The full name of the gardens is Yu Yuan, meaning "Garden of Peace". Other building names follow the theme: Hall of Heralding Spring, Hall of Harmony, Tower of Joy, Hall of Serenity and Tower for Watching Waves. Many poets and artists in the Ming Dynasty came to Yu Garden to find inspiration for their work.
In the middle of the gardens is a large pond with seemingly thousands of large carp. The carp undulate over and under one another in a mesmerizing dance as locals throw crumbs to them. The pond is a necessary inclusion in the grounds because water is one of the important elements of Feng Shui. Feng Shui is the belief that certain elements and spatial orientation affect the natural energy. It is used as a basis for construction and interior decorating in Asian countries. Water represents renewal. Fish represent wealth. A fish pond is thought to bring positive energy to landscapes.
Although the grounds, gardens and buildings have been restored, Yu Yuan was destroyed in the 19th century. In 1842, during the First Opium War, the British army took over the gardens. During the Taiping Rebellion of 1850, nearly all the buildings were destroyed. The garden was further destroyed in 1942 by the Japanese. The Shanghai government restored the garden and opened it to the public in 1961.