WATER TOWNS OF JIANGSU AND ZHEJIANG PROVINCES

WATER TOWNS OF JIANGSU AND ZHEJIANG PROVINCES

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Roughly in between Suzhou in Jiangsu Province in the north and Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province in the south there are about 200 small towns in the Yangtze Delta connected by a web of canals. The main products have traditionally been silk and grain that were moved around on the water. In towns such as Wuzen many people still live in traditional houses that face the water and are connected by small stone bridges that cross the canals and streets paved with stone slabs. People get around in car-size, bamboo-roofed boats powered by a single oar connected to a stick.

Many of the towns declined in te 20th century but have been revived in recent years in part to make them tourist attractions. Seven of the towns — including Wuzhen, Nanxun, Huzhou and Mudu — have been singled out for their beauty and charm. Nanxun is the home of Lius, a wealthy family that made their fortune in the silk trade and built a private library with 600,000 volumes, flanked by a lovely garden called “Little Lotus." Huzhou (near Naxun) is known for the East-meets-West architecture of the villas where the town's rich lived. Worth checking are the imported stained glass and the European-style dance hall.

Julie Wan, Washington Post, “To visit these rustic, preserved canal towns is to be transported back into history, but in many ways it's also a chance to experience a Chinese holiday. We notice that nobody speaks a word of English here, and we see only one or two other foreign faces around. In a nation of 1.3 billion people, with an emerging middle class for whom traveling internationally is still both expensive and bureaucratically difficult, spots like these make the perfect domestic getaway. Add to that the nostalgia for a way of life that's fast disappearing beneath jutting skyscrapers and newly paved roads all around the country, and it's easy to understand the lure of the canal town. Even though many sections of the Grand Canal have silted over, remnants of an ancient way of life still linger in these towns. Our hotel owner tells us that her family has lived here for at least five generations and probably more, though no one remembers who was the first descendant to arrive. [Source: Julie Wan, Washington Post, February 11, 2011]

Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River

Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “2500 years ago, when Suzhou became a city, its surrounding areas sprouted a number of half-urban, half-rural towns such as Tongli, Luzhi, Wuzhen, Nanxun, and Xitang. Since ancient times, by making full use of the natural conditions and geographic environment, residents of these towns accumulated rich experience of how to live with rivers and lakes in a harmonious way. With the growth of economy, culture, and productive forces, a network of towns connected by watercourses came into being in the 11th century. In the 13th century those towns began to thrive. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“The waterfront areas in the south of Yangtze River mainly refer to those areas in the south of Jiangsu Province and those in the north of Zhejiang Province, jointly to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. These areas are endowed with numerous natural resources and a diversity of farm produces, and have been better developed in economy. For thousands of years, there have formed a number of villages and towns in these areas, most of which have made full use of their God-given geographical conditions to plan out their alleys, lanes and streets along rivers and waterways, thus creating a unique architectural style. These four towns,, are deemed as typical representatives of the development in the waterfront cities and towns in Jiangnan area, as they visually and physically demonstrate a charming and peaceful living scenario featuring "bridges over water, households aligned along the banks". Such a unique layout in town planning honors the principle of harmonious interaction between the humankind and the nature, and emanates a strong sense of liveliness and dynamic livelihood. What's more, compared with other ancient waterfront towns in the Jiangnan area, which have been impacted heavily by the tide of industrialization and fast growth of rural economy, hence having lost their original architectural and cultural landscapes, the four towns, have been better preserved in a timely manner and thus still appear as charming as they used to be, showing their uniqueness in town layout, architectural style, environmental landscapes, and traditional lifestyle.

“Economy in Zhouzhuang and Luzhi Town are the typical type of the water-based economy in waterfront towns south of the Yangtze River. Since its birth 900 years ago, both of them have been centers for handicraftsmen and a distributing center of goods from the rural parts of Suzhou, stimulating the growth of a water-based economy in the surrounding rural areas. As recorded in history, those areas, rich in fertile soil and water, abounded in rice; there were many families engaged in growing cotton, spinning, and weaving. Thread and cloth produced by them were shipped to many places in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Some town residents and rural families produced farm and fishing tools with bamboo or wood. The rivers, teeming with fishes, yielded a steady production all year round. As a result, an economic structure based on staple food, cotton textile, bamboo/wooden wares, and aquatic products came into being, which served as a link between town and countryside in the urbanization process of the latter.

“Wuzhen and Xitang Town respectively, are both nestled in the Hangjiahu Plain, which is endowed with a fertile land, a mild climate and a diversity of farm produces. Both towns are aligned along the river, and have each hosted a well-developed agricultural economy. Besides, due to their unique geographical localities, they have both entered into intensive exchanges in commercial, cultural and trading terms frequently with other peripheral regions in the Jiangnan area, and become well-known for their prestigious handicraft industries and commercial undertakings. In reality, the two towns have jointly exercised a significant influence on the social and economic development in the north of Zhejiang Province.”

Yangtze Delta

Yangtze Delta is 320 kilometers (200 miles) wide and covers an area of 358,000 square kilometers). It is laced with canals, streams and rivers and dotted with lakes and reservoirs. Shanghai is on the southern side of it and Nanjing is on the west side and kind of marks its beginning. The delta was originally a wetland then a rich agricultural area and now is being developed very quickly and is heavily industrialized. Some Chinese geographers claim that the Yangtze River Delta is the most productive agricultural land in the world, and getting more productive all the time as new paddy soil is created — or at least it was like that before the Three Gorges Dam deprived it of silt and causing it to shrink .

The Yangtze Delta — which is located primarily in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces and Shanghai — is one of China's primary economic and industrial engines. People here are known for working hard, producing all kinds of products and making money. In recent years prosperity has begun to spread up river. On businessman in Chongqing, told the Wall Street Journal that "The Yangtze River area can be Asia's next dragon." The Yangtze corridor now has China's largest concentration of industry, accounting for more than a quarter of the country growth. Incomes are increasing at a rate of 20 percent a year.

Shanghai, the southern part of Jiangsu Province, the northern part of Zhejiang Province, the eastern part of Anhui Province, Nanjing, Wuxi, Changzhou, Suzhou, Nantong, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Yancheng, Taizhou, Jiangsu, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Huzhou, Jiaxing, Shaoxing, Jinhua, Zhoushan, Taizhou, Hefei and Wuhu all lie within the Yangtze Delta. Since the fourth century, when the national capital was moved to Jiankang (present-day Nanjing) at the start of the Eastern Jin dynasty (A.D. 317–420), the Yangtze Delta has been a major cultural, economic, and political centre of China. Hangzhou served as the Chinese capital during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), and Nanjing was the early capital of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) before the Yongle Emperor moved the capital to Beijing in 1421.

