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Zhouzhuang, a "water town" (canal town) like the neighboring water town of Tongli, lies between Lake Tai and Shanghai, about 55 kilometers southeast of Suzhou on the southern shore of Lake Baixian, through which the Baixian River runs. On Lake Baixian's eastern shore lies Shanghai West Golf Club. There are lakes on all four sides of Zhouzhang, albeit, the town is only contiguous with Lake Baixian. The entire area immediately south and east of Suzhou is dotted with lakes, large and small, and crisscrossed by rivers. Some of the towns, such as Zhuzhang, are further crisscrossed by a network of canals that connect to the rivers and lakes, earning them the moniker, "water town".
Broadly speaking, the "watertown" area south of Suzhou is bordered by Suzhou's Sujiahang Expressway in the west, Shanghai's A-30 Expressway in the east, the Suhu Expressway in the north, and the Shenjiahu Expressway in the south. Unlike in the watertown of Tongli, there are no streets that separate the rows of waterfront houses from the waterways in the town of Zhouzhuang. In fact, there is no motorized traffic at all in the town of Zhouzhang – one either travels by gondola, by rickshaw, or by foot.
Zhouzhang originated as a village by the name of Zhenfengli during the Spring and Autumn (BCE (770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty. It received its current name in CE 1086 during the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty when the village, which had belonged to the fiefdom of Yaocheng, was donated to Zhenfengli's Quanfu ("Full Fortune") Temple – also known as Blessed Temple – by a devout Buddhist by the name of Zhou Digong, who owned this piece of land (note that Zhouzhang means "Zhou Hamlet/ Village).
Most of the old houses and bridges of Zhenfengli cum Zhouzhang stem from the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty period, though some are from the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty period. Less than 40% of the structures in Zhouzhuang stem from the pre-Yuan era, while a few – including the town's new water tower and Quanfu Pagoda, the latter of which was erected in order to conceal the view of the newly erected water tower as much as possible (which explains why Quanfu Pagoda lies in the northwestern section of the town, near the new archway entrance to Zhouzhuang, while Quanfu Temple itself lies in the southwestern section of Zhouzhuang – stem from the end of the 20th century.
In spite of its rather old heritage, the city of Zhouzhang was first put on the map, as it were, in the 1980s, and this is owing, indirectly, to the action of an American – a Russian-American to be more precise. It is a story that the villagers of Zhouzhang apparently love to tell, and goes like this...
In October, 1984, a series of paintings by a relatively unknown Chinese painter were put on display in a New York gallery that was owned by the Russian-American oil tycoon, Armand Hammer. Hammer was chairman of the board at the U.S. oil company, Occidental Petroleum, and had a planned trip the following month to China to pay a visit to Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader at the time. One of the paintings on display in the New York gallery was a depiction of the Twin Bridges in Zhouzhang entitled "Memory of Hometown". Hammar purchased the painting with an eye to presenting it to Deng Xiaopeng.
The latter was honored by the gift, and the news quickly spread inside China of the gift and the painting's subject matter, with the result that Chinese tourists flocked to Zhouzhang in droves to discover the suddenly famous watertown's majesty for themselves. They still flock to Zhouzhang in droves, only now, they are joined by droves of tourists from around the world. The interest in watertown Zhouzhang has sparked interest in other watertowns across China, and in particular, the watertowns of the Suzhou area.
Zhouzhang is a beautiful, picturesque village of willow-lined canals that are contiguous with rows of waterside buildings with whitewashed walls and gray slate roofs, and whose wooden eaves are upturned in the quintessentially Chinese fashion. "Inland" from the canals and the stone arch bridges are streets paved with cobblestones.
Since the 12th century, Zhouzhuang has been connected to the Grand Canal, which extends from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north. This development naturally brought prosperity to the region of Suzhou, and it was thanks to this prosperity that the region in part developed its own scholars and artists, and in part attracted them from outside. Many of these artists and members of the literati were either native sons, or chose to make the idyllic watertowns of the region their new home.
Zhouzhuang is a beautiful, picturesque village of willow-lined canals that are contiguous with rows of waterside buildings with whitewashed walls and gray slate roofs, and whose wooden eaves are upturned in the quintessentially Chinese fashion. » more
Zhouzhuang has a long tea drinking history, as indicated above, but the city likes its pastries as well as its more substantial dishes, such as those made with pork, traditionally the most popular meat in China.» more
There are direct buses from Shanghai, Suzhou, Kunshan or Qingpu to Zhouzhuang. You can take a bus or a train from Shanghai to Suzhou, then take one of the Suzhou-Zhouzhuang options. » more
If you have time for it, spending a night in Zhouzhuang is an excellent idea, as it will give you more time to see the sights at a more leisurely pace, especially the sites where the tourist traffic can be considerable as the day progresses.» more
Day 1: After having checked in at your choice of lodging, stroll/ rickshaw about town to get your bearings, and make note of the layout of the village. » more
Despite its small size, Zhouzhuang observes a fair share of annual festivals, the most popular being the Fast-Boat Race and the Lantern Rowing Ceremony. » more