A corner of Shen's Garden in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. [Photo/IC]
Shen's Garden, a national 5A-level tourist attraction in downtown Shaoxing, used to be a private garden owned by a wealthy merchant surnamed Shen in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).
The garden earned its lasting popularity largely because it witnessed a household love tragedy between Lu You (1125-1210), one of ancient China's most prolific and famous poets, and his first wife Tang Wan (1128-1156). They were both natives of today's Shaoxing in Zhejiang province.
In 1141, Lu married Tang, who possessed a remarkable literary talent rarely seen in ancient Chinese women. They immediately fell in love and were deeply attached to each other.
However, three years into the marriage, the couple failed to bear a single child, for which the wife alone took the blame according to traditional thinking. Lu's mother disliked Tang as she believed that Tang not only affected Lu's preparation for keju, an imperial examination that selects candidates for the state bureaucracy, but also would leave the Lu family childless. Under the order of his imperious mother, Lu had no choice but to divorce his beloved wife - disobeying parents in the choice of spouses in ancient times was considered a taboo.
Following the reluctant divorce, Lu remarried a woman surnamed Wang who then gave birth to three sons in four years, while Tang remarried another local literatus Zhao Shicheng and bore one son and one daughter.
In 1154, Lu excelled in the keju exam held in Lin'an (today's Hangzhou), the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, but was not designated a government post because his political opinions fell into disfavor with the notorious chancellor Qin Hui (1090-1155). Disappointed, Lu returned to his hometown of Shaoxing.
One pleasant spring day the next year, Lu visited Shen's Garden and came across Tang, who was with her husband Zhao. Tang's close interaction with Zhao reminded Lu of their good old days. Heartbroken, Lu wrote a poem on a wall in the garden to convey his deep regrets about the abandoned love.
Three years following Qin's death, Lu eventually left the hometown for a government post. But he revisited Shen's Garden multiple times throughout his life, leaving numerous poems about Tang.
At the age of 84, one year before his life ended, Lu paid his last visit to Shen's Garden on another spring day and wrote another pensive poem, half of a century following his last encounter with Tang there.