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December 5, 2011

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Home of Ba Jin opens to public

Shanghai was a cradle of China's New Culture Movement when pioneering scholars called for a new Chinese culture based on global and Western standards in the 1920s. Among them are many major figures in contemporary Chinese literature who lived in the city and penned some of their masterpieces.

Some of the buildings where they lived remain today, so visitors can see how the writers lived and provide insight into their works.

The former residence of acclaimed writer Ba Jin (1904-2005) opened to the public last Thursday on his 105th anniversary. Admission is free.

Born in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Ba, whose real name was Li Yaotang, was the grand old man of Chinese literature. He was renowned for prerevolutionary works like "The Family" (1931) about the brutality and decline of a feudal household, based on his own childhood.

He lived in the three-story Spanish-style building in Xuhui District for more than 50 years until he died at age 101 in 2005. In the building, he wrote one of his masterpieces "Random Thoughts," collected essays about the country's "cultural revolution" (1966-76), in which he suffered and his wife died. He was rehabilitated in 1981 and became nominal head of the Chinese Writers' Association.

Ba wrote and translated many books, including novels, short stories, works of prose and essays - a total of 13 million words by the end of his life.

His major works include "The Love Trilogy: Fog, Rain, Lightning" (1931-35), "The Torrent Trilogy: Family, Spring, Autumn" (1933-40), "A Dream of Sea" and "Autumn in Spring," all landmarks in modern Chinese culture.

The original furniture and decorations have been maintained as they were while Ba lived there. The bookshelves, sofas and lamps were all used by Ba and his wife Xiao Shan, who was also a famous writer and translator. The house looks no different from that of ordinary Shanghai families - except for valuable paintings, sculpture and calligraphy presented by famous artists in China and abroad.

Before entering the building with a colorful stone facade, visitors can walk in the garden filled with trees and flowers, many of them planted by Ba, and cross a large lawn where Ba used to greet guests and see them out.

"Ba always invited us younger generation writers to the house when I was young. I can still remember his greetings with a Sichuan accent," says Wang Anyi, deputy president of the Chinese Writers' Association.

Many of the country's great writers sat in the armchairs and on the sofas in the first-floor living room.

"Ba liked to sit beside us, listen to us talking and laugh with us," says Ye Xin, a famous writer who was a frequent guest.

Ba, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, spent most of his last years on the first floor since he was not mobile, according to Zhou Limin, deputy director of the Ba Jin's Former Residence Museum.

Ba was born on November 25, 1904, into the family of an important Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) official and received a good education from private tutors. He grew up to be a high-spirited youth who rebelled against the constraints of life in a family living in a feudal society.

In 1926, he went to study in France and lived at a small inn where he felt the pangs of love and sadness, hope and desperation. There he wrote his first novel, "Mie Wang" ("Destruction"), which explored the soul of an intellectual eager to overturn a corrupt world but unable to find the right way to do it.

"Even in my dreams I never thought that I would become a novelist," Ba once said. "I started writing for my own self-salvation."

Later, he completed "The Torrent Trilogy," his most celebrated anti-feudal work. The three novels came from his early life in a feudal family and convey to the reader the strong emotions of love and hatred.

Books can be seen everywhere on the second-floor bedroom. The books are in many different languages since Ba could speak and write in English, French and Russian. A big bookshelf even stands in the bathroom on the second floor.

The urn containing of Ba's wife's ashes had been placed on a cabinet beside his bed, but now the ashes of the couple have been mingled and scattered in the sea, according to Ba's last wish.

Ba met his wife Xiao in 1936 when he was 32. She died from cancer in 1972.

Xiao was an admirer of Ba who already was an established figure in literary circles at that time. They met after she wrote a letter to him and they kept up a correspondence for several months in which they shared their ideas about literature and life.

Eight years after their first meeting Ba proposed and they were married in 1944. After Xiao's death, Ba insisted on keeping the urn containing her ashes beside him, at first in his bedroom and then in his hospital ward after his admission in 1999.

"I like to see the container in my bedroom," Ba told anyone who tried to persuade him to bury Xiao's ashes. "It makes me feel like she's always at my side."

Ba's granddaughter Duan Duan had lived with him in the same bedroom.

"My granddaughter Duan Duan will get up at 6am every day, help me wear my socks and say goodbye to me before going to school ... She does not know her sound brings me great warmth every day," Ba wrote in an essay.

Ba loved children all his life. Even after being sick in bed, Ba spent three weeks writing a 3,000-word reply to students in which he discussed the meaning and essence of idealism.

"I have always yearned to see pure, young souls and I will never forget them all my life," he once said.

In 2003, the State Council awarded Ba the title of "People's Writer."

The city government spent five years renovating his former residence for visitors and collected information and letters from around the world.

The residence is having a test operation from December 2 when visitors are asked to book their visits by telephone (3368-5656-115).

Address: 113 Wukang Rd

Opening hours: 10am-3pm (closed on Sunday and Monday)

Telephone for booking: 3368-5656-115

To see more photos at

Where other writers lived

Xu Zhimo's Former Residence

Xu (1897-1931), a celebrated poet, promoted modern Chinese poetry and pursued love, freedom and beauty. His best-known poem is "Farewell to Cambridge Again." Xu and his wife, Lu Xiaoman, lived in the old-style residential complex of longtang or lane houses near Yan'an Road M. A plaque remains at the entrance to the lane.

Address: 913 Yan'an Rd M.

Changde Apartments of Eileen Chang

Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing, 1920-1995), born to an aristocratic family in Shanghai, was a famous writer in both Chinese and English. She was known for traumatic loves. "Lust, Caution" and "Love in a Fallen City" are among her many well-known works.

The seven-story Art Deco building was built in the early 1930s. Chang once shared Room 51 with her mother and aunt, and after 1942 spent five years in Room 65 where she wrote 25 essays, 18 novels, two film scripts and one play. They included "Love in a Fallen City" and "Record of a Golden Yoke."

Address: 195 Changde Rd

Opening hours: 10am-10pm

Duolun Road Culture Street

The L-shaped pedestrian street in Hongkou District is a peaceful walkway behind busy Sichuan Road. In the early 20th century, prominent writers, including Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Mao Dun, Ye Shengtao and Wang Zaoshi, lived in the area.


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