O'er a small bridge,
By a stream running,
Homes of villagers nestling.
– Ma Zhiyuan
Luzhi Water Town, another Suzhou area water town, is located 18 kilometers east of downtown Suzhou, just beyond the S5 Changjia Expressway in Suzhou's Wuzhong District, and about 58 kilometers west of Shanghai. Luzhi was the location of an unknown village before the village became a water town (though the waterways that crisscross the town are called rivers, they are in fact dug canals). The oldest edifice in present-day Luzhi, Baosheng Temple, dates from the Liang (CE 502-556) Dynasty of the Southern Dynasties (CE 420-588) Period of the Northern and Southern (CE 386-588) Dynasties era; Baosheng Temple was built in CE 503. The Liang Dynasty ruled over mid- to southeastern China, which, at the time, was a very prosperous political entity (see Figure 2 below).
During the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, the area corresponding to the eastern part of p resent-day Jiangsu Province was called Wujiang, and was comprised of two districts: Puli and Liuzhi. The two districts would eventually be combined into a single district under the name of Puli. There issome disagreement as to how the name Puli came about. One story suggests that the recluse poet and agrarian (he was especially taken with farm implements), Lu Guimeng (see the picture of him below), had also used the name Puli as a pseudonym (he apparently had several pseudonyms), and in his honor, the district was later called Puli.
However, it seems that the two districts, Liuzhi and Puli, might have existed for some time before the poet settled there. Lu Guimeng lived originally in the village of Changzhou, now swallowed up by present-day Suzhou, on the northern perimeter of the inner-city. In fact, the site of the Tang Dynasty poet's former residence in Changzhou later became the property of Wang Xiancheng, a Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty government official (and later, in retirement, himself became a poet) who was caught up in an imperial intrigue (Wang became the subject of a witch-hunt, in fact) and who therefore decided to retire to Suzhou to find a quantum of peace and seclusion; Wang's garden in Suzhou eventually became one of the most renowned scholar gardens in all of China: the Garden of the Humble Administrator, which was later the subject material of painters and essayists.
This set of events suggests instead that Lu Guimeng might eventually have chosen the name "Mr. Puli" as a new pseudonym, borrowed from the name of the district east of Suzhou where he had settled, and that it was only later, after the two districts would be combined into a single district, that the name Puli was chosen, at least partly in honor of the poet and agrarian, even if "Puli" was the name of one of the pre-existing earlier districts. Lu Guimeng's birth date is not known, only his death, in CE 881, though he apparently lived to a ripe old age, as can be seen in the figure above.
Lu Guimeng, aka Mr. Puli, only became a poet in retirement, switching completely occupations – as so often happened in those times – which itself is an amazing tribute to the high level of cultural development of ancient China. (In our modern times, most people, upon retirement, tend to laze around, eat more, buy more, go hunting, fishing or skiing, if those are their hobbies (or collecting stamps, etc.), maybe travel a bit, etc., etc. Few take on a new identity, though it must be said, in all fairness, that some people in the modern world actually switch professions in mid-life, but this is more of a rarity than a regularity, and may in fact belong strictly to the extravagant era prior to the economic downturn of 2008.)
In his professional career, Lu Guimeng served as an administrative assistant to the prefectural governor of Suzhou, while he lived on his estate inthe village of Changzhou, retreating, upon retirement, to the village of Puli, well east of Suzhou, in order to write poems, and, in his book, Lei si jing ("Ploughs and Ploughshares"), to write about farm implements, both contemporary implements, such as the Tang period stone roller used for threshing grain (and for leveling and "stamping" the ground that would become the threshing floor itself), the whetstone and the humble rake, as well as ancient implements, including the Quyuan Plough that is depicted in Grotto #23 of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province (see the image below).
In addition, in Grotto #445 (not shown) one can see a depiction of what farming was like in the latter part of the Tang Dynasty, activities such as: sowing, reaping, bearing, threshing and winnowing, as well as taking a well-deserved lunch break.
