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China's Top Water Country - Zhouzhuang
2004-10-27

Known as a collection of beauty, Zhouzhuang, once called Zhenfengli, is an ancient water town of Kunshan City in Jiangsu Province and where rivers and lakes abound. It is located between the cities Shanghai and Suzhou. The town has stood up well through the years, 900 to be specific, and remains as it was so long ago. The typical style and features of the water town and even its inhabitants' way of life remains unchanged. The houses built by the streams have sidewalks, which have naturally evolved into streets used for transportation, together along with the water lanes. Overhead stone bridges span over the water lanes, providing convenient passage for the local people. Murmuring streams flow under small bridges and courtyards. These bridges and courtyards are each surrounded by dwelling quarters, which are typical features of Zhouzhuang and even the whole of East China.

Water lanes & Stone Bridge

Zhouzhuang is like a water nymph standing on a lake. The layout of its water lanes is perfectly arranged so that it looks like the Chinese character "#". Many stone bridges are built over them, linking up the households on either side of each stream. These stone bridges are very old, 14 of which were built between the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The most representative among them are the Twin Bridge, Fu'an Bridge, Zhenfeng Bridge and Fuhong Bridge. There is a beautiful saying that is popular among the folks in China-"the Heavens have their Paradise while the earth is proud of having Suzhou and Hangzhou." Zhouzhuang is just like Water Lily in-between.

The Twin Bridge

Twin Bridge, built between 1573 and 1619, is situated to the northeast of the town. It consists of the Shide and Yong'an bridges, with one of them being a stone arch type and the other a stone beam type bridge. Since they look like an ancient key, Twin Bridge also known as Key Bridge.

The Yinzi and Nanbei rivers cross the area here and these two rivers zigzag in north-south and east-west directions here. The square and round openings of the bridges provide a unique frame for the water scenery. Sitting on a boat, one may enjoy the scene between bridges and have a feeling of the quiet and simple life that this water town offers. When night falls, all the streets are empty. Down the narrow lanes one catches glimpses of dim lights. Walking by the waterside, along the road or over a bridge, the peace of the calm water and clear sky, perhaps occasionally punctuated by the distant sound of laughter, creates a harmonious and sweet environment.

Fu'an Bridge

Fu'an Bridge is to the east of Zhongshi Street, crosses the Nanbeishi River and leads to Nanbeishi Street.

Fu'an Bridge was built in 1355 and rebuilt by Shen Wansi, the younger brother of Shen Wanshan. The bridge has towers on all four corners and each side has carved beams and painted rafters. People can now enjoy local foods and shopping in each tower.

Zhenfeng Bridge

Zhenfeng Bridge sits on the west mouth of Zhengshi River and connects Zhenfeng Lane and Xiwan Street. It was rebuilt in the Ming and Qing dynasties and is well preserved today.

Heritages of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Zhouzhuang has about 1,000 households living in the old dwelling quarters.

Shen's House

Shen's House is located to the southeast of Fu'an Bridge, on Nanshi Street. It was built in 1742 during the Qing Dynasty by Shen Benren, a descendant of Shen Wansan who was a wealthy man in southern China during the late Yuan (1206-1386 AD) to early Ming Dynasty.

Shen's House offers a unique traditional Chinese architectural style. Consisting of seven courtyards, five archways and more than 100 different size rooms along that lie along two sides of a 100-meter long axis line, the house covers an area of 2,000 square meters.

Shen's House has three sections. The first includes a water gate and wharf for mooring and washing boats. The second one consists of the Tea Hall and the Main Hall, which are used for receiving guests, holding weddings or conducting funeral ceremonies. The rear part serves as living quarters.

The Main hall covers 170 square meters. The six-meter-high carved brick archway facing the Main Hall is the most magnificent among the five and has a horizontally inscribed board bearing the inscription, "Ji hou liu guang" (Do more good forever). Around the board are relief sculptures of figures, animals, pavilions and opera characters.

Milou Tower

Milou Tower, once called De's Wine Shop, is located at Zhenfeng Bridge. In the 1920s, the founders of the South Society, including Liu Yazi, Chen Qubing, Wang Dajue and Fei Gongzhi, went there four times to drink and compose poems. They published the "Collected Works on Milou Tower", which is a compilation of more than 100 poems. It has been rebuilt, but retains its old-style charm.

Chengxu Taoist Temple

Chengxu Taoist Temple, also known as Shentang Hall, is located on Zhongshi Street, facing the Puqing Bridge. It was built during 1086-1093. Since the mid-Ming Dynasty, the temple has taken shape and in the Qing Dynasty it was expanded to three big courtyards, covering 1,500 square meters and serves as one of the four notable Taoist Temples in Wuzhong Region. Its main buildings are Yuhuang, Wenchang and Shengdi pavilions. The Yuhuang Pavilion was built in the Song Dynasty.

Folkways of the Land of Waters

The folkways of the land of waters in Zhouzhuang originate from an age-old civilization and the history of long standing of the ancient town and its unique natural environment as well. It's a great pleasure for visitors to appreciate the historic sights and to observe and learn from the folklore and the conditions of common folks.

Granny Tea

When visitors come to Zhouzhuang, they may often notice some elderly women gathering together to drink tea. However, few people know the true story behind tea-drinking and tea-making. All the people in the town are fond of tea, but they are fastidious about their tea-making methods. For instance, tea sets must be old, water is required to be boiled in a pottery jar and the fuel should be either bamboo or tea tree branches. The correct way of making tea is as such: put some tea leaves in a teapot or cup, pour a little hot water, wait a few minutes, and then infuse boiling water to make the tea. When people sample tea, they often as drink and eat melon seeds, tender boiled beans, candied fruits and pastries among other delicacies. Tea made in this fashion is called "granny tea".

Fast Boating

This event came into being during the early Qing Dynasty and has become a large-scale recreational and sporting activity held on the special occasion of folk festivals. Every boat is equipped with a punt pole, a large and small scull and staffed with 15 or 16 sturdy men. When all boats are on their marks, they begin the race after the signal is fired.

Wansan Home-style Banquet

Zhouzhuang enjoys rich natural resources and local specialties. Main dishes covered in the menu: Wansan Pig's Upper Leg, Meat Balls with three delicacies, Xianjiang (White Calm River) Aquatic products, Wansan brand wines & liquor.

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