The Yangtze delta has few protected areas left. In some places there are cities, In others there are factories. Places that have been urbanized or industrialized are full of fish farms and vegetable fields. Areas that are filled with reeds also have roads and trucks that are used to carry the reeds out. Since 2003, when the Three Gorges Dam began operating, the Yangtze River delta front has experienced severe erosion and significant sediment coarsening. Yangtze-River-derived sediments do not really disperse across the East China Sea continental shelf; rather they form elongated distal subaqueous mud wedge (up to 60 meters thick and about 800 kilometers long that extends from the Yangtze River mouth southward off the Zhejiang and Fujian coasts into the Taiwan Strait. Yancheng Reserve in the Yangtze Delta is home to red-crowned cranes, reed parrotbills. Oriental storks and the world's last 2,000 or so black-faced spoonbills. Website: Wikipedia Wikipedia

Grand Canal

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Canal in Zhejiang
The Grand Canal is largest ancient artificial waterway in the world and an engineering marvel on the scale of the Great Wall of China. Begun in 540 B.C. and completed in A.D. 1327, it is 1,107 miles long and has largely been dug by hand by a work force described as a "million people with teaspoons." At its peak the Grand Canal extended from Tianjin in the north to Hangzhou in the south. It connected Beijing and Xian in the north with Shanghai in the south, and linked four great rivers—the Yellow, the Yangtze, Huai and Qiantang. The still-functioning parts of the Grand Canal are still in use mainly as water-diversion conduits.

According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: In the Ming and Qing eras, the “Grand Canal was a major conduit for grain, salt, and other important commodities. Any taxes that were paid in kind were paid in grain, which was shipped along the Grand Canal. Thus, control of the Grand Canal was of critical importance to the government. To a certain extent, the state itself facilitated the movement of goods to market by locating Beijing, its capital, far to the north, away from the rich and prosperous rice growing areas of Southern China. This resulted in a natural market for the demand of goods in the North, if for no other reason than to feed the imperial household and court. This was one of the reasons why it was so important to keep the Grand Canal working. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant, learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu <|>]

The Grand Canal was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. According to UNESCO: “The Grand Canal forms a vast inland waterway system in the northeastern and central eastern plains of China, passing through eight of the country's present-day provinces. It runs from the capital Beijing in the north to Zhejiang Province in the south. Constructed in sections from the 5th century B.C. onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Empire for the first time in the 7th century AD (Sui Dynasty). This led to a series of gigantic worksites, creating the world's largest and most extensive civil engineering project ensemble prior to the Industrial Revolution."Source: UNESCO ==]

“Completed and maintained by successive dynasties, it formed the backbone of the Empire's inland communications system. Its management was made possible over a long period by means of the Caoyun system, the imperial monopoly for the transport of grain and strategic raw materials, and for the taxation and control of traffic. The system enabled the supply of rice to feed the population, the unified administration of the territory, and the transport of troops. The Grand Canal reached a new peak in the 13th century (Yuan Dynasty), providing a unified inland navigation network consisting of more than 2,000 kilometers of artificial waterways, linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze. Still a major means of internal communication today, it has played an important role in ensuring the economic prosperity and stability of China over the ages." ==

“The canal sections, the remains of hydraulic facilities, and the associated complementary and urban facilities satisfactorily and comprehensibly embody the route of the Grand Canal, its hydraulic functioning in conjunction with the natural rivers and lakes, the operation of its management system and the context of its historic uses. The geographic distribution of these attributes is sufficient to indicate the dimensions, geographic distribution of the routes, and the major historic role played by the Grand Canal in the domestic history of China. Of the 85 individual elements forming the serial property, 71 are considered to be appropriately preserved and in a state of complete integrity, with 14 in a state of lesser integrity. However, the inclusion of recently excavated archaeological elements means that it is not always possible to properly judge their contribution to the overall understanding of the Grand Canal, particularly in terms of technical operation.

Construction of the Grand Canal

left The Grand Canal was created by connecting a series of smaller canals built in separate areas. It was constructed primarily to move troops from the north to south and transport food from the rich agricultural lands in the south to overpopulated cities and towns in the north. It was also built to allow merchants to avoid transporting their cargoes on the high seas where they were vulnerable to typhoons and pirates.

Construction of the canal has been done in a piecemeal fashion over the centuries, with new sections added and others abandoned and rebuilt. The bulk of the work was done during the Sui dynasty under the leadership of the ruthless emperor Yang Di, who put 5.5 million workers to work during a six year period, ending to 610 A.D. No one knows how may died digging the canals but it was probably in the tens of the thousands. During the height of the Tang dynasty, which followed the Sui Dynasty, long strings of barges carried 100,000 tons of grain a year from the rice fields in the south to the north.

The great Mongol leader Kublai Khan put three million people to work in 1279 to extend the Grand Canal 135 miles to north so that rice could be transported from the fertile Yangtze Delta, near Shanghai, to his new capital, present-day Beijing.

Yang Guang and the Grand Canal

Takahiro Suzuki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province has always flourished as a city of water transportation, as it is located on the Yangtze River. The canal that runs through the center of the city is iconic. Originally built in the 5th century B.C., it was expanded and developed into the Grand Canal by Yang Guang, the second emperor of the Sui dynasty (A.D. 518-619). Lush willows grow along both sides of the canal and are known among local residents as “yangliu," or riverside willows. They were planted along the banks when Emperor Yang had his people build the canal. [Source: Takahiro Suzuki, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 9, 2014 |*|]

“Before becoming emperor in the capital Changan, Yang Guang spent 10 years in Yangzhou as a provincial governor and loved the city of scenic beauty. When part of the construction of the Grand Canal between Changan and Yangtze was finished in 605, Yang Guang visited Yangzhou in a “dragon boat," a boat used for pleasure cruises. It is said that on the completion of the entire 2,700 kilometers, he traveled from Yangzhou to somewhere near the current Beijing area in a dragon boat. It can be said that Emperor Yang was at the height of his rule around this time. |*|

“The construction of the Grand Canal was necessary to transport products from the developed lower reaches of the Yangtze River to the northern areas. Though there was criticism that the emperor planted willows on the banks just to suit his taste for austere elegance, it is believed that they were actually planted to reinforce the banks. It is obvious that Yang Guang had immense foresight, since the Grand Canal has proved invaluable even after the Sui dynasty fell. Though part of the canal is now disconnected, it is still in use after all these years as a route for transporting cargo." |*|

Grand Canal in Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces

The great Mongol leader Kublai Khan put three million people to work in 1279 to extend the Grand Canal 135 miles to north so that rice could be transported from the fertile Yangtze Delta, near Shanghai, to his new capital, present-day Beijing. When the canal was finished Chinese junks could travel inland across the country---a journey that sometimes took a year or more---instead of venturing out onto the open sea.

While traveling on the Grand Canal in the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote about porcelain and silk and wine made from rice. "There are very great merchants who do great trade...they have silk beyond measure." For a pittance you could buy "the most beautiful vessels of porcelain large and small." Describing how grain-carrying barges and junks were pulled northward by horses tethered to long harnesses, he wrote, "The magnificent work is deserving of admiration; and not so much from manner in which it is conducted through the country, or its vast extent, as from its utility and the benefit produces to those cities which lie in its course."

