Chengdu Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum 成都杜甫草堂博物馆 is the official name of the park that included the former site of Du Fu’s refuge in Chengdu, museums that commemorate the poet and poetry in China, etc. For ease of writing, we will refer it to as “The Cottage”.
In the tenth year of Tianbao 天宝十年 (755), the Anshi Rebellion 安史之乱 broke out. In order to avoid the war, in the winter of 759, with the help of friends, Du Fu moved his family to Huanhua Brook 浣花溪 in Chengdu and built a thatched hut by the stream.
This is Du Fu’s description of Chengdu thatched cottage. Until the death of his friend four years later, Du Fu had to live in a foreign land with his family again, and the cottage has been destroyed since then. During the Five Dynasties period 五代时期 (907-979), Wei Zhuang 韦庄 found the thatched cottage site. In order to express his feeling of “seeking the talent to find the place”, he rebuilt the cottage and kept it preserved. This current cottage was rebuilt in 1997 during the restoration the entire area.
The Cottage Museum Main Axis Buildings 杜甫草堂主体纪念建筑群中轴线 includes the following buildings constructed in the classical Chinese mansion and garden configuration.
- Front Gate 正门 and Screen Wall 照壁
- Grand Lobby 大廨
- Hall of Historic Poetry 诗史堂
- Firewood Gate 柴门
- Gongbu Shrine 工部祠
- Shaoling Tablet Pavilion 少陵碑亭
- Water Shed 水槛
- Yilan Pavilion 一揽亭
- Water Pavilion 水榭
Since then, the thatched cottage has been preserved until the late Ming Dynasty, when Zhang Xianzhong 张献忠 revolted in Chengdu, and the original cottage was destroyed in the fire of war. In the Qing Dynasty, during the Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong and Jiaqing periods, The Cottage was rebuilt and repaired, and the park was expanded to the current scale. In the late period of the Republic of China, the civil war caused The Cottage to suffer heavy losses. It was not until the founding of People’s Republic of China that it was fully renovated and opened to the outside world in 1952.
1/ Front Gate 正门
As you get off the taxi in front of the main entrance of The Cottage, you get to an important part of the classical Chinese architecture.
Screen Wall 照壁 shields off the Front Gate 正门 from the prying eyes. In Western architecture, the front gate is not considered the part of the building. However, in Chinese architecture, the Front Gate is counted as the first part 第一重 of the house.
Front Gate 正门 not only serves at the protection of the property, it is also where the lesser guests will do their business and leave. Most visitors would not event go past the first part. The word “草堂” on the main door plaque was inscribed by Prince Guo 果亲王允礼, the seventeenth son of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty and the younger brother of Emperor Yongzheng.
On both sides of the door, there is also a couplet that came from Du Fu’s poem that described the location of The Cottage.
2/ Grand Lobby 大廨
Few steps ahead, Grand Lobby 大廨 is connected to the Front Gate through a cobblestone pave across a bridge over a small brook and through beautiful landscaping.
During his escape from warfare to Chengdu, Du Fu had been as important policy-advisor of Yan Wu 严武 until this friend died four years later. The Grand Lobby is an open hall-style building. When Emperor Jiaqing ordered the rebuilding of the cottage in the 16th year of his reign (1811), the designers considered that Du Fu had been an official and should have an office space and had this hall named as such. The bronze statue of Du Fu in the middle is the work of Mr. Qian Shaowu 钱绍武, a famous Chinese sculptor, which shows Du Fu’s thin image.
3/ Hall of the Historic Poetry 诗史堂
In middle of Hall of the Historic Poetry 诗史堂 stands an intricate bust of Du Fu by renowned Chinese sculptor Liu Kaiqu 刘开渠.
In ancient China, ambition for the country and loyalty for the emperor was an essential quality for a literati. Looking through his poems, Du had left most of them as a brief commentary of Chinese history especially the late Tang Dynasty, the beginning of the fall of the great empire. Du happened to be the most outstanding one to present this kind of spirit, which I think is why his fame increased over the years as this was the kind of integrity that the emperors wanted of their officials.
On both sides of the hall are two permanent exhibitions depicting the life and works of Du Fu. “The Cottage for Generations” 草堂留后世 (3a) on the left side of the hall and “The Complete Works of Du Fu” 诗圣著千秋 (3b) on the right side. Worth a quick glance through although most of the items are replicas and not the originals.
