Tianyi Pavilion- Ningbo, China


Cool statue near side entrance

Tianji Pavilion is smack dab in the middle of downtown Ningbo, close to Moon Lake park. It is not, however, on the shores of Moon Lake. I read this in a Trip Advisor review so we had a nice walk in the heat trying to find the entrance! Fortunately, we eventually found it and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It is one of the oldest private libraries in China, as well as the world. It is filled with an eclectic mix of civil records, books and other texts.

Main Entrance
Small fish pond near the entrance
Antique Chinese furniture in another building
Intricate outside lantern

The “pavilion” is actually a housing complex where Fan Qin lived. He was a defense minister in the Ming dynasty, and began collecting a wide variety of local civil records, books about jinshi (the highest level of examination done in front of the emperor), and contemporary anthologies. While most book collectors at the time were collecting classics, he was preserving pieces of history for generations to come! The library was built in 1561 and had 70,000 volumes at one point in time.

Indoor lantern
I loved the carved stone walls! 

The name Tianyi is linked in Chinese to water, and naming it in this way was supposed to protect the library from fire. It is humid in Ningbo, so in the absence of temperature control, porous rocks were put under every bookcase to absorb water and keep the books as dry as possible. When Fan Qin passed, he had two sons, and a will that dictated that whoever took possession and care of the library would have extra money in the inheritance to continue to care for it. His oldest son took responsibility for the library and it remained in the Fan family until it was given to the government in 1950. Qin’s relatives then became employees of the government working there.

Inside of the one of the many pavilions in the complex
The current climate- controlled library

Over the years, the library has endured many attacks and thefts. After the Opium war, the British came and took many volumes related to history and geography. In the 1920’s, an antique bookseller in Shanghai hired a thief and gave him a list of rare books to steal from the library. He slept during the day, and stole through the library during the night finding the books on the list and putting them into a boat that was docked nearby. Many of these volumes were never recovered and were sold by the book seller. By the time the government took over, the collection had dwindled to 20,000 volumes. The citizens of Ningbo and the surrounding area, including some major book collectors, donated their rare books to the library and now the collection stands at 30,000 books. Many of the volumes are antique books and documents from the Ming Dynasty.

Cabinet open to display documents inside library
Inside of library- mostly closed cabinets, all climate controlled!

The library as it currently stands is a temperature controlled building off to the side of the family compound. There are many pavilions that showcase both interesting volumes and calligraphy. There is also a whole pavilion and courtyard dedicated to Mah Jong, which I guess was a favorite game of Fan Qin. It was a very hot day, but the shade made it bearable- just make sure to pack enough water and snacks!

Awesome roof line on a building
In addition to the library building, there were many pavilions and buildings all surrounded by trees and gardens. It was shady, peaceful, and picturesque. Some of the buildings were more ornate than others, and the architecture was just wonderful inside and out. There were signs in English explaining the purpose of each building, but trying to photograph, engage in toddler chasing, and soak up the site it did not sink in very well. I know that some of the buildings were not originally part of the compound, but were moved there for the public to enjoy when the library became a national monument. 
One of many texts on display
Gardens and lake
Covered walkway near the gardens

Our favorite part of the whole complex were definitely the gardens. In the middle of the compound was a lake with trees and big rocks with pavilions on top- a great place for a picnic or rest from seeing the other parts of the compound. Landon loved running around on the paths and discovering the “tunnel” in the rock by the lake. He also found a giant turtle to climb on. It was not too crowded, so Landon had plenty of room to run around like a crazy kid. At one point, he found a boat tied up at the edge of the lake, and decided that it was his boat and he needed to go out in it. It took a great deal of distraction and convincing to get him to not jump in the boat!

Landon found a giant turtle in the garden
In between compound buildings
Outside the “T-rex” tunnel
Austin somehow convinced Landon that there was a T-rex in the dark tunnel pictured above. Then he said that if I went with Landon, then he would be safe from the T-rex. We went in the tunnel (it was really short and lit by daylight most of the way) and Austin came in behind making T-rex noises. Landon knew this trick from previous experiences and said, “That’s not a T-rex, that’s daddy!”
Confucian temple detail
Another odd building in the complex was a pavilion from a local Confucian temple that was moved here for preservation purposes. Walking around the complex, it was apparent which buildings belonged there and which were moved to be protected and part of the National Heritage site. It was a really neat building, and much more ornately decorated than all the other pavilions and buildings in the complex. 

Front of temple

I think Landon’s favorite part of our day at the pavilion were these fishies and the boat. He could care less about the books and history stuff but he was intrigued with the big goldfish. He had a hard time with a granola bar that I had given him for snack, and so we threw the extra pieces to the fish and they swarmed!

The koi/goldfish
Neat circle door
Statues of the family preserving books
The man himself, Fan Qin

Right at the end of our visit, when Landon was ready to expire, we came across a pavilion that told the actual history of the library and had some artifacts. I wish we had visited it sooner! We breezed through it rather quickly, but what I gleaned from that room and the internet is recorded above. Many of the signs around the complex had English translations. Some made more sense than others, but we caught on to what each pavilion contained. Overall, I would highly recommend this place to anyone passing through Ningbo, with or without kids. For the kids, there is plenty of space to run around and shade to rest. For the adults, the architecture and gardens are worth it for sure! We may even make a return trip before we leave Ningbo, the setting was just so serene and lovely. 


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