When I first arrived in Changzhou, Minyuanli 民元里 looked utterly deserted, crumbling, and overgrown with bamboo. It looked like an old, traditional Chinese building tucked away among the bustle of downtown Changzhou along Yanling Road. That’s what it still is. Back then, the completely empty Future City shopping center encircled it.The only thing of interest, back then, where these utterly weird statues of a fat guy playing golf
Times change. Future City’s storefronts have been slowly filling in, and Minyuanli has been renovated and openned to the public. It’s kept its centuries old charm, too, while now being put to more modern usage. There are three private residences here — as well as a cafe, a Japanese tea room, and a shop for expensive handicrafts like jade sculpture and carved bamboo. Some of the spaces may rotate their uses. The first time I came in, one building had a second floor calligraphy exhibit. I went there again recently with a friend, and that’s gallery was gone and the door was locked. That came as no surprise. Art displays are usually temporary with a limited runs.
Most of the charm of the place remains in some of the subtle details. One building is completely elevated on top of still pond with fish. Some of the walls showcase ornate dragons. In one narrow corridor, there is even a small gazebo set above water. Some of the bricks in the place is brand new, but they have been colored gray to look old. Even though new material has been brought in to restore the place, some of the older bits of wood and stone have been used. So, parts of the entire compound are hundreds of years old.
Sometimes, sitting in a place like this gives off that relaxed vibe. Minyuanli can feel like a sanctuary from modern China. Yes, you can still hear some car horns from Yanling Road. You can also hear some construction noise, too. But, for the most part, the place and its businesses and residences feels tranquil. It’s totally worth a walk through if you are passing by. Future City and this place are opposite of the Qu Quibai Memorial Hall on Yanling.