China’s Living History

Opening 8th January 2018

A short drive just beyond the city limits of Shanghai stands an ancient camphor forest. At its heart is the Emperor Tree; standing at 17 metres, it is the tallest of its kind in all of China. It has stood for more than 1,000 years – but not here, not in this spot. For in this woodland sanctuary, all is not what it seems.

Amanyangyun is the fourth Aman destination in China, the first in Shanghai, and the only one with its dwellings to have travelled more than 700km. Opening on 8 January, 2018, it is the result of a staggeringly ambitious 15-year conservation initiative, which saw nothing less than the relocation of a forest and the reconstruction of a historic village.

The story begins in the city of Fuzhou in the province of Jiangxi, 700km from Shanghai, where construction of a new reservoir threatened the existence of thousands of camphor trees and dozens of homes dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Over the course of a decade, Fuzhou-born entrepreneur Ma Dadong and Aman worked together to ensure these relics of China’s ancient past would not be lost to history, overseeing the transportation and replanting of 10,000 trees – including the 80-tonne Emperor Tree – and the stone-by-stone disassembly and rebuilding of 50 antique houses.

Reborn 27km southwest of Shanghai, these houses and trees now shape the soul of Amanyangyun, a 10 hectare retreat that presents a tranquil, nature-rich counterpart to the dynamic cosmopolitanism of its neighbouring city, while keeping the attractions and energy of the metropolis within easy reach.

Kerry Hill Architects – also behind Aman Tokyo – have meticulously restored the 50 disassembled antique houses to create 26 ancient dwellings for Amanyangyun, seamlessly integrating contemporary comfort into the 400-year-old fabric of the buildings. Many of the Antique Villas still bear the legacy of their bygone owners, in the form of ornate stone carvings and inscriptions that depict family hopes and histories. Thirteen of the antique dwellings, now four-bedroom Antique Villas, measure between 800 and 1,000sq m, and include a private pool and Jacuzzi, as well as a courtyard – a signature feature of Chinese buildings of this age. Twelve of the historic homes rescued and restored from Jiangxi have been converted into refined Aman Residences to own. The result is a harmonious blend of modernity and tradition, and a living monument to the natural and human history of Jiangxi.

As well as the Antique Villas, Amanyangyun provides 24 newly created Ming Courtyard Suites that harmoniously complement their historic counterparts, offering guests expansive, light-flooded bedrooms and living areas characterised by refined wooden interiors and Aman’s signature Asian-inflected minimalist design aesthetic. Crafted to balance old and new, these 65sq m spaces each pay tribute to the structure of the classic Chinese courtyard home, with two spacious private courtyards attached to each.

The spiritual heart of Amanyangyun is Nan Shu Fang. Named after the royal reading pavilion in the Forbidden City, this cultural complex has been created from the final and most architecturally impressive antique building to have made the journey from Fuzhou. Enhanced with furniture crafted from the nanmu wood characteristic of Ming interiors, the pavilion is a modern-day recreation of the ‘scholars’ studios’ of 17th-century China’s literati – a space to learn, contemplate and practise traditional crafts such as calligraphy, music and painting, or to watch one of Amanyangyun’s frequent Kunqu Opera performances.

Across the courtyard, six dedicated rooms have been created to host traditional tea and incense ceremonies, while, directly facing the entrance, the Emperor Tree stands as a compelling visual reminder of the value of maintaining a connection with history. This is why Amanyangyun’s guests are each invited to nourish the tree with water when they arrive – reflecting the importance of nurturing the past to enrich the future.

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