The Huxin Ting Teahouse in the Diamond Age

November 14, 2007

Books There is no doubt that the venue for Judge Fang’s initial meeting with Dr X in Neal Stephenson‘s “The Diamond Age” (Bantam, 1995) is the Huxin Ting teahouse in the bazaar area of Old Shanghai.

huxin ting teahouse shanghai china

The book may be set in a dystopian future where people’s lives have been transformed (mostly for the worse) by nanotechnology, but it’s clearly one in which the famous 18th century teahouse remains intact. There really aren’t any other 2-storey teahouses in Old Shanghai rising out of lakes, accessed by zig-zag bridges with 9 bends and close to a Ming dynasty garden.

The name Huxin Ting is more prosaic than it sounds. It simply means “mid-lake pavilion”. The zig-zag bridge is called Jiu Qu Qiao, the Bridge of Nine Turnings, and is indeed supposed to stop evil spirits on the basis they can’t turn corners – a bit like an American car.

It is an odd feeling to be “reading” a book (I’m listening to the audiobook) that describes an exotic location I have visited in the last few months and can picture very clearly in my mind. The story is set in Shanghai and its environs, some real and some imagined, and the author had already recalled many familiar Shanghai locations to mind – the Bund and the banks of the Huangpu river, Pudong with its spectacular array of skyscrapers – but the treatment of the Huxing Ting teahouse is rather more intimate and tries harder to capture the character of the place.

He does rather over-romanticise it. The building itself is genuine, old and unspoilt but when I was there in April of this year the surrounding bazaar was noisy, crowded with tourists and more like something out of Disneyland than offering any sense of genuine Chinese cultural heritage.

The adjoining Ming dynasty gardens are the Yuyuan gardens.

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One comment

  1. I was just looking up images related to the book and right away thought of that scene when your image of the tea house popped up. Neal Stephenson must have done a good deal of traveling. I also really enjoyed his description of the Philippines from Cryptonomicon.

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