The city of Jiaxing is a prefecture-level city in northeastern Zhejiang Province, located roughly midway between Hangzhou Bay, lying to the southeast of Jiaxing, and Lake Tai, lying to the northwest of the city. Jiaxing is also located roughly midway between the two mega-metropolises, Hangzhou and Shanghai. Put slighty differently, the area of the prefecture-level city of Jiaxing is nestled between the Lake Tai Basin and the Hangjia Hu Plain, both being part of the North Zhejiang Plain that lies southeast to northeast of the city of Hangzhou, including Jiaxing and the rest of the peninsular area between Hangzhou and Shanghai, also famously known as the heart of 'the land of fish and rice'.
Not surprisingly, the city proper of Jiaxing is situated along the Hangzhou-Shanghai Railway, and it is also situated on the banks of the Grand Canal which, since ancient times, has linked Hangzhou with Beijing, though the Grand Canal has long since ceased to play a prominent role as a transportation artery.
The city's terrain is generally flat and low-lying, though it slopes slightly downward from south to north, being, as indicated, a part of the North Zhejiang Plain that lies along the southern banks of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, meaning that it is part of the Yangtze River Delta (note that the Yangtze River empties into the sea just north of Shanghai, where Hangzhou Bay meets the East China Sea).
The area of present-day Jiaxing is the site of an important Neolithic Age culture, the Majiabang Culture (BCE 5000-3000), as the next section illustrates.
A Brief Prehistory
The northern part of Zhejiang Province and the peninsular area on which Shanghai sits became an important mid-Neolithic Age habitat for two reasons: 1) much of the area consisted of long-since dried-out and grass- and vegetation-covered mud deposits in the form of hillocks, and 2) a sudden and surely dramatic rise in the sea level during the early to middle Holocene Epoch, or from roughly BCE 7500 – 5000, which prevented the region's rivers from emptying into the sea normally, the result of which was the formation of numerous lakes and ponds in the area, including Lake Tai itself, since the water from the backed-up Yangtze River had to escape (be deposited) somewhere. In fact, the Zhejiang Plain's rice cultivation began here precisely as a result of the flooding of these low-lying pockets, interspersed with afore-mentioned higher-elevation, mud-deposit hillocks, with nutrient-rich fresh water.
The Majiabang Culture that entered the North Zhejiang Plain are believed to have migrated here from highlands farther west. When the North Zhejiang Plain became a fertile flood plain, it offered new niche opportunities, and Neolithic Age man was quick to exploit all such opportunities, especially since humans were becoming quite numerous by this period and the land at any given location could only sustain a given number of people, therefore whenever a new opportunity presented itself, there would always be some adventurous souls ready to move on, ready to exploit the opportunity (the backed-up Yangtze must have been full of fish, so it is quite possible that early man was initially led to the North Zhejiang Plain on a trail of fish).
Xinchun Village in the South Lake area of the present-day city of Jiaxing bears witness to the presence of Neolithic man in the area, for in the first half of the 1980s, numerous archeological digs here unearthed artifacts belonging to the Majiabang Culture. The artifacts have been dated to some 7000 years ago, or roughly during the 6th century BCE.
The Majiabang Culture (aka Majiabin Culture) existed parallel with the Hemudu Culture, with a certain amount of cultural transmission between the two. Majiabin Man, if we may call him that here, cultivated – not surprisingly, given the low-lying nature of the local terrain – paddy rice on the Zhejiang Plain. Majiabin Man also kept domesticated pigs, but he did not strictly rely on agriculture, for remains of wild animals such as the sika and roe deer have been unearthed from the layered deposits that belonged to Majiabin Man's primitive hearth, so we know that hunting also formed a part of the pattern of sustenance of Majiabin Man's daily life.
The area of present-day Jiaxing has a long if somewhat unremarkable history, as the next section documents.
A Brief History
The area of present-day Jiaxing was known already during the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, though under the name of Zuili ("Drunken plums"). It formed a part of the Yue State (BCE ???-334). The date of origin of the Yue State is uncertain, though Yue State may have been established soon after the emergence of the Wu State (BCE 11th century – 473), which was contiguous with the southern border of the then "Cradle of Chinese Civilization" China and which lay north of the Yellow River, even though the first historical mention of Yue State stems from the 6th century BCE. During the short-lived Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, Zuili became Youquan County.
