This is a story of protecting ancient trees and buildings with a deep reverence for culture and life. It is the story of Amanyangyun
On the outskirts of Shanghai, amidst a flourishing forest of camphor trees, stands Amanyangyun – Aman’s fourth destination in China, a picturesque retreat embodying the essence of Chinese spirituality, introspection and beauty with dozens of re-mastered Ming and Qing Dynasty houses. But the old trees and the buildings are not Shanghai natives, they come from other distant parts of China to escape the impact that accompanies development. They were rescued to serve as the setting for one of the most unusual hotel resorts in the world.
In 2002, a decision was made to build a reservoir in a historic rural area near the city of Fuzhou in Jiangxi Province to the west of Shanghai. The result was that three counties would be submerged and the ancient trees and buildings that were central to the rich culture of the area would disappear forever. At that time, Mr. Ma Dadong, a young entrepreneur born in Fuzhou, returned home from Shanghai and saw that some of the big trees had already been cut down and he was shocked.
He made a bold decision to save the big trees and the old buildings by moving them to Shanghai and finding a home for them. A preservation campaign thus began, aimed at protecting history, culture, Nature and Life. Mr. Ma put aside his real estate business, and fully committed to the project of migrating the huge plants and the classical buildings, thereby becoming a firm protector of cultural folk heritage.
But the project didn’t go as smoothly as had been imagined. In addition to a huge input of human and material resources, many doubts and questions arose from those people involved and unforeseen difficulties and dangers proved to be a great challenge.
Mr. Ma invited experts and specialist in botany and ancient architecture to join the team and he visited various regions and sought support from the local governments. Most of all, the team strove to gain the approval from the local villagers with sincerity.
In order to ensure the survival rate of the trees as they were transported over hundreds of kilometers, the team was attentive to every detail. Before moving a tree, first a circle of grooves was dug around the base and filled with fertile soil to cultivate a new root system. While digging out a tree, it was necessary not only to cut off the main branches, but also to bring soil together with the tree and wrap the trees with cotton and bamboo strips to protect the bark. In the specific process of transportation of the trees, huge problems we were encountered.
A tree uprooted with soil and root can weigh tens of tons and the trucks needed to carry such a weight were too heavy for the village roads to bear. Moreover, in many places, there were no roads or bridges, so they had to expand the road and build temporary bridges. Sometimes, iron bridges were washed away by sudden mountain torrents and the ground collapsed on days of heavy rain. Even though the team was very careful, still many accidents with trucks turning over took place. Every time an overturn occurred, a large crane would come to hoist the tree to another truck and continue the journey so that the tree could be planted back into the earth as quickly as possible. There were also many other problems such as bridge openings being too low and toll gates being too narrow. Then, they had to dig the ground more deeply, or demolish walls and pave roads so that the trees could pass through smoothly.
By 2005, thousands of camphor trees had successfully been moved to Shanghai. During the three-year migration process, the team used scores of heavy loading vehicles, paved hundreds of kilometers of temporary roads, built more than a dozen temporary metal bridges, and made more than a thousand trips with the original soil of Jiangxi Province to Shanghai to nourish the transported trees. At the same time, the component sections of the ancient village buildings were also transported and the first ancient house was successfully re-built in Shanghai in 2005.
Upon arrival in Shanghai, the big trees were immediately re-planted, carefully confirmed to be facing in the same direction as they had been in Jiangxi. The original soil was delicately mixed with the local soil in precise proportions. Even so, it was still questionable whether the trees could adapt to the new location. Again heard doubting voices arouse from all around.
But with the attentive care of the team, the trees began to take root and sprout. Every means was used to improve the soil, the trees were fed with nutrient solutions, and bamboo was planted around the trees to loosen and moisturize the earth. After three years, more than 80% of the trees had survived and were growing vibrantly.
Mr. Ma likes to stay with the big trees and listen to their voices – their delight of gaining a new life again.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the world, Mr. Adrian Zecha, founder of Aman Group, had for over a decade been looking for an ideal place in Shanghai to build an Aman resort, yet had failed to find one. In 2009, he came to the garden where the ancient trees and houses were located. Touching the mottled trunks and green bricks, Mr. Zecha was deeply moved and immediately decided to bring Aman here. An international architects team led by Kerry Hill and a professional Chinese team began their partnership on the planning and designing of Amanyangyun. Mr. Ma’s only hope is that people are able to see the work in 500 years’ time.
Then, there was an interaction, absorption and integration of Western design concepts and Chinese traditional architectural art. The result is a great piece of work that not only meets the comfort requirements of contemporary architecture, but also conforms to the principles of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. In 2011, the hotel officially commenced construction.
Today, every guest who sets foot in Amanyangyun can sense the unique atmosphere here which is imbued with the wonders of life and history. The whole area is filled with camphor trees and lakes, amidst which stand majestic ancient buildings that have been transported and rebuilt brick by brick. Wood, stones and bamboo poles were the main construction materials of yore, and they deliver a natural and tranquil atmosphere. Whether you are enjoying Chinese art in Nanshufang or taking a dip in the swimming pool, the color green will unfailingly soothe your eyes and soothe your mind. Going outside and wandering amidst the trees, you will forget where you are and get lost in the river of history. Located in the courtyard garden, the Spa & Wellness Center is the heart of the journey of tranquility and well-being.
“We humans live at most 100 years, and we are just passers-by under the trees,” Mr. Ma said. It is this love and awe of life that fulfills the miracle of Amanyangyun.
The guests of Amanyangyun and those who hear of this story are witnesses of this defense of life and culture. Mr. Ma shared his thoughts with us: “Just as Chuang tzu said, true beauty is a result of refinement through the ages.”