After railroads were built in China, the canal was not longer vital to transport goods. Some sections fell into disuse and others were silted up by flooding, drained for irrigation or blocked by dams. The rate of decay has increased in the last couple of decades and it estimated that one only a third of what was open in the 1960s is open today. In 1980, the tourist appeal of the canal was realized and sections of were dredged to make way for "dragon boat" barges filled with tourists dressed like members of the imperial court.

Today about half of the canal between Beijing and Hangzhou is navigable after the spring and summer rains. The sections between Beijing and Tianjin, the Yellow River and Peixan, and the Yellow River to Tianjin are all silted over.The sections of the canal that have water deep enough to accommodate boats are often filled with trash sewage and oil slicks. Chemical waste and fertilizer and pesticide run-off empties into the canal. The water is mostly brownish green. People who drink it often get diarrhea and break out in rashes.

Canal trips are offered south of the Yangtze but many tourist complain that the boats and the canal are filthy. Some sections are still quite busy. In the town of Suzhou, for example, snake-like processions of barges, a half mile long wait their turn to pass through a lock. In other places the pea-soup-colored water is filled with small boats carrying cement, sand, rolls of steel wire.

Web Site : Wikipedia Wikipedia Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide

Zhouzhuang

Zhouzhuang (20 kilometers southeast of Suzhou, 10 kilometers east of Tong Li) is a famous water town in Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province. Because Zhouzhuang is completely surrounded by water, boats were necessary to reach it before the Jishuigang Bridge was built in 1989. Due to its inaccessibility Zhouzhuang remained in a time capsule, relatively well-preserved after more than 900 years. [Source: China.org]

Zhouzhuang remained largely undiscovered until the 1980s, when a New York gallery owner presented a Chinese painting of the canal town Zhouzhuang to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as a gift. The town immediately became a household name in China. Since then, the whole country has been swept by a canal-town craze, and millions of Chinese tourists have flocked not only to Zhouzhuang but also to the dozen or so of “floating villages” of the Yangtze River Delta.

Zhouzhuang is regarded as one of the most beautiful water towns. It is noted for its cultural heritage, well-preserved residential houses, elegant water views, and traditions and customs with a strong local flavor. The most famous attractions in Zhouzhuang are the Hall of Shen's Residence, Fu'an Bridge and Double Bridge. The Artist Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) said:: "Huangshan Mountain is the pride of China's mountains, and Zhouzhuang is the pride of China's water towns."

Zhouzhuang is one of the Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: In terms of appearance, Zhouzhuang town has a special geographic environment characterized by surrounding and interconnected rivers and lakes. As a result, its layout is based on water, with rivers serving as roads, streets connected with bridges, forming the unique landscape of ‘little bridge, flowing water, and dwelling houses'. The major materials used for structures in the town are black bricks, butterfly tiles, stone, and wood. Many beautifully arranged structures, with white walls and black tiles, stand on riverbanks, such as piers, steps on wharfs, stone bridges, stone rails, canopy corridors, halls, galleries, and pavilions. Traditional structures, such as stone-paved streets and black-stone lanes, have been well preserved and kept their authenticity. Since its founding in 1086, the town has remained unchanged in terms of its name, location, river-and-lake system, traditional structures, traditional customs, and the lifestyle of the residents. Its protection is important for preserving the integrity, diversity, and uniqueness of the waterfront culture in the south of the Yangtze River. It provides important data for research into the development of local cultures” [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

Zhouzhuang draws more than 2.5 million visitors each year and has been dubbed both the "Venice of the East" and the "Number One Water Town in China." It has become too touristy for many. One local told China.org: "The water town I recommend is called Xi Tang. The one I do not recommend is Zhou Zhuang." Admission: 100 yuan (US$15.82) per person yuan in the day (8:00am-4:00pm); 80 yuan in the night (4:00pm-9:00pm) Getting There: You can travel by bus from Shanghai, Suzhou, or Kunshan.

History of Zhouzhuang

Cultural relics unearthed in Taishidian near Zhouzhuang show that there were people living here 6,000 years ago. Zhouzhuang became prosperous during the mid Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when a person named Shen You moved his family from Huzhou of Zhejiang Province to the area near Zhouzhuang. His son Shen Wansan was adept in running business with overseas countries through water ways and became very rich. His success boomed the development of Zhouzhuang, which became a business center at that time, and then grew into a big water town.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Zhouzhuang Town lies to the east of the Grand Canal, and is encircled by Jishui River, its ancient sluiceway. The stone wares, wooden wells, remains of ancient animals, and rice seeds excavated at Liangzhu Site in Taishidian, which lies to the north of the town, indicate traces of human activities that dated back to 5,000~6,000 years ago. Driven by social and economic progress, the town was founded in 1086, and the name ‘Zhouzhuang' has been used ever since. Located in the basin of Suzhou section of the Grand Canal, it enjoys a favourable geographic environment, with a well developed watercourse system. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“ Since the 12th century, when ancient residents of the town connected Jishui River with the Grand Canal, Yangtze River and its sluiceways, the town has become a socio-economic centre for trade in daily necessities and social intercourses. Since the 13th century, the town, surrounded by important areas of crops and cotton production and fishery, has been a crucial centre for trade in staple food, cotton cloth, and handicrafts. As rich merchants and men of letters came to settle down in large numbers, waterside structures sprouted, such as arch bridges with stone rails, large houses with spacious courtyards, arcades over streets, riverside galleries and pavilions, and revetment steps, creating an environment for the townspeople to be in harmony with nature. As self-initiated protection has been going on continuously, the town has retained its original appearance, with its #-shaped river system, traditional layout of constructions, and unsophisticated folk customs. It provides important data for research into ancient waterfront towns.

“Known as a zeguo, or land abounding in rivers, Zhouzhuang had been attractive to many renowned figures in history. For instance, in the 3rd century, Zhang Han, a great writer who held a high office, missed the weever and water shield so much that he resigned and came to the town to lead a carefree life as an angler. In the 6th century, famous poet Liu Yuxi sojourned here, seeking inspiration for poems. In the 13th century, Shen Wansan and his son moved here from Nanxun, Zhejiang, built up a fortune with farming, and became the richest family south of the Yangtze River through trading with foreigners by water. In the 19th century, a scholar named Tao Xu wrote an important monograph on rural economy in feudal times, which has attracted attention from the international academic circles. The town was also the origin of Nanshe, a literary society that appeared in the 19th century. Today it retains 38 cultural sites and landscapes from different periods. It is rich in folk customs, such as drinking ‘apo tea', sixian xuanjuan (local ballad performance), rowing lantern boats, rowing fast boats, datiancai; local women's costume is characterized by headcloth, corset and embroidered shoes. It abounds in special local food, such as Wansan trotter, three-flavor ball, warmed lotus root, water shield and weever soup, and white clam soup.”