In CE 231, during the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period, Youquan County, which at the time was part of the Kingdom of Wu (CE 229-280) – see the borrowed Wikipedia map below, and note that the Kingdom of Wu and the Wu State are two quite different things, at least temporally speaking, since the one ended about 500 years before the other began – became Hexing, meaning Flourishing Grain, a reference to the abundance of rice that was grown here (though the city's name has changed many time since, it is still referred to as He, for short, a reference to its ancient Three Kingdoms era name).
The choice of the name he, meaning grain, for the town whose name would eventually become Jiaxing is related to an auspicious portent that the Taoist priest, Master Yedao, conveyed to Sun Quan, the warlord ruler (the reader is reminded that this was the famous/ infamous Three Kingdoms era where each of the three kingdoms that emerged on the ruins of the Han (BCE 206 – CE 220) Dynasty were ruled by a hegemonistic warlord who sought to expand his kingdom at the expense of the other two) of the Kingdom of Wu. Sun Quan not only renamed Youquan County to Hexing, he also changed the name of his ruling era from Huanglong ("Yellow Dragon") to Jiahe ("Auspicious grain"), and in fact, the following year he also changed the name of the town of Hexing to Jiahe.
However, a decade later, Sun Quan's son, Sun He, took over the reins of state and since no one or thing could have the same name as the emperor (note that each of the Three Kingdoms contemporaneous rulers each called themselves "Emperor"), given that the emperor was considered a deity, the name of the town of Hexing cum Jiahe was abruptly changed yet again, this time to Jiaxing, retaining the xing suffix, meaning flourishing. The new name of the town – and the name it officially still goes by – can therefore be roughly translated to "Auspiciously flourishing", which isn't a bad name for any town, city or municipality with aspirations of greatness.
Thereafter the name of the town was etched in stone, as it were – with one small blip on the radar, when the name was dropped for a short period, though the geographical entity that corresponded to the name changed frequently as the town expanded its administrative influence over the immediate region. During the Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasty, Jiaxing expanded markedly due to construction on the Jiang Nan He, or the Hangzhou-Zhenjiang stretch of the Grand Canal, and in the years that followed, thanks to the Grand Canal, Jiaxing, together with the rest of the North Zhejiang Plain, became a significant component part of Southeastern China's "bread basket". In addition, the waterway made of the city an important center for the production of textiles and silks, which in turn made many a Jiaxing merchant a wealthy man indeed.
The town of Jiaxing became the seat of the Lianghe District during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, and then became the seat of the Xiushui District during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty. During the first year of the Republic of China (1912-1949), the town of Jiaxing was briefly merged with the town of Xiushui to form Jiahe County, though already in 1914 the name reverted back to Jiaxing, with the town of same name as the seat of the county, when it turned out to be impractical to have a Jiahe County both in Zhejiang Province as well in Hunan Province, where a Jiahe County already existed.
Jiaxing's claim to fame, as it were – or the event that put the town on the map for a second time (the first time was with the construction of the Grand Canal, of course) – was the fact that the Chinese Communist Party was founded here in 1921 on the shores of South Lake, thus fulfilling, one might say, the town's imputed aspiration to greatness. In 1979, Jiaxing had grown enough to be upgraded to a city, and two years later the city took over the administrative functions of the county, with the designation of county being dropped, though this was changed in 1983 such that Jiaxing became a prefecture-level city, reflecting the enlarged administrative scope of the city that had taken place already two years earlier, in 1981.
Today, the prefecture-level city of Jiaxing comprises in addition two counties – Jiashan and Haiyan, which in turn comprise three county-level cities: Pinghu, Haining and Tongxiang – as well as two districts: Nanhu and Xiuzhou. A lesser part of this prefecture-level entity, from an administrative-political viewpoint – while it is perhaps the "greater part" from the tourist's viewpoint! – are the three old water towns of Huzhou, Wuzhen and Xitang, the latter two of which are perhaps more famous today than Huzhou (actually Huzhou's "old town", or Nanxun Water Town, though in its heyday, the latter town quite possibly outshined them all, thanks to its lucrative raw silk production and the economic boost that it provided to the town).
