Xitang sits in the low-lying network of lakes and waterways, known as Jiangnan, ‘South of the (Yangtze) River’. People here treasure the land like gold. They haggle over every square centimeter (square inch) when building stores, households and hotels. The space between buildings is constricted to the utmost. So, there are more that 100 narrow lanes in Xitang, five of which are more than 100 meters (110 yards) long. The narrowest one is only half a meter (20 inches) wide, where it is even hard for two people to pass at the same time. The lanes are all different from one another. You have to come and walk in it yourself to feel the reality of this ancient town.
Among all the lanes in Xitang, Shipi (‘Stone Skin’) Lane is the most famous one. It is about 68 meters (74 yards) in length and less than 1 meter (3 feet) in width. The pavement of this lane is made from 166 stone slabs, which are only 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) thick, just like a skin of stone. It is difficult it is to make granite slabs so thin. This is how Shipi Lane gets its name. According to historical records, Shipi Lane is as old as Zhongfu Hall in the east and Zunwen Hall in the west. Shipi Lane is the narrow passage between two groups of old houses. Walking along Shipi Lane, the hundred-year-old, high walls on both sides can feel suffocating (not recommended for claustrophobes).
The most typical residential lane is the side lane by Zhongfu Hall. In the past, the rich families did not usually open their main gates. Side lanes instead lead to side doors to let people in and out. Interestingly, there are no windows in the side lanes. With little or no sun shine, the side lanes are cool and dark, which conforms to the concept of building of the rich families in the water towns south of the Yangtze River. The concept can be summed up as, “Do not show the white luster of the silver, and the treasure can be hidden in darkness.” They regarded darkness as being safe. It may seem as though you have dropped into another time, or walked into the world of a history book covered with dust. The concept of “darkness as safety” began in the capital (Hangzhou) of South Song Dynasty (1127-1279). This concept has been passed down for several hundred years, leading people in Xitang to have moral excellence inwardly - in the darkness within.
Historically, 19 imperial scholars and 31 first-degree scholars were from Xitang, and 103 Xitang inhabitants wrote books that were recorded. Most of these intellectuals lived in the deep lanes.
Xitang had already become a village in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Song Dynasty (960-1279). During the yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), with the advantage of being “a land of fish and rice”, the economic foundation of being “a center of silk”, and the convenience of the water courses, Xitang developed into a rich and prosperous market town. The industries of mining, rice production, food manufacture and ceramics were growing day-by-day. Many ancient large houses still existing today were the fruit of that era’s prosperity. The earliest way of transportation in Xitang was by boat, and there had been little disturbance to this from the outside over the generations. Thus, Xitang has maintained its ancient town appearance almost perfectly, inheriting the legacy of its ancestors.
The scenery here is just like a painting, and the photos you take will all be like paintings no matter which way your camera points. It is even better if it rains. This is why Xitang was chosen as the set for Mission Impossible III. The ceilinged corridors are most famous, and family hotels are also special. Xitang people are even more beautiful than the scenery. You may meet a beauty who is just like the beauties in the paintings on a bridge or at the corner of a stone road.
The major difference between Xitang and other ancient water towns lies in the ceilinged corridors (about 1,000 meters (1,100 yards) long) beside the river, which are just like the Summer Palace Corridor. » more
Special products of Xitang include: yellow rice wine, steamed pork wrapped in lotus leaves, cake of “eight treasures”, strong-smelling bean curd, Fen Lake crabs and glutinous rice dumplings.» more
Xitang is 90 km from Shanghai City, 100 km from Hangzhou City and 80 km from Suzhou City. The new class-A Shanjiang Highway runs by the town of Xitang, joining National Highway 320. » more
There are 3 kinds of inns in Xitang: ancient houses from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), riverside inns and modern hotels. » more
Take a boat from Futang Pier by Songzilaifeng Bridge. There are boats for rent in the daytime. There are tour boats in the evening. Boats depart when the seats are all taken. » more
The hottest time is in July, with an average temperature of 27ºC.The coldest time is in January, with an average temperature of 4.5 ºC. The frost--free period is 240 days. » more