Luzhi

Luzhi (18 kilometers west of Suzhou and 58 kilometers east of Shanghai) in Jiangsu Province is another one of the Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “With an area of 54 hectares, Luzhi Town is surrounded by vast lakes, shallow lakes, ponds and pools; inside the town, there is a water system shaped like the Chinese character, which is formed by Dongshi River, Xishi River, Zhongshi River, Nanshi River and Xihui River. A river is usually accompanies by two streets at both sides and crisscross bridges. At the intersection of two rivers, there is usually a quay square, which is the important collecting and distributing centre of the town. There is the "west market", the "middle market" and the "east market". This is the typical characteristic of Luzhi streets. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“In the ancient town, bridges are of various styles; mooring stones on the stone-paved revetments are engraved with beautiful designs, featuring various topics; the traditional clothes of women there are of unusual ingenuity and show the unique values of Luzhi's customs and craftwork. This year, women clothes of Luzhi are listed in China's first group of intangible cultural heritage. Along with the development of commercial economy after the 15th century, Luzhi has become a town of significance in the east of Suzhou depending on its water transport advantages.

“Luzhi Town has kept a lot of ancient buildings, such as bridges, temples, residences of famous people, the memorial archways, ancient wells and so on. These buildings are either tall or short, forming a height contrast and constituting a very rich space pattern. In addition, Luzhi also preserved many traditional ancient houses in the Ming and Qing dynasties from 15th century to 19th century. These large-scale residential houses are in rational layout and appropriate dimension. Colors are elegant and decoration is delicate. Ordinary residences look light-weighted and concise. And the residential areas along the streets formed architectural forms of "lower houses for shops and upper houses for residence, front house for shops and rear houses for residence, and front houses for shops and rear houses for workshops.

“Archaeological discoveries and documentary in Luzhi Town: In 2003, large-scale village site dating back to 5,500 years ago have been found in Chenghu Lake, Luzhi. In 1977, stone tools, potteries and jade wares of Liangchu Culture in Neolithic Age 5000 years ago have been found in Zhanglingshan Mountain. In the late 9th century, Lu Guimeng, a poet of late Tang Dynasty led a monastic life in Luzhi (called Puli at the then time), and his poems of that time have been kept. After the 14th century, Ni Zan, painter of the Yuan Dynasty, Gao Qi, Wang Shizhen, Gui Youguang, poets of the Ming Dynasty, Wen Zhengming and Dong Qichang, painters of the Ming Dynasty visited here, writing poems and drawing pictures. In documentaries such as Puli, Wu County Records edited in the 18th and the 19th centuries have recordation about Luzhi.

“Historical relics of Luzhi Town: Ancient sites and cultural heritages in Luzhi include: Baosheng Temple built in the early 6th century in the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Yang Huizhi's Arhat wall of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century; Lu Guimeng Tomb, Ducking Fight Pond, Fengyang Bridge and Guangji Bridge of the Tang Dynasty in 9th century; Zhongmei Bridge of the Song Dynasty in 11th century; Dongmei Bridge of the Ming Dynasty in 15th century; Jinyang Bridge of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century; former residences of Shen Bohan and the Xiaos respectively, Wan'an Bridge, Jin'an Bridge, Sanyuan Bridge and Datong Bridge, as well as other ancient architectures.”

Wuzhen

Wuzhen (one hour from Suzhou and Hangzhou) in Zhejiang Province is another pleasant Yangtze Delta water town and the home town of Mao Dun, one of China's most famous writers, Jin Yong (Louis Chan), the titan of martial arts fiction, and the romantic poet Xu Zhimo. Wuzhen literally means “Black Town," a reference to the color scheme of the white and black houses and the color of the boats. It is a charming place. Some of the houses are open to the public and feature displays of crafts and trades such as wine brewing, cloth dying, and furniture making. A tourist show is staged in the main square. Web Site: Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Wuzhen town is located in the north of Tongxiang City along the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. It is a typical ancient water town and ranks among the top six ancient towns in southern China. Many residents live along the rivers and canals. The streets all run alongside the rivers with bridge spans serving as intersections. Many of the houses built along the rivers have spacious courtyards, overlapping roofs and high eaves. In 2007, the reconstructed western part of town, Xizha, was opened to the general public. Xizha used to be the largest and most prosperous area of the town, and dozens of intact Ming-and-Qing style buildings still line its streets today.

With a history covering 1,200 years, the small town is famous for its ancient buildings and layout, with bridges of all sizes crossing the streams that wind through the town. It has a residential area, a workshop area, a cultural area, a dining area, a shopping area, and a scenery area that features local traditions and customs. Visitors can also experience the old Xizha lifestyle by either sipping tea in a traditional tea house or enjoying an opera performance in the theater; Admission: Dongzha: 100 yuan (US$15.69) per person; Xizha: 120 yuan (US$18.83) per person; Joint ticket: 150 yuan (US$23.54) per person. [Source: China.org]

Travel Information: Admission: 150 yuan for whole town; 120 yuan for only east part; 100 yuan for only west part; 80 yuan for boat ticket Getting There: You can take a bus from Shanghai or Hangzhou to Tongxiang, and then transfer to a minibus to Wuzhen. These minibuses leaves every 15 minutes from 7:00am to 5:00pm.

History of Wuzhen

Wuzhen is one of the Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Wuzhen Town is close to Tongxiang City in Zhejiang Province, which is located on a plain within easy reach of cities such as Hangzhou, Jiaxing and Huzhou. The Shi River runs through the town from north to south, linking various tributaries, such as Jinniu pool,baima pool, ziyun pool and so on into a perfect water net in southern China which provides mode of production and living styles based upon water. Wuzhen town,nurtured in a long history. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“From the 10th century to now, chorographical books of various regions, and works by personages in different dynasties, as well as currently available poems, stone inscriptions and epitaphs have all borne written records with regard to Wuzhen. Since its founding in 872, Wuzhen has never been renamed, nor have its locality, water system and lifestyle. The traditional architectures in Wuzhen, which have witnessed vicissitudes for thousands of years, still appear exactly the same as they were in the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China, characterized by a scenario of "bridges over water, households aligned along the banks".

“Stone implement, palaeontologic remains, potteries and rice seeds have been excavated in the Tanjiawan site of eastern suburb of Wuzhen Town which manifest that ancestors of this place began to live here as early as 7,000 years ago. During AD860-874, it was a fortress of military importance. In the 12th century, the South Song Dynasty made Hangzhou (then called Lin'an) its capital, which brought to increasing important economic status owing to its geography environment and developed water system,hence Wuzhen Town became entrepot in Northern Zhejiang area.

“Ever since its establishment of township approximately more than 1,000 years ago, Wuzhen Town has been largely depending on its rivers in developing handicrafts, promoting business, helping its farming. The history of paddy cultivation may trace back to more than 5,000 years ago. Silk was and still is its famous brand, while sun-cured tobaccos, lamb's hides, white chrysanthemums tea-leaf and pastry made by sisters-in-law competing with each other. Silk and satin, the products of the household craftsmanship, favoured by agricultural growth, promoted, in turn, the handicrafts industry worked as the principal economic part. Even during Ming and Qing Dynasties, there were already more than ten thousand households, as if it is a big city .It brought into play connecting function between countryside and city.