All three of these ancient water towns are now, since 2008, candidates for UNESCO recognition, i.e., they are on the UNESCO Tentative List of World Cultural Heritage Sites under the rubric of 'Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River'.
Present-Day Jiaxing (Jiaxing Highlights)
The city of Jiaxing itself has a lot to offer the tourist, measured both in terms of quality as well as quantity, and when one considers that a trip to Jiaxing can be fit into any of several tourist packages to the larger neighboring cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou (just across the border in Jiangsu Province) or Shanghai (itself a separate administrative-political entity called a municipality, as in Chongqing Municipality, Beijing Municipality, etc.), this makes a visit to Jiaxing even more attractive. Besides its famous water towns, the prefecture-level city boasts two larger lakes – South Lake and Nanbei Lake – and the coastal city of Haining is the venue of the annual China International Qiantang Tidal Bore Festival (more on what a tidal bore is and how it manifests itself in Hangzou Bay in the following).
As can be appreciated, water forms the main backdrop of the scenic attractions of the city of Jiaxing. Waterscapes belong to some of the most enchanting of natural settings that we humans have come to appreciate, and this is naturally because of the fauna (principally birds and fishes, but many other aquatic animals of course, from the otter to the beaver) as well as the flora that spring up in and around a large body of water, whether it be a freshwater lake or a saltwater bay, or cove.
Jiaxing's main attractions, to be described in more detail below, are its water towns and its lakes. They also form the basis of most if not all of the annual festivals that take place in the Jiaxing area.
Nanxun Water Town
Nanxun Water Town in Huzhou is the lesser of the three water towns belonging to prefecture-level city of Jiaxing, but was once the most flourishing of the three, with the greatest number of private gardens than anywhere else in China south of the Yantze River, according to an historical essay written by the Qing (CE 16544-1911) Dynasty poet and essayist, Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610), entitled Yuan ting ji lüe ("A Brief Account of Gardens and Pavilions") – a link to each of these three famous water towns will be provided at the end of each of relevant section, where the reader can learn more about the towns.
Nanxun (meaning "South of the Xun [River]"*) still boasts several lavish former residences, including the residence of one of China's richest private merchants during the period, the Former Residence of Zhang Shimeng. At least one of the town's ancient scholar gardens has since been converted into a library, Jiahe Hall Library, and the former owner of another of the famous former residences of Nanxun, Zhang Jingjiang, was a close friend and financial backer of China's Republic of China period military strategist and revolutionary hero, Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
The perhaps most interesting and aesthetically pleasing individual feature of Nanxun Water Town – apart from the town's concrete-encased waterways themselves, with stone-arched bridges crossing them, giving the town something of the aspect of Venice – is Baijian Lou ("Mansion of One Hundred Rooms"), the uninterrupted row of white-walled, black-roofed tenement dwellings, aka apartment houses, that stretch some 400 meters on either side of the canal (affectionately dubbed Baijianlou He, or "One Hundred Rooms River" by the local inhabitants) and which tenement dwellings are a living museum in the sense that the ancient houses are still inhabited, and the residents all wash their clothes in the same canal, just as their forebears did 1400 years ago. The canal runs past the rear side of each row of houses in Nanxun Water Town, while a flagstone-paved street runs along the front side.
Nanxun Water Town also has a series of ancient Chinese archways, built in various historical periods, that form a part of the Chinese Buddhist's (or Taoist's, for that matter) religious rituals dedicated to the tradition of ancestral worship (before Taoism/ Buddhism, the Chinese believed in animism, or the notion that all things, inanimate as well as animate, possess a spirit, and a part of this belief system was ancestral worship... elements of animism were incorporated into Taoism, and later, elements of Taoism, including its animistic parts, was carried over to Chinese Buddhism). Read more about Nanxun Water Town.
