Zhouzhuang (周庄) is a town famous for its canals in Jiangsu province. It is located within the administrative area of Kunshan, 30 km southeast of the city centre of Suzhou, and about a 1 hour drive from Shanghai. Zhouzhuang is a popular tourist destination, classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration, and is one of the most famous water townships in China, noted for its profound cultural background, the well preserved ancient residential houses and the elegant watery views. It has been called the “Venice of the East“.
This ancient town has a history of more than 900 years old with many houses built in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. There are about 100 houses with courtyards and 60 of them have arch gateways made by carved bricks. With lakes on four sides, the beauty of Zhouzhuang is specially to be found along the waterside lanes and around a number of the stone bridges. A different vista at every turn can be found here. Highlights include:
- Zhouzhuang itself with its quiet waterways and relaxed atmosphere is an attraction in itself, there are several particularly interesting places to visit. Most of these attractions are accessible by boat or walking, and a vigorous visitor can realistically see them all in one day. The major attraction of the town is the atmosphere and the view, and something you shouldn’t miss from catching a view from afar is Nanhu Lake. It’s called the Pearl of Zhouzhuang for a reason. The lotus-shaped Quanfu Temple is located in the middle, and the view of its pavilions and palaces from the shore has been described as “sublime”.
- Twin Bridges: The attraction that sets the standard for the town is or are the twin bridges. Not exactly twins, because one, Shide, was first built in 1573 while the other, Yong’an, wasn’t completed until after 1619. However, both bridges cross just above the confluence of the rivers Yinzi and Nanbei and land on the same corner. Viewed from downstream, the combination of the round arch that makes up Shide Bridge and the square arched Yong’an makes the two bridges look like an ancient key. From there, they are also called “Key Bridge”. The bridge or bridges became the face of the town after they were immortalized in Chen Yifei’s painting, Memory of My Hometown, which was shown in New York and eventually featured by the UN. Eventually it became a good-will present to then Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping.
- Fu’an Bridge: With 19 stone bridges throughout Zhouzhuang, Fu’an stands out on account of its Yuan Dynasty heritage. First built in 1355, it has been restored and rebuilt several times, the last being in 1855 when granite stairs and ornate engravings were added in the style of the Qing Dynasty. The name means “Abundant Peace”, and is particularly picturesque because it’s built between two buildings that extend almost to the water surface. It’s especially charming to see from a boat below.
- Shen Residence: Built in an aristocratic style during the early Qing Dynasty, this sprawling palace covers almost 2,000 m2 (21,500sqft) and is the biggest residence in the town. It is made up of over 100 rooms surrounding seven courtyards, and is divided into three sections: The water gate and warf; the Tea and Main Halls which were for receiving guests and conducting important ceremonies; and the living quarters. They are open to the public now. Construction on the residence began in 1742 over a smaller complex inherited by Shen Benren. At first considered a typical playboy wealthy heir, Benren made a complete about-face upon is father’s death and dedicated himself to expanding the family business. His home is a reflection of his business work. Benren was a descendent of another famous local entrepreneur, Shen Wanshen, who contributed significantly to the town’s heritage.
- Zhang Residence: Not as impressive in size as the Shen Residence, the competing Zhang residence is much older, and one of the few remaining Ming Dynasty buildings. It’s just south of the famous Twin Bridges. Originally built by a relative of one of the Ming founders, it was later sold to the Zhang family, and hence its current name. Now it’s owned by the local government, and has been meticulously restored. It has a sprawling area of 70 rooms, and is unique on account of the Ming-style columns that make up its construction. It also has a free-flowing riverthrough the complex , which allows boats through.
- Chengxu Daoist Temple: Located near the Quanfu Temple, this Daoist (Taoist) temple also dates back to the Yuanyou Period (1086-1093) of the Song Dynasty. It was expanded during the Ming and Quing Dynasties with donations from local wealthy traders and merchants until it became one of the largest in Jiangsu. The temple has three main buildings in a wonderful garden, and is surrounded by futher pavilions. It is still an active place of worship and during the 22nd and 23rd days of the sixth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, there is a large celebration at the temple with traditional activities, customs and wardrobes.