“The Ming Dynasty witnessed its prosperity as it was regarded as one of the five noted towns in South China. When the Qing Dynasty began to rule the country, Wuzhen, at its height of wealth with its developed agriculture and frequent commercial activities on a fairly large scale, became a magnificent trade centre...Wuzhen Town is a model in its fair preservation of its river features and traditional buildings. Criss-cross rivers spread along the streets, roads and houses dotted eighteen bridges built during Ming to Qing Dynasty where a harmonious panorama, an epitome of water culture reflecting its specific features of architecture. Wuzhen is also a town where literator gathered together for common interests. Famous tombs, celebrated tutor's house, the 1,000 years old gingko, noble officials relic, the brave Aga Wu's death,famous novelist (MaoDun's) former residence all reveal its significant past, while various fairs with local garments and dainties are to dazzle every visitor.”

Xitang

Xitang (90 kilometers from Shanghai and 110 kilometers from Hangzhou) in northern Zhejiang Province is regarded by some as the best water town. Nine rivers converge in this town, dividing it into eight sections, all linked together by 27 bridges. Inside the town, there are many well-preserved Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368-1911) buildings of various styles of architecture.

Julie Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “One glimpse of the waterfront houses in the canal town of Xitang, and every Chinese scroll painting I'd ever seen as a child suddenly made sense. It was all there: the arching stone bridges, the tiled rooftops, the red lanterns strung from the eaves, even the boatman paddling down the river. ..Xitang just oozes kitschy charm and old-world scenery. Trinket shops and willow trees line the pathway along the canal; tables and stools for sipping tea and dining crowd the water's edge; and on the other side, centuries-old homes have been turned into guesthouses with back terraces overlooking the canal.” [Source: Julie Wan, Washington Post, February 11, 2011]

One of the smaller water towns, only a little more than half a square mile in size, Xitang has a historic center that consists of one main thoroughfare along the water, with dozens of tight alleys snaking off it. The town boasts more than 100 of these lanes, the narrowest of which, Shipi Lane, is only one meter wide-not even enough room to stretch out your arms. The heavy scent of stinky tofu fills some alleys. The fermented street snack is sold with hot sauce by woman who also sell chicken gizzards and other bits of skewered marinating meat in a spiced soy sauce. [Source: China.org]

The stone slab buildings and shingled roofs have been preserved from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The town almost looks a movie set. Among the canal towns, Xitang stands out with its long covered corridors, which rooftops are connected into one a long patchwork of awning to provide shelter from heavy rain. The covering now stretches almost a kilometer along a canal, which is part of the much larger Grand Canal.

If you come to Xitang, make sure that you stay for the night. The town is at its best when darkness falls and it is lit up with strings of red lanterns. The moon and lanterns, combined with the flickering lights from homes provide a dim and romantic environment. Rowing a boat through the water, you can sip a cup of fragrant tea while watching a folk opera on the water stage. Humming easy tunes, the performers dressed in colorful costumes. Admission: 100 yuan (US$15.69) per person

History and Architecture of Xitang

Xitang is also one of the Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Xitang is located in the north of Jiashan County, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province and at the juncture of the provinces and municipality of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. A village started to grow here during the Kaiyuan reign of the Tang Dynasty, and it developed into a town in the Song Dynasty. The long-standing South China waterfront landscapes are the rich natural landscape resources of Xitang, which has been boasting of numerous bridges, narrow lanes and canopy corridors since the ancient time. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“Wuzhen and Xitang Town both have a long history and an enviable indigenous culture. Nowadays, they have still preserved completely the layout and settings in the late Chinese Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China period. The ancient architectures during the Ming, Qing and the Republic of China period were mostly built along the river, forming delicate and unique layout and becoming the typical symbol of the architectural style in this area. They are an epitome of the architectural culture in Jiangnan area. Wuzhen and Xitang has been a fruit of interaction of geographical, historical, social, cultural and customary factors within a certain number of years. Moreover, owing to their disparities in terms of geographical, humanistic and environmental attributes, the two towns bear different traits in ally and lane layout and architectural styles.”

“Up to date, Xitang has hosted a large number of traditional architecture clusters, the building area totalling 110,000 square meters, constituting 63 percent of Xitang's total building area. What's more, those architectures of the Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republic of China, have inherited and preserved dissimilar traits. For instance, the road & water system, ally and lane layout, architectural style, building materials and techniques have all appear exactly the same as their original state, showing little hints of alternation or modification in modern times, thus possess great historical authenticity. People living here are still adhering to their traditional way of living, featuring "starting to work when the sun rises, and getting back home when the sun sets", which has passed down for centuries. To be specific, over 7,000 persons are now living within an area of 1.01 square kilometers. Therefore, this town is reputed as a "living ancient town with a history of over 1,000 years".

Architecture of Xitang

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Covering an area of 24 hectares, there are continuous patches of traditional architecture clusters in the ancient town, with the floor space amounting to 110,000 square meters, accounting for 63 percent of the town's total floor space. It is rare in China that ancient buildings are of such a big scale and have been so well preserved. Buildings in the ancient town of Xitang are mainly from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The locals give special emphasis to pursue buildings on river banks, facing street in the front and backing on rivers at the rear. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“The dimension and scale of single buildings are not big, the layout seems to be random but delicate, the modelling is simple, neat and pithy, the color is light, elegant and pleasant, and the outline is mild and beautiful. Under the economic factors, buildings were constructed along the streets and rivers, forming a building style of integrating the functions of commerce, residence and production-front houses as shops and backyard houses as residence, lower houses as shops and higher houses as residence, and front houses as shops and backyard houses as workshops. Furthermore, the architectural styles vary a lot.

“Buildings, low and high and with black tiles and whitewashed walls, are distributed along the rivers, and are of high artistic, architectural and archaeological values. Such huge clusters of traditional buildings are divided into six sections by rivers of Xitang and are connected with numerous bridges. The households are connected with narrow lanes, naturally forming one of the striking features of this ancient town-narrow lanes. The town has a total of 122 lanes, narrow or wide, and long or short. In addition, because trading on waterways in ancient times was fairly convenient and developed, roofed corridors were erected along the rivers by the families, providing a shelter from sun and rain for merchants. This has become one of the major landscapes of Xitang-the long canopy corridor.”

Tongli

Tongli (18 kilometers from Suzhou and now reached by Metro from Suzhou) means “copper village”, a name given to it in the Tang Dynasty. Originally called Futu (rich land), it is known today for its Venice-like old town comprised of charmingly-restored buildings set up along a networks of canals and its low bridges and small village clusterss. The Old Town is a pleasant place to spend the day strolling around, Worth checking out are small private gardens in Chongben Hall, Jiayin Hall, and Gengle Hall. The most famous is Tuisi Garden. “Tuisi” means “retreat and reflect.” There also some nice old building such as Chongben Hall and Jiayin Hall that look like great places to shoot a “Dream of Red Mansions” drama. You are supposed to buy a ticket to check out the Old Town but if you use back alleys to enter the area and avoid the guards you can get away without buying or at least you could when I was there in the early 2010s.