Wuzhen Water Town
Wuzhen Water Town lies about 20 kilometers due west of the city proper of Jiaxing, and about 10 kilometers southeast of Nanxun Water Town. In ancient times, the area of present-day Wuzhen lay on the border between the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty period Wu and Yue States (but on the Wu State side of that border, as the city's name suggests) which lay well south and east of the rest of the states of the era. Because of the hostilities between the two close neighbors, Wu state constantly kept a contingent of soldiers garrisoned in the area of the present-day town of Wuzhen. A village eventually emerged and by the time of the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, it became a part of Kuaiji Prefecture. It was first during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasy, in CE 872, that the village came to be called Wuzhen.
Wuzhen is one of Southern China's most charming water towns. Like Nanxun, the framework of the waterside houses of Wuzhen Water Town are of oil-painted timber (the oil-based paint preserves the wood almost indefinitely) with white walls covering the wooden frame, and with black-tiled roofs. The grey flagstone walkways in front of the rows of houses and the greenish water behind them contrast discreetly with the black and white theme of the rows of houses, creating an overall effect that it majestically beautiful – and quintessentially Chinese, one might add – and whose beauty is reinforced by the very economy of means that come together to produce this overall effect. Just as with Nanxun, there are of course ancient stone arched bridges that cross the town's canals, up and down which mini junks ferry passengers (villagers and tourists) and their goods from point to point.
Wuzhen is more commercial than Nanxun, but the average tourist will probably not find that a negative trait, unless, of course, commercialization takes the upper hand. For the Western tourist, a certain level of commercialization, such as one finds at Wuzhen, fosters the convenience lifestyle that a Westerner has come to expect. At Wuzhen, the visitor will find ample bars and restaurants, as well as old commercial enterprises related to the ancient silk trade that dominated the town's past.
The inhabitats of Wuzhen seem to be unusually gregarious – not that the Chinese people are not in general gregarious! – but perhaps the heightened gregariousness of Wuzhen's inhabitants is is owing to the town's special beauty, which confers an atmosphere of ambience that only the well-balanced, harmonious interaction between buildings and landscapes can achieve. The lively chatter of the elderly denizens of Wuzhen who congregate in the town's cafées and restaurants, and in its public squares, is never intrusive, but testifies to the spirit of spontaneous happiness and well-being that characterizes Wuzhen Water Town.
It is said that on a slightly overcast day, with soft but persistent rain that causes the black-tiled roofs to glisten and the gray flagstones to shine, and with water droplets dimpling the surface of the waterways, Wuzhen Water Town takes on a timeless aspect that offers the visitor a glimpse into the past, where one is left with the indelible impression that this must have been how the town looked, also in ancient times.
Wuzhen is divided into a north and south, roughly, section by the roughly west-east oriented section of the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal, called locally the Dong Shi River. It is further divided into east and west (roughly) sections by an additional 3 lesser, roughly north-south oriented, waterways, one of which, lying south of the Dong Shi River, immediately splits into a south-oriented "Y". There is also a section of broad canal west of Wuzhen that connects the roughly west-east oriented "Grand Canal" that runs through Nanxun Water Town a few kilometers northwest of Wuzhen with the roughly west-east oriented "Grand Canal" that runs through Wuzhen. Which brings us to an explanation of the seemingly confusing Grand Canal: there are numerous branches of it! Plus, there are numerous sub-branches of the branches (and even further subdivisions!), just as described here for Wuzhen.
The buildings and canal walls of Wuzhen have retained their original structure, even if frequent repairs have been required down through the ages. The most striking buildings, bridges, etc. belong to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but perhaps only because newer generations of builders were inspired to "go one better" than their forebears.
Besides it ancient architecture (see below), Wuzhen has more traditional cultural offerings such as its flower-drum opera, its puppet theatre and of course its temple fairs. One can also visit one of the town's ancient looms where the visitor can see how calico fabric – used in womens clothing (including scarves), curtains and tablecloths – is woven. There is only a single hotel in the town, though another hotel is currently under construction. There are numerous excellent restaurants in the town that serve traditional Chinese fare, including a handful of local specialties such as Wuzhen Mutton, Sanzhenzhai Marinated Duck, 'Sister-in-Law' Biscuit, and a side dish that can be served with just about anything but ice cream: goat noodles (goat cheese egg noodles). And finally, you won't want to miss the water town's famous 1000 year old gingko tree!
