Located on Xufujie Street in the downtown area of Kaifeng city, the Shanshangan Guild Hall has a history of over 200 years. It is actually one of the best-preserved ancient guild halls in China nowadays. In spite of the frequent floods from the Yellow River as well as other disasters this ancient city has experienced in history, the remaining part of the Shanshangan Guild Hall, however, has always been very well protected and quite original.
As a small exquisite courtyard, the Shanshangan guild hall now is very famous for its three sculptures-the wood sculpture, stone sculpture, and brick sculpture, which are considered as magnificent artwork by experts, and which are the main attractions to tourists, who are always amazed by the intelligence of the ancient artists who made the sculptures. They are really amazing! That is the oftenest comment by tourists after their visits.
Actually the Shanshangan Guild Hall now is only one small part of the original one . It was first built in 1760s during Emperor Qianlong's reign, who was the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, which was the last imperial dynasty in Chinese history existing from 1644 to 1911. At that time Kaifeng served as the capital city of Henan Province as well a commercial center of this area. As a result, there were a lot of merchants from different parts of China coming here to do business. In order to help each other and make themselves a stronger group in this city far away from their hometowns, merchants from Shanxi, Sha'anxi and Gansu provinces, which were actually neighbors of each other and where people shared some similar customs and cultures, cooperated and built the Shanshangan guild hall, which served as a meeting club for the business people from those three provinces as well as a place for their fellow countrymen to come for help when they first came here as strangers to this city.
Just like other traditional Chinese architectures, this courtyard is orientated north and south with its gate facing south. People will love this place at first sight when they see the big screen wall at the entrance. It is actually a brick wall, 16.5 meters long and 8.6 meters high, with magnificent and exquisite brick carvings on the top of both sides, among which there are vases, flowers,animals, books, paintings , and musical instruments . Different things combined together have different meanings in Chinese culture and indicate the ancient people's wishes for a happly life as well as a smooth business. What is more interesting is, a delicate and elaborate abacus can be observed among the carvings. As the saying goes,"the sounds of the abacus you hear, a lot of gold will appear". The abacus is not only a tool for calculation, but also a symbol of accumulating more wealth, especially to merchants. On the northern side of the screen wall, there is a group of stone carvings in the central part, which is named "two dragons playing with a pearl". That pearl is actually a spider and the two words have the same pronunciations in Chinese language. Spiders make webs and the webs are gradually made bigger and bigger. The ancient merchants just hoped that their business would be just like the webs of spiders, so that they would make more and more money. Also on the wall four big black Chinese characters-"ZhongYiRenYong" can be observed ,which mean fidelity, righteousness, benevolence and boldness, and which describes the ancient great hero Guanyu, who was a famous general in the Three Kingdom Period in the 2nd century AD, and later considered as the God of Wealth. He was also from Shanxi province, one of the three provinces. Therefore he was worshipped here by ancient merchants.
Behind the screen wall is the opera stage building, which functioned as a place for ancient people to conduct operas to worship the great hero Guanyu. According to the traditional Chinese calendar every year on 13th the first month 13th the fifth month and 13th the ninth month there would be operas specially performed here to worship general Guanyu.
On two sides of the opera stage are situated the drum tower and the bell tower, which are commonly seen in ancient Chinese courtyards, and served to tell people the time.
An annex hall is situated on both sides of the north-south axis in the middle part of the courtyard, which are extremely famous for their wood carvings, which vividly describe ancient people's lifestyle as well as includes different groups of stories involving ancient people's good wishes towards life, such as long life, filial piety and so on. Inside the western hall there is the copy of the famous painting Qingming Riverside View ,which is called Qingmingshanghetu in Chinese. And also there are other pictures offering various information about the science, technology, architecture ,agriculture and so forth of the Northern Song Dynasty ( 960AD----1127AD) during which Kaifeng city served as the capital of China.
At last is situated the biggest and the most important building here , on the eaves of which there is the largest part of wood carvings in Shanshangan Guild Hall ,which includes seven layers of sculptures. The first layer is full of bats, which symbolize happiness, as they are pronounced the same with the character happiness in Chinese. The second, third and fourth layers include other auspicious animals, such as dragons, deer, horses, monkeys, sheep and elephants. The last three layers are mainly composed of different plants, flowers, such as lichi, oranges, peaches, pines, bamboos, chrysanthemum, peony and so on. Inside this building there is a big statue of general Guanyu and some other pictures about the history of Kaifeng city.
Generally speaking,the Shanshangan Guild Hall is the best place especially for those who are interested in ancient Chinese art and want to learn about the traditional Chinese carvings. A small place it is, but rather worth visiting!