Surrounded by water Tongli (along spelled Tong Li and Tong-li) has 55 bridges built in Song and Qing Dynasties. The oldest one, Siben Bridge, is 700 years old. “Walking Over Three Bridges” — Tai Ping Bridge, Jill Bridge and Changqing Bridge — is something that newlyweds do so they can “live together forever.” Strolling along Lake Tai is nice enough but many of the best locations are occupied by fancy hotels.

Tongli attracts 1.5 to 2 million visitors a year. Small Luoxing Island is covered by yellow buildings and has Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist temples. It can only be reached by boat. On Mingqing shopping streets the shop are located in restored Ming and Qing era houses with flying eaves, brick carvings and attic views of the water. Food specialities include green dumplings, a fish dish called the “Three Whites of Taihu Lake; and Retreat and Reflection Cake.

Sex Museum in Tongli

The China Sex Museum in Tongli has a 4,000 piece collection. The first of its kind in China, it embraces and a 3,800-square-meter indoor area and a 5,200-square-meter outdoor area and has stone carvings of phalluses, Buddhas with erect penises, sex art intended to provide instructions for newly married couple and various kinds of sex aides. The exhibition is broken up into four parts: 1) sex in primitive society; 2) marriage and women; 3) sex in daily life; and 4) sex in special cases. The objects span a period of 5,000 years and are intended to make people “realize history, society and themselves.” Admission is 20 yuan.

The museum was formerly known as the Museum of Chinese Ancient Sex Culture. It opened on Nanjing Road in Shanghai in 1999 Nanjing, then moved to Wuding Lu in Shanghai before arriving in Tongli in 2004.. Among its treasures are items that date back to the Bronze Age, a special love-making chair, erotic Buddhas, bedroom furniture, scrolls and tea cups with explicit pictures, a 200-year-old chastity belt, a 20-centimeter, 5000-year-old black jade phallus, a 3500-year-old stone phallus, and images of sex position traditionally placed in a bride's dowry trunk. It closed after 20 months.

The museum was founded by Liu Dalin, a pioneer of sex research in China and author of more than 60 books on the subject, aimed to educate. "When I set up the museum, I hoped it could help me to publicise, to research and to rescue Chinese sexual culture--to awaken people from a state of sexual ignorance," Liu told AFP.

According to the China Daily: “On display are "trunk bottoms"-no, not what you're thinking, but rather-small figurines of copulating couples Chinese parents once gave newlywed daughters to clue them in on the mechanics of intimacy. There are also items from old brothels, a photo of the world's biggest penis and collections of toys from around the world.” [Source: China Daily March 19, 2009]

History of the Sex Museum in Tongli

On the museum’s odyssey from Shanghai to Tongli, Benjamin Morgan of AFP wrote: Shanghai would seem the perfect home for a sex museum given a colonial history that at its peak teemed with enough dance halls and houses of ill-repute to earn it the title "Whore of the Orient." Yet four years after opening,Liu Dalin's attempts to court Shanghai residents to the Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture has proven as elusive to win as the coquettes of Chinese opera. "At the beginning, I expected that the museum would have been very popular, but it did not develop as we wished," says the retired sociology professor and founder of the country's first sex museum.[Source: Benjamin Morgan, AFP, October 13, 2003]

“Liu may not be to blame, but rather his vast collection of about 3,700 erotic pieces that romp through some 5,000 years of human sexual behaviour that has come under official suspicion. First government officials would not allow him the use of the word sex on his billboard, making the museum all but impossible for tourists to find on crowded Nanjing Road. The authorities claimed they were upholding national regulations forbidding the advertisement of sex artifacts. "We thought of suing them but we didn't because we thought even if we win the case they might find other ways of taking revenge," he says. Shanghai officials then refused to grant the museum "scenic location" status that would have allowed travel agencies to list it in brochures, very likely drawing more tourists. Finally, a state-owned tourism company tried to lend its support but local officials also scuttled that plan.

“As the museum has failed to woo visitors — only 20 to 30 per day, 50 on the weekends, and two-thirds of them foreigners — Liu has been unable to recoup his more than 100,000 dollar investment by selling 30 yuan (3.60 dollars) entrances. In August he decided to take his labour of love into the welcoming arms of officials in Tongli, a small town in Jiangsu province, one hour's drive from the eastern city. "Of course, there is some sorrow for leaving, but what I feel most is pleasantness and excitement," Liu says about his future partner.

“Of his relocation to Tongli, Liu says he has great ambition. "To make good use of resources in Tongli to build the world's number one sexual culture museum." Officials in Tongli have promised funding, and the space, Liu says, is ideal--more than 6,000 square meters on the site of a Qing Dynasty women's school.”

In April, 2004, The Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture moved to its new home in Tongli The two sides agreed to locate the museum in Tongli for 10 years. The town of Tongli invested 3 million yuan (US$363,000) in the new museum, with Liu and the town sharing equally in profits from ticket sales. The new 5,000 square meters museum is in a building that once was a girl's school which opened in 1906. It is next to Tuisi Garden, one of the cultural relic sites of neighbouring Jiangsu Province. In addition to planting trees and flowers in the large garden, Liu already has plans to construct a park of stone sculptures. The theme-sex, of course.

Yangzhou

Yangzhou (80 kilometers east of Nanjing at the junction of the Grand Canal and Yangtze River) in Jiangsu Province is where Marco Polo served as governor for three years (See MARCO POLO’S TRAVELS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com and is on the Grand Canal. Today, Yangzhou is home to 1.6 million people. There are some canals and gardens worth a look.

Takahiro Suzuki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Yangzhou “has always flourished as a city of water transportation, as it is located on the Yangtze River. The canal that runs through the center of the city is iconic. Originally built in the 5th century B.C., it was expanded and developed into the Grand Canal by Yang Guang, the second emperor of the Sui dynasty (A.D. 518-619). [Source: Takahiro Suzuki, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 9, 2014]

“Lush willows grow along both sides of the canal and are known among local residents as “yangliu,” or riverside willows. They were planted along the banks when Emperor Yang had his people build a grand canal to connect the north and south of China, putting Yangzhou at the center. Wang Qingxiang, 45, at Yangzhou’s Grand Canal Culture Exhibition Pavilion, which exhibits Yang Guang’s achievements, told me, “Some believe that the willows’ name, ‘yangliu,’ came from the emperor’s family name, Yang.”

Slender West Lake and Historic Urban Area in Yangzhou was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The historic urban area in Yangzhou refers to the Yangzhou City built on the basis of Luocheng City of the Tang Dynasty and Dacheng City of the Song Dynasty in the Ming and Qing dynasties covering an area of 5.09 square kilometers which made great contributions to the economic, political and cultural development of Chinese feudal society and had a significant impact on world culture. Relying on its highly developed salt economy, Yangzhou still kept strong vitality and had a great influence in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The original city layout, streets and lanes, water system, and ancient and elegant city landscape embody the characteristics and styles of water city in South China. A large number of ancient cultural heritages, such as residential houses, gardens, temples, government offices, old stores, ancient bridges, ancient wells and famous trees that are well preserved in the historic urban area display the city's solid cultural background. Till today, quite a few residents in the area are still engaging in the traditional handicraft production and commercial activities, including lacquer, jade ware, paper-cut, etc. Such handicraft as Yangzhou lacquer and Yangzhou jade ware, and such popular entertainment as Yangzhou Ditty, Yangzhou storytelling, Yangzhou puppet show, etc, have been listed as intangible cultural heritage at national level and have been regarded as precious treasures of Chinese nation.” [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

Yangzhou Jade Carving Factory is one of the last authentic jade carving centers in China. The factory still keeps five-foot treadles so that some of the artisans can create pieces, such as famous "jade mountains," using slow traditional methods. Even though numerous items are created from jadeite, the majority are made with other kinds of stone. It may not be there anymore.

