Everyone has their own dreamland, especially people living in Jiangnan (areas south of the Yangtze River), whose dreamland always interrelate with apricot blossom, spring rain, bridges and water. Though there are many water towns in Jiangnan, I only take Tongli as my favorite, an ancient town in dreamland.
Tongli is a town in Wujiang County of China’s east Jiangsu province, located on the eastern shore of Taihu Lake (the third largest freshwater lake in China). Once named Futu, Tongli is a well preserved water township with a history of more than 1,000 years. It is very convenient to get in and around here, just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Suzhou and 80 kilometers from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. It feels really intriguing that we suddenly get to such a tranquil, beautiful and ancient town from Shanghai, the biggest metropolis in China. Resting on the east bank of an ancient canal, on the Shore of Taihu Lake, Tongli is a famous ancient site of rivers and lakes. The town, built around five lakes, is in the shape of a rough circle. It is divided into seven islands by more than 10 rivers and combined into a whole by 49 ancient bridges.
The most famous attractions of Tongli can be summed up as “one garden, two halls, and ternate bridges”.
The “one garden” refers to Tuisi (Retreat and Meditation) Garden, one of the classic gardens in Jiangnan. It is the symbol of Tongli and was listed as one of the World Culture Heritage Sites in China 2000. It was built in 1886 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by Ren Lansheng. He was discharged from office at that time. Then he came back to his hometown Tongli to build this garden and named it as Tuisi meaning retreat and meditation. Tuisi Garden is laid out horizontally instead of vertically. The western part is a residential area, including a sedan hall, a tea hall and the main hall in addition to the eastern scenic area, consisting of the exterior and interior gardens, stretching from west to east. In the north of the exterior garden are halls for meeting or entertaining guests. On the other side is aboat landing, serving as a rendezvous point for guests.
In the interior garden, the pavilions, terraces, winding causeways, corridors and rockeries all surround the pond, or lie close to the water, giving an illusion of floating on the water. Therefore the garden is also known as "Tieshui Yuan” (Garden Close to the Water).
The “two halls” are Gengle Hall and Chongben Hall. The ternate bridges are Peace and Tranquility (Taiping) Bridge, Luck (Jili) Bridge and Lasting Celebration (Changqing) Bridge. The Ternate Bridges cross three rivers at their confluence and form a natural ring road. They are propitious symbols in the eyes of the local residents and they walk over them for good luck during wedding or birthday parties. When in Rome, do as Romans do. We also walk over the ternate bridges and pray for a good future.
Unconsciously, we get to the exit of the town. It’s time to leave. I have put it in the bottom of my heart. Tongli, a jewel set among rivers, lakes and delicate gardens, an ancient water town in dreamland.