Qing’An Assembly Hall- Ningbo, China

Unassuming entrance, but awesome inside!
As far as things to do in Ningbo, I would classify Qing’An Assembly hall and maritime museum as a “hidden gem.” When I was looking for things to do in Ningbo, this was not even on the list on the internet! I stumbled upon it on one of our exploration excursions, and returned later on in the week with camera in tow. Especially because my toddler loves boats, this was a wonderful morning outing for us. Plenty of interesting architecture and history for me, and plenty of cool boat models with moving parts for my boy! 
Ticket booth is on the side of the building, pictured here
The hall is situated along the banks of the Fengua river, and was a meeting place for business men and sailors before heading out to sea. It includes meeting rooms, a Queen of Heaven temple, and several stages for performances and offerings to Mazu, the Queen of Heaven. It was built in the mid-1880s, and was restored and turned into a maritime museum of sorts about 20 years ago. As we walked through the exhibits and posters, we learned so much about the history of boats, shipping and trade in Ningbo as well as about the business guilds (kind of like unions) and the legend of Queen of Heaven Mazu. 
Neat roof detail of Queen of Heaven portion of hall
Ningbo has been a center of trade for thousands of years. With a protected harbor and located at the intersection of several rivers, the first boats for going longer distances were built here over two thousand years ago! Along with a written history of boats were scale models that Landon really enjoyed! These early boats had woven sails, which were cool to see. Landon liked touching all of the boats and discovering moving parts 
An imported boat with paddle wheels

Once Landon saw all the boats, he took off toward the back of the complex. There were gates, stages, and then little rooms surrounding courtyards and the stages. We skipped some of the early boats and ended up way at the back with huge shipping vessels and imported paddle wheel boats before returning to the beginning to learn about the first boats. I apologize for some of the pictures being off-kilter- I was trying to document our time and keep my son from destroying boats, running out to the road, etc.

Boat with tons of paddle wheels and catapults!
One of the stages
Centerpiece boat

 The hall was built around four stages where performances and offerings were offered to Mazu. This makes it one of the largest surviving Queen of Heaven temples in China. Mazu is the patron saint of seafarers in China. She was a real person that lives in 960 AD. She fell asleep or fell into a trance as a girl when her brothers and father were out at sea in a big storm. The story goes that her mother disturbed her, causing her to drop her brother who then drowned. Her father made it back alive and told everyone the miracle that had happened- that he had been saved. She passed away at a relatively young age, but was known to wear red during her life to guide ships into the harbor. She was also a good swimmer. Seafarers in coastal China started to worship her and make offerings and prayers to her for safe voyages. The legend of this temple goes that the Koreans commissioned some boats to be built in Ningbo. When they were completed, they loaded them with dignitaries and sailed off to Korea. Along the way, they ran into rough seas and almost sank in a storm. They claimed that they prayed to Mazu and were spared. After they returned to Ningbo, they built a temple to the Queen of Heaven Mazu to commemorate the event.

Center of one of the pavilions- I loved the gold pattern!
Queen Mazu temple

In the boats exhibit, there was a section on trade and the silk road. I had no idea that by 500 A.D., Ningbo was a stop on the maritime silk road. Goods were traded from all the way in Arabia, and Chinese pots from this period have been found in Indonesia and southeast Asia as well. Crazy!

Silk road graphic
Columns of the front gate with lanterns
So many cool boats!
Pavilion detail
Entrance to back room in complex

Ningbo is also known for textiles and the decorating intricate carved wood with gold leafing. We saw lots of examples of the gold leafing around the assembly hall.

Love the smile and “wise eyes”
Gold ceiling details

We have one book that is kind of about China. It is called Ping and is about a duck that lives in a boat on the Yangtzee River. The boat he lives on is called the “wise-eyed” boat in the book. Almost all of the boat models in the exhibit also had eyes! Landon got a kick out of that- the first ones he noticed he said, “MOMMY! That boat has wise eyes just like in Ping! We have a book about that!”

There was a placard saying there were ancient stone carvings around the hall as well, I think this might be one of them
We guessed this might be an old, stone anchor?
Roof dragons!

In between the two assembly halls, there was a small courtyard and garden with a sculpture garden of very old stone sculptures. Here were two of my favorites:

The garden
Dragon
Elderly Chinese people

We soon found out that the Guild hall was actually two halls connected by a courtyard. In the second area, there was an exhibit showing the history of Mazu and the history of guild halls. The halls were for businessmen to meet, and were basically trade unions. There were artifacts and furniture set up to show how the buildings looked when they were used by the guilds.

Cool stick things
Business office
Random super cool dragon made out of wood

We were able to see everything in the hall in an hour, plus some time for wandering and back tracking. This was a great place to learn more about the coastal Chinese culture, boats over the years, and religion all in one! 

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