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Maps of Yangzhou: chinamaps.org ; China Highlights China Highlights Getting There: is accessible by bus and minibus to neighboring cities. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide

Slender West Lake

Slender West Lake (northwest of Yangzhou) is a man-made lake with beautiful views and historic sites. Covering an area of about 100 hectares, it is a fine example of a traditional Chinese lakeside garden. The lake is indeed slender — it is four kilometers long and and less than 100 meters wide — and thus almost more like a placid river than a lake. Around the lake is a park and garden formed during the reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong. Walking along the lake, one can see many elegant styles of architectures. Numerous poems have been written by famous poets about the lake. There are 24 scenic attractions on and around the lake, the most famous of which are the White Pagoda, the Five Pavilion Bridge, the Fishing Platform (Diaoyutai), the Xiaojin Hill, the Fuzhuang, and the 24 Bridge. Admission: 90 yuan (US$14.24) per person;

Slender West Lake and Historic Urban Area in Yangzhou was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Slender West Lake, formerly Baozhang Lake, is located in the northwest of Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province, covering an area of two square kilometers. In the mid-18th century, the moats and a large number of suburban villas of salt traders along the moats built in different locations and in different historical period (Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties) were connected elaborately and delicately to welcome the south inspection of Emperor Qianlong, thus forming a beautiful belt of the lake with garden scenery combining natural and human landscapes characterized by the most famous 24 scenes of "rolling stone archway, winding water in west park, spring pillow on the long bank, bright cloud in white pagoda" etc. The typical layout of Chinese scroll-type picture was recorded by royal painters and filed in imperial storehouse due to its unique aesthetic value. Thanks to the impact of the south inspections by Emperor Qianlong and the support of its salt economy, Yangzhou had became the garden-building centre in China, represented by classical garden cluster around the Slender West Lake. As well-known as "Yangzhou Gardens is second to none in South China" and "Yangzhou Gardens is the best in China", it embodies the most advanced art in terms of layout, architecture, stone laying, water conservation, plant arrangement, etc. As a masterpiece in garden-building after Yuanmingyuan Park during the reign of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty, a lot of experiences can be drawn from it in the construction of the Chengde Mountain Resort. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“The long and good traditions of Yangzhou people to built gardens can be traced back to the Western Han Dynasty. According to historical literature, gardens had been built around the Slender West Lake since the Southern Dynasties, and the scale had been gradually expanded since the Tang and Song dynasties. The remained classical gardens are all private gardens built by wealthy salt traders and famous men of scholars in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Detailed record of Slender West Lake Gardens can be found in the historical literature of the Qing Dynasty and during Republic of China period, such as Collection of Yangzhou Painted Boat, Collection of Yangzhou Places of Interests, and in various inscriptions, stone-carving, tablets, paintings, etc. To keep its original landscape, the government has paid great attention to its maintaining and repairing, consolidating rockeries, cleaning water system as well as landscaping.”

Lesser Visited Water Towns

Nanxun (40 kilometers east of Hangzhou) was founded in 1252, towards the end of Emperor Chunyou's reign during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Thanks to its thriving silk market and industry, it has long been an important commercial town and is regarded as one best-preserved old towns in the region and is now among the top six ancient towns situated in southern China. From a bird's-eye view, the town looks like a cross, covering a total area of 68 hectares. Two waterways intersect at the town: the Shihe River that runs from north to south and the ancient Grand Canal running from east to west. The waterways span a total length of 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles). 15 ancient bridges that were constructed during the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (1127-1911), have remained until today. The style and features of the original architecture used to build the town, have also been preserved; Admission: 100 yuan (US$15.69) per person;

Mudu (half hour from Suzhou) in Jiangsu province is nice and less touristy water town, Its name literally means “clogged with wood." recalling a famous story that took place 2,500 year ago in which a king of a the defeated kingdom of Yue sought revenge against the king of the kingdom of Wu by secretly training a beautiful girl named Xi Shi to be his concubine. Charmed by Xi Shi, the king of Wu let his defenses down enabling he king of Yue to exact his revenge. In any case, the king of Wu is said to have built a beautiful palace on a hill that required so much wood it clogged the river where Mudu now stands. Today the town is known mainly for its many private gardens. The palace for Xi Shi no longer exists but a monument on the hill is dedicated to her. Web Site: Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Fengjing (50 kilometers west-southwest of Shanghai) is another less touristy water town, with a long, in this case 1,500 year, history. Located in Shanghai Jinshan District of Shanghai, it has winding canals, old stone bridges, narrow lanes, cobblestone roads and traditional waterside houses like other similar towns but is quieter and has a fewer number of visitors. Specialities from the town include Ding's Pork Knuckle, prize-winning Jinfeng Rice Wine, Dried Bean Curd and No. 1 Scholar's Pastry.

One traveler wrote in the Shanghai Daily: “Crisscrossed by 52 ancient bridges, Fengjing has long been known with the saying, "Pass two bridges within a few steps, and catch a glimpse of 10 rivulets," referring to the water network. Standing on the oldest Zhihe Bridge, I enjoyed a panoramic view of this sleeping beauty-like town, with old houses and ports on both banks and the Rainbow Bridge in front. Famous Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) poet Shen Rongcheng wrote in his "Folk Songs of Fengxi:" "A swing is swinging by Rainbow Bridge, and it is much more beautiful when the Qingming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day) is coming." [Source: Shanghai Daily February 16, 2009]

“In the morning, when tea shops on both ends of the bridge open for business, the aroma of tea fills the air; fishermen row alongside buildings and piers to extended platforms by the river, forming a mini fish market. This is reflected in the folk song: "Freshwater snails are tasty in January, clams delicious in February, turtle the most sturdy in March ..."

Entering a partitioned stone archway inscribed with "Fengjing" in flourishing Chinese calligraphy, I walked along the zigzagging water, amazed by the red lanterns hung high under the eaves. It reminded me of the scene in Zhang Yimou's film "Raise the Red Lantern." Red paper strips bearing puzzles were hung all along the walkway. Kids who got the answers would joyfully take the strip off. The more red strips they collected, the luckier they might be in the coming lunar year.