The major highlights of Wuzhen include:
Mao Dun Guju – the Former Residence of Mao Dun, who was a famous, modern-era literary writer who wrote especially novels, while his former residence is built in a quintessentially Qing Dynasty style.
Xiu Zhen Guan – Xiuzhen (Taoist) Monastery, and note that xiuzhen is a Taoist concept that parallels the Buddhist concept of nirvanna, or immortality, but with the difference that in Buddhism, attaining nirvanna depends on the disciple having purified his/ her mind and soul (nirvanna is therefore synonymous with this purification), whereas in Taoism, any route to immortality is as good as the next. Many Taoist alchemists died of consuming too many homemade potions (so-called elixirs of life) containing, among other toxic substances, quicksilver (i.e., mercury, though it was mercury's vapors that were poisonous), which suggests that in reality, there is no quick fix to attaining nirvanna/ xiuzhen!
Xiuzhen Guan Yingju – Xiuzhen Monastery Theatre Stage, a theatre stage that was added to the temple in more recent times and which is behind the row of houses facing the canal, and with a modest-sized plaza on the opposite bank of the canal where audiences gather to watch the theatre performances. In olden times, there was a landing below the plaza where boats could anchor up (it may still be there), as villagers and others coming from farther away would often arrive by boat, given that in olden times, the waterway system was the best, most efficient means of transportation.
Fanglu Pavilion – Visits to Lu Pavilion (a teahouse), "Lu" being a reference to two famous Tang Dynasty personnages, Lu Tong (CE 790–835), a famous poet who was devoted to "all things tea", i.e., poems about tea and the ceremony of tea drinking, while Lu Yu (CE 733–804), known alternately as the Sage of Tea and the Patron Saint of Tea, wrote the then defining work (a veritable tome! – the Tang Dynasty original was actually three separate books) on the subject of tea cultivation, tea preparation and tea drinking (the latter being, in Chinese culture as well as in Japanese culture, an art in itself): Chajing ("The Classic of Tea").
It is said that Lu Tong was more famous for his devotion to the ceremony of tea drinking than to his poetry. Though much is made about these two men having not only met, but having been frequent guests of Fanglu Pavilion, the historical facts do not support this. Lu Yu, who was also a poet, was much older than Lu Tong, though in theory the two men could have met.
Lu Yu was a native of Jingling (the present-day city of Tianmen, Hubei Povince, about 100 kilometers west, as the crow flies, of Wuhan, the present-day provincial capital), who studied on Huomen Shan (Fire-gate Mountain) some 50-60 kilometers, as the crow flies, northwest of the city of Jingling. Lu Yu returned to Jingling some 6 years later, where he remained for the rest of his life, though he did travel about some in the company of a younger tea aficionado, a certain Cui Goufu who had been demoted from Tang Dynasty Minister of Education to Chief Magistrate of Jingling (in France, such a demotion is called "to be Limogé" (to be sent to serve in Limoges), a reference to the city of Limoges, Department Haute-Vienne, Region Limousin, which, if a minister had served at the court of Louis XIV but fell in disfavor and was "banished" to Limoges, could justifiably be called "the boondocks"!).
Lu Tong was a native of Jiyuan, Henan Province. A gifted student, Lu Tong studied on Shaoshi Shan (Shaoshi Mountain, a lesser mountain on Song Shan, a mountain range in Henan Province situated just north and east of the city of Deng Feng, and about 80 kilometers, as the crow flies, east-southeast of the ancient Chinese capital, Luoyang... and note that Shaolin Temple, also located on Mount Shaoshi, is the pre-eminent temple of Chan Buddism, Chan Buddhism being the branch of Chinese Buddhism that later became Zen Buddhism in Japan). After his studies, Lu Tong, who was brilliant but quirky, relocated to Luoyang, where he refused to accept a government post, though he liked to hang out with the educated elite of Luoyang, including local government officials.
Lu Tong was murdered in the home of the Wang Ya, the Duke of Dai, on the occasion of the Ganlu Incident on December 14, 835, when an Imperial plot to murder, en masse, the Tang court's powerful eunuchs, backfired, and instead the eunuchs went on the counter-offensive and murdered several of the Tang emperor's (Emperor Wenzong's) government officials.* The coroner's report stated the following of the 45 year old poet: "Lu Tong had no hair, and died due to a nail in the back of the head". (Those darned eunuchs could be pret-ty doggone vindictive!)
