Nevertheless, his fate under the feudal monarchy was an unfortunate one. One of his relatives, Lu Yayu, was Commissioner of Salt Affairs headquartered in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province. Lu held feasts and entertained guests at the government' s expense so frequently that he nearly belonged to the state. When the emperor discovered this, he decided to confiscate Lu' s property.

Ji Yun got wind of the plan and sent Lu a letter of warning. Without writing a single word, he sprinkled a few tealeaves inside and added salt to the glue with which he sealed the envelope. Lu understood this to mean that there was trouble about the salt business, while the tea leaves (cha) warned of a raid (also pronounced cha) on his house. Lu immediately transferred all of his valuable property to a secret place for safekeeping. Unfortunately, an old enemy of Ji Yun named He Shen, vice-minister of the Ministry of Revenue and Population and member of the Imperial Privy Council. Learned of the secret and informed the emperor. As a result, the scholar was banished to distant Xinjiang. Despite the fact that Ji was subsequently pardoned and promoted to become a senior member of the Imperial Academy, acting as chief of editing and compiling, his official career never recovered from this serious setback.

In 1931, the noted Peking Opera stars Yu Shuyan and Mei Lanfang organized the Chinese Opera Society, the Chinese Opera Pictorial and the Society for the Teaching and Practice of Chinese Opera, all of which gathered at the Yuwei Cottage for meetings. A stage was constructed in the courtyard and it was here that the Society for the Teaching and Practice of Chinese Opera staged its premiere performance. After 1949, the cottage became the headquarters of the Society for Democratic Construction.

The courtyards of the Yuwei Cottage house two rare old trees, which deserve mention. The first is a 100-year-old Chinese wisteria in the front courtyard. The other is a double-forked crabapple in the rear courtyard.

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