Past the archway, I found myself standing on Shengchan (Produce) Street, where during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties, just as the name indicates, rice stores were one next to another, with awnings in front. On the opposite side of the river is Heping (Peace) Street, a road with old houses. On the east side stands a well-painted building with a sloping angle on the stone pedestal. It is an ancient open-air theater built when China's drama took shape in the Song (960-1279) and Kin (1115-1234) dynasties. The 28-square-meter theater, in the square of the Town God's Temple, has a gable and hip roof and overhanging eaves. Opposite is a row of old houses near the river serving as tea shop. Visitors can select a window seat, and enjoy the tea as well as the drama in a sunny, laid-back afternoon.

Another option: watching in the boat since the theater also has river frontage. It is said that the Town God's Temple Fair started in the Qing Dynasty when young men and women went out to watch the performances that were usually kilometers away. So the river was usually obstructed by so many boats, and venders, Peking Opera troupes and circuses would swarm into Fengjing, bustling with noise and thrills. Getting There: The Shanghai-Hangzhou Railway connects Fengjing to a number of cities in southern China. The Zhujing-Fengjing Highway connects to State Highway No. 318, the busy Shanghai-Hangzhou Expressway, A7 Highway and State Highway No. 310.

Wuxi

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Wuxi (135 kilometers northwest of Shanghai) is China's sixth largest industrial city with a population of 3.5 million people. In recent years it has become an economic boom town and is home to much of China's chemical industry. The economy there expanded from 2.5 million yuan in 1978 to 330 billion yuan (US$44 billion) in 2006. Half the city residents are employed by its 5,300 factories. Wuxi abuts part of Lake Tai was famous its lakeside gardens. Wuxi is a very dirty city. In the summer the 38-degree C air makes it almost impossible to breathe.

Tourist Office: Wuxi Municipal Tourism Bureau, 7 Xinsheng Rd, 214002 Wuxi, Jiangsu China, tel. (0)- 510-270-4314, fax: (0)- 510-270-3851Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Maps of Wuxi: chinamaps.org ;

Wuxi Subway Map: Urban Rail urbanrail.net

Lingshan Grand Buddha (in Wuxi) is the largest bronze Sakyamuni standing Buddha statue in the world. Measuring 88 meters in height, it is 17 meters higher than the famous Leshan Giant Buddha in China's Sichuan Province. Composed of 1,560 bronze sheets, it weighs over 700 tons. The statue was completed in 1996 and became a prominent symbol of Wuxi City. You may notice that wherever you are around the Buddha, his eyes always follow you. Lingshan has hosted for the World Buddhist Forum. Admission: 210 yuan (US$33.22) per person. [Source: China.org]

Near Wuxi on the northern shore of the lake are three islets that look like the head, body and tail of a tortoise. Many visitors travel to these islets by ferry, believing that tortoise mean long life and a visit to the island will help them live longer. At Yuantouzhu, Chongshan Mountain extends into the lake. Near here are many rocks that look like tortoise heads. Chinese visitors also like to visit this place.

Yuantouzhu Island , or "Turtle Head Isle," is a popular tourist resort on Lake. Tai. It got its name because its shape resembles a turtle's head. Yuantouzhu Park has nice green hills and shores with water. It is famous for its tourism, especially during the spring season from March to April when hundreds of cherry blossom trees start to bloom. Tourist ferries leave from Yuantouzhu to the Sanshan Islands and come back at scheduled times every day. There are also at least eight ancient fishing sailboats on the lake. Admission: 105 yuan (US$16.61) per person. [Source: China.org]

Lake Tai

Lake Tai (near Wuxi on the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces) is China's third largest freshwater lake. Lying at the center of China's ancient “land of fish and rice," it covers an area of 2,420 square kilometers and has 400 kilometers of coastline and is home more 60 kinds of fish and other aquatics products. The lake was once was once part of the ocean but now it is filled with freshwater and freshwater fish. Over the years parts of the lake have been reclaimed by fish ponds and rice patties. Web Site: Wikipedia Wikipedia

Lake Tai (known in Chinese a Taihu) it is very popular with Chinese tourists. It traditionally has been famous as the source of the “three whites”---white shrimp, whitebait and whitefish, plus a freshwater crustacean delicacy known as hairy crab. It waters irrigate fields via man-made streams. Goods have traditionally been moved on canals from the lake to Shanghai and other places in the Yangtze Delta.

Gardens near Lake Tai: Liyuan Gardens (on the shores of Lake Tai) is one of the most famous gardens south of the Yangtze river. Surrounded by water on three sides, it is dotted with temples and pavilions. A winding 1000-meters-long path in the garden is lined with brick inscriptions featuring the work of famous ancient calligraphers like Mifu. Jichang Garden is a classic Chinese garden located in the foothills of Huishan Mountain in Wuxi. It is a small garden but is cleverly integrated with its surroundings.

Algae Blooms and Pollution on Lake Tai

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Lake Tai algae
Since the 1950s, Lake Tai has been under assault. Dams built for flood control and irrigation have disrupted its circulation and prevented it from flushing out pesticides and fertilizers that flow into it. Particularly damaging are phosphates which suck out life-sustaining oxygen. Starting in the 1980s a number of chemical factories were built on its shores. As of the late 1990s there were 2,800 chemical factories around the lake, some of which release their waste directly in the lake in the middle of the night to avoid detection.

Lake Tai is often choked with industrial waste, urban sewage and agricultural run-off and sometimes is covered with green algae as a result of nitrogen and phosphate pollution. Locals complain of polluted irrigation water that causes their skin to peal, dyes that turn the water red and fumes that sting their eyes. Fishing has been banned since 2003 because of pollution.

In the summer of 2007, large algae blooms covered parts of Lake Tai and Lake Chao, China's third and fifth largest freshwater lakes, making the water undrinkable and producing a terrible stench.

Two million of residents of Wuxi, who normally rely on water from the Lake Tai for drinking water, couldn't bathe or wash dishes and hoarded bottled water that rose in price from US$1 a bottle to US$6 a bottle. Some turned on their taps only to have sludge emerge. The bloom on Lake Tai lasted for six days until it was flushed out by rain and water diverted from the Yangtze River. The bloom on Lake Chao did not threaten water supplies.

Lake Tai is often choked with industrial waste from factories producing paper, film and dyes, urban sewage and agricultural run-off. It sometimes is covered with green algae as a result of nitrogen and phosphate pollution. Locals complain of polluted irrigation water that causes their skin to peal, dyes that turn the water red and fumes that sting their eyes.

Dams built for flood control and irrigation have prevented Lake Tai's from flushing out pesticides and fertilizers that flow into it. Particularly damaging are phosphates which suck out life-sustaining oxygen. Starting in the 1980s a number of chemical factories were built on its shores. As of the late 1990s there were 2,800 chemical factories around the lake, some of which released their waste directly into the lake in the middle of the night to avoid detection.

The algae bloom on Lake Tai was caused by toxic cyanobacteria, commonly called pond scum. It turned much of the lake florescent green and produced a terrible stench that could be smelled miles away from the lake. The Lake Tai bloom became a symbol of China's lack of environmental regulations. Afterwards a high-level meeting on the lake's future was convened, with Beijing closing down hundreds of chemical factories and promising to spend US$14.4 billion to clean up the lake.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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