Yantai is a deepwater harbor city situated on the north coast of the Shandong Peninsula, famous for its clocks, fruit, and locally produced wine. Most travelers pass through en route to Penglai to the west, but the Yantai Museum is definitely worth a visit. Housed in a splendid Qing Dynasty guild hall built for sailors and merchants, the museum’s exhibits pale by comparison to the building’s elaborate architectural detail and wood and stone carvings.
The impressive main hall, known as the Palace of the Empress of Heaven, was dedicated to Tianhou, the Empress of Heaven and Protector of Seafarers, by sailors from Fujian, who had taken shelter in Yantai during a fierce storm. All the component parts of the hall were designed by craftsmen from the southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, and shipped to Yantai where it was assembled in 1864. It is a fine example of the southern style, with a double roof decorated in mythical ceramic, stone, and wood figures. The entrance hall to the guild hall is elaborately carved with parables and episodes from Chinese literature and mythology, including the Eight Immortals who Crossed the Sea, battle scenes, figures, fabulous creatures, and several scenes from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Arab figures playing musical instruments lie beneath the eaves, while the beams take the shape of a woman with her infant child. The temple has a garden and is equipped with a stage, employed for performances and events celebrating the Goddess Tianhou.
Yantai also has several parks, including the small and central Yuhuangding Park, and Yantai Shan Park, a hillside haven above the sea. East of here are Yantai’s two rather forlorn beaches. Both are a bit of a disappointment, and are surrounded by buildings and construction. The city’s waterfront, however, is a pleasant place for a leisurely stroll. Toward the eastern headland, fishermen can be seen repairing their nets or simply relaxing.