Written & Photos by (作者, 图片来源): Vincent R. Vinci 魏文深
If you were to cross the Yongjiang Bridge from Laowaitan and make your way towards Book City, you might notice an old stone building with lions guarding its entrance sitting quietly as people go about their days, passing by without glimpsing at these old guards. Even though these two fellows stand menacingly at the entrance, forbidding those from entering, the open doors and a gander at what’s inside might convince one otherwise. After procuring a ticket and going through the doors, there’s a whole new world inside the gray plain exterior, a giant anchor sits near the entrance, and models of ancient Chinese seafaring vessels welcome visitors to the vast complex of maroon red and gold stages, hallways, shrines, and more that make up the Qing’an Guild Hall.
The guild hall, which during the Qing Dynasty served as a gathering place for seafaring merchants to hold celebrations and meetings, was erected in 1853 with funding from 9 shipping merchants. The guild hall not only served as a meeting place but also as a shrine to Muzu, the Goddess of the Sea. Legend has it that when the stone columns for the foundation of the hall were being shipped to Ningbo, a strong storm struck the fleet of ships and sunk all but the vessel carrying the columns made it through. Thus, upon hearing the story, the merchants thanked Muzu and dedicated the hall to her, building the shrine and an extra stage for sacrificial purposes.
Today the guild hall remains as a testament to the Ningbo shipping community and as a museum for Chinese maritime history. Within the hallways are small corridors with countless models of ancient Chinese ships, from antiquity leading up to the era of steam power. Although its sometimes easy to miss, the Qing’an Guild Hall is a wonderful historic site to visit and learn about old Ningbo and the traditions of Chinese maritime trade.
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Vincent R. Vinci is the Senior English Editor of Ningbo Focus. Having lived, studied, and worked in China on and off for the past 3 years or so, he has dedicated his time in the country to exploring its history, culture, food, and drink and sharing it with whoever wants to read about it.