Ningbo, China: Tianyi ge

Tianyi Ge is the oldest extant library in China. It is also walking distance from Popo’s house, which meant that one afternoon, we ventured there despite the chilly rain.


The complex is beautiful. Originally built in the mid-16th century, the library then housed over 50,000 volumes. Over the centuries, the collection diminished. By the 20th century, thanks to thieves, disasters and sales, it reached its nadir of 20,000 volumes. Since then, with the government taking over the complex’s restoration and maintenance, the collection has been rebuilt to roughly 30,000 volumes.


It’s hard to get a sense for what it once was. Admittance to Tianyi Ge also gets you into other family complexes, all linked through a maze of corridors. Were these the alleys of the old city? I know so little about Chinese architecture that I can’t say. Were these historic buildings deconstructed from elsewhere in the city and moved here to be part of a grand historical park? Such things have happened before.


My historical purist concerns aside, a visit Tianyi Ge is definitely worth one’s time. The exhibits inside the buildings include a mahjong room, a glimpse at the modern way these ancient books are stored, a reconstructed library for how they once were kept, a massive bridal sedan chair (Popo told me later that she was carried in one on her wedding day), a gallery of stelae dating back to the 16th century, and charming statuary.


We visited Tianyi Ge on our second day in Ningbo. The thoughts I had about what has been preserved/what has been destroyed, and what remains/what is gone would prove to be incredibly thematic for the rest of our stay in the city.


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