4/ Firewood Gate 柴门
Before entering Gongbu Shrine 工部祠, there is a gate that was given the name of Firewood Gate 柴门 as a reference to the original front gate of Du Fu’s thatched cottage. The original gate was made from wood collected from the forest around the cottage, hence the name.
The current gate, which was built in the Ming Dynasty and rebuilt in Qing Dynasty, although not as simple or rustic as the original is still the simplest gateway in the main axis.
On the walls on both side of the gate are inscriptions of admiration of the poet left behind by the officials that sponsored the repairs and expansions of the cottage over the years. Since Du Fu left Chengdu after the death of his sponsor, the cottage was restored and abandoned multiple times. The two largest restoration exercises in the 13th year of Ming Hongzhi 明弘治十三年 (1500) and the 16th year of Qing Jiaqing 清嘉庆十六年 (1811) basically established the scale and layout of The Cottage today.
On the left side of the gate is Quayside Lodge 恰受航軒 (4a) and is currently running an exhibition of Du Fu poems from difference editions of different dynasties 杜诗版本展. On the right is Water Bamboo Lodge 水竹居 (4b) and is currently housing the exhibition of statues of Du Fu by modern sculptor Wu Weishan 吴为山.
5/ Gongbu Shrine 工部祠
The last building along the main axis is Gongbu Shrine 工部祠. Because Du Fu once served as the staff officer to the Minister of Civil Department or 节度参谋检校工部员工郎 in Chinese, he was referred to Du Gongbu 杜工部. This shrine was built to commemorate him.
Besides the statue for Du Fu, you can also find the statues for Lu You 陆游 and Huang Tingjian 黄庭坚, two patriotic poets from the Song Dynasty, on both sides of Du Fu. Therefore, Gongbu Shrine is also called Three Sages Hall 三贤堂.
There are stone carvings of Du Fu in the Ming and Qing dynasties in the Gongbu Shrine. Among them, the bust of Du Fu (right) in the 30th year of Ming Emperor Wanli 明万历三十年 (1602) is the earliest stone carving that remained in The Cottage. Subsequently, the image of Du Fu was reimagined using this as the basis.
6/ Shaoling Tablet Pavilion 少陵碑亭
On the right side of the Shrine is the Shaoling Tablet Pavilion 少陵碑亭, a thatched pavilion that housed the prominent stone steele written by Prince Guo when he passed by Chengdu on his way to Tibet and visited The Cottage.
Shaoling 少陵 is the alias that Du Fu used to call himself. Shaoling Stele Pavilion is one of the most representative buildings in The Cottage. The stone tablet in the pavilion is engraved with the four characters “Shaoling Cottage” 少陵草堂. The handwriting was powerful and beautiful. It was written by Prince Guo in the twelfth year of Emperor Yongzheng (1734). The man gate used the two characters for cottage for the signboard as well.
7/ Water Shed 水槛
Water Shed 水槛 was just in front of the original cottage along the brook. It was a shelter for people to get on and off the boats along the river. The poet spent many days seeking shelter from the rain and sun.
8/ Yilan Pavilion 一揽亭
Plum Garden 梅苑 is located in the northwest corner of the Cottage and was originally a private garden. It was transferred to the management of The Cottage when the Communists took over. Crossing the Hall of Historical Poetry 诗史堂 and turning west, passing through the Water Shed 水槛 and into the Moon Cave Gate 月洞门, this is the plum garden.
Yilan Pavilion 一揽亭 is located on the northwest side of Plum Garden 梅苑, with a height of 23.1 metres. It was named after Du Fu’s poem as it provides a vantage point of looking at the entire garden, which is quite spectacular during the springtime when all the plum blossoms are in bloom.
9/ Water Pavilion 水榭
And within the Plum Garden by the water lotus pond is the Water Pavilion 水榭. This was part of the classical Chinese garden layout that is so popular around Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
Du Fu Thatched Cottage Series
Du Fu Thatched Cottage 杜甫草堂 is a museum and memorial for Tang Dynasty poet and politician, Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770 AD). He is known as the Saint of Poetry 诗圣 and had written over 1,400 poems during his lifetime. The memorial is located in a 24 acre (97,000 square meter) park by the side of a stream called the Huanhua Stream 浣花溪 in Chengdu’s western suburb. Du Fu resided in a thatched cottage at the site where he took refuge in Chengdu during a war.
Visited in Dec 2021