Despite the image presented in Figure 3 above, depicting Lu Guimeng in a conventional housing setting (though with the mountain in the immediate background, the venue could conceivably be a monastery), the poet in fact lived for the most part on a houseboat that he could move about as he pleased, from canal to canal, or onto the Wusong River itself, where the poet would fish.
In sharp contrast to the typical contemporary member of the literati, Mr. Puli (Puli is sometimes written as Fuli, as is the town) came to shun the ostentatious lifestyle of the artist, characterized by gourmet meals washed down with prodigious amounts of wine, and in the company of large numbers of other artists, though in his earlier life in Changzhou, and during his first years at Luzhi, he was known to be fond of wine, though he preferred to keep company mainly with a fellow poet, Pi Rixiu.*(1) In general, Mr Puli foreswore most of the luxuries of life at Luzhi, preferring to spend his time on a houseboat, where, in addition to his poetic and agrarian pursuits, he kept his many books as well as his fishing tackle, and of course his tea-making paraphernalia, having given up wine in favor of China's most popular and most humble drink, tea.
*(1) Lu Guimeng and Pi Rixiu are credited with having developed a style of rhyming poetry where the verses of the second poem echo the rhyming pattern of the first, that is, the first poet would compose a poem and the second would have to come up with a different poem, but using the same rhyming pattern (this poetry style apparently never caught on, for it has no name).
It was first toward the end of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty that the town was renamed Luzhi, which itself requires a bit of explanation. Essentially, the town reverted to its other ancient name, Liuzhi, except that in the local (Suzhou) dialect, "liu" is pronounced as "lu", therefore the orthographic convention behind the seeming name discrepancy. Liuzhi/ Luzhi means "six canals" ("canals" being the Chinese equivalent of "straight rivers"), suggesting that as far back as the early Tang period, if not earlier, the canals that define Luzhi Water Town were already present (this is not surprising, for by the time of the previous dynasty, the Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasty, most of the canal sections belonging to the Grand Canal were already dug).
There are other water towns in the Suzhou area that are "prettier" (more developed), just as there are other water towns elsewhere in China that share the same advanced state of tourist development of these more developed water towns, but the mother of all water towns, the very first water town in China, is a distinction that falls upon the humble water town sharing the name of the very humble poet and agrarian, Mr. Puli, the present-day water town of Luzhi.
What makes Luzhi special, besides its less touristy charms, is its many bridges, some of which stem from as far back as the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, though most of the town's dwellings were rebuilt during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties. Indeed, in its heyday, Luzhi had more bridges (72 of them, though today, only 41 remain) than did Venice, to which it is compared, canal and bridge-wise, being referred to as the Venice of the East.
There is quite a lot of historical things to see in Luzhi Water Town, even though, compared to neighboring water towns, Luzhi is small. The most striking feature of the town is its many stone arch bridges, some, as indicated, dating back to the Song Dynast» more
The restaurants and stalls in Luzhi serve local Chinese fare that can also appeal to the Western palate. Besides the usual Chinese (and Jiangsu) dishes, one can find certain specialties specific to Suzhou's water towns, such as trotters (pigs feet). » more
There are many long-distance buses that arrive in Luzhi. These depart from either Shanghai or Suzhou (Luzhi lies near the main expressway, the G2 Jinghu Expy, between Shanghai and Suzhou). There is also a local bus from Tongli Water Town to Luzhi (none from Zhouzhang Water Town). » more
As Luzhi is a small and less developed place, there is no accommodation there. One-day tour for Luzhi Water Town is enough. Tourists can also spend a night in local people' houses. In fact, over-development would spoil the very nature of Luzhi as a preservation-worthy local culture.
As Luzhi is a small and less developed place, tourists can enjoy the tranquility and take a rest for hearts. One-day tour for Luzhi Water Town is enough. In fact, over-development would spoil the very nature of Luzhi as a preservation-worthy local culture.
You won't find international cultural initiatives in the town of Luzhi such as theatre and opera, or even folk song performances, for that matter, but you will find an ancient village here which, like a handful of other villages in China. » more