Bridge Seen Through A Bridge – (sorry, no Chinese translation can be found – I really tried!). As indicated, Wuzhen Water Town is divided into four quadrants created by the perpendicular meeting of two waterways. At the intersection of these two waterways is a dual set of bridges, one that spans the main waterway (the Dong Shi River), i.e., Tongji Bridge, and the other which spans one of the lesser waterways, Renji Bridge. Since these two bridges are situated at the edges of the two respective waterways, i.e., where the one meets the other, it is possible to view each bridge within the arch (onboard a junk, or maybe dangling from a short bungee cord? : ) ) of the other bridge. That's it, folks! (Were you expecting more?? Well, if you want to exploit this unique feature to its maximum, you can have your friend(s) park under the one bridge while you park under the other, and you can then photograph each other photographing each other, creating a photo shoot seen through a photo shoot – woohoo!) Read more about Wuzhen Water Town.
Xitang Water Town
Like Wuzhen Water Town, Xitang Water Town was situated near the border between the ancient Eastern Zhou Dynasty states of Wu and Yue. In fact, so close was Xitang (meaning "West Dyke" or "West Embankment") to the border that it was known as 'The Bottom of Wu and the Corner of Yue'. Xitang was first firmly put on the map during the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty. This was the same period when the silk industry in neighboring Nanxun Water Town/ Jili blossomed, and this progress continued in the subsequent dynasties, the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Though not directly involved in the silk trade, Xitang profited from the general prosperity of the region, thanks to its placement along one of the sections of the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal. Xitang lies about equally as far in a northeasterly direction from Jiaxing, measured with a compass (the "V" shaped thingy used for drawing circles), as does Nanxun in a northwesterly direction.
Xitang Water Town spans 250,000 square meters, or roughly 62 acres, it has 22 stone arched bridges that cross the various branches of the local canal system, and has 122 lanes, if one counts each name (in some cases, a long lane can change name in several places, though there are not many lanes in Xitang in this category). Of the three water towns covered here, Xitang boasts the longest combined length of corridors, many of them covered. In fact, this is perhaps the most striking feature that presents itself to the visitor to Xitang Water Town. In many ways, Xitang is the most charming of these three water towns, and this enviable quality is owing partly to the town's layout, which in turn is determined by the layout of its waterways, but it is also partly owing to the town's well-preserved Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture, and lasty, Xitang is perhaps the most low-key of these three water towns, with an unhurried, leisurely pace of life which imparts a cosiness to this ancient old town that is lacking in the other two.
The peaceful atmosphere of Xitang Water Town is shattered at least once yearly, however, namely, during the annual Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, when large crowds from Xitang's upland descend on the Water Town to visit relatives, and when many Chinese people from near and far choose to visit Xitang Water Town for no particular reason than that the cold of winter has begun to slip its grip, given that the festival, held in the month of April (according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar; the month of May according to the Gregorian Calendar), coincides with the well-anchored arrival of spring, and given that spingtime is one of the best times of the year to visit Xitang.
Other Jiaxing highlights include:
Nan Hu (South Lake) – a large lake south of Jiaxing, hence the name. During the Tang Dynasty, South Lake became a popular getaway for visitors near and far who were attracted to the great outdoors and who wished to view the region's unique, watery landscapes. The presence of the many canals that linked the entire area was instrumental in making South Lake a popular getaway for birdwatchers and others who enjoyed watery landscapes. The small islet in the center of the lake was created from the mud that was dug up when the lake was dredged (creating a sort of inverse donut) during the Ming Dynasty so as to create a deeper, healthier body of water.
Nan Bei Hu (South North Lake) – is not a lake proper but an artificial reservoir built at least partly for flood-control purposes. It is divided into a north and a south lagoon – i.e., consists of two lagoons that are nonetheless interconnected – hence the unusual name. Typical for such nature-altering projects, the Chinese government decided to construct the reservoir such that it would also have recreational value, therefore the area's rolling hills are dotted with pavilions and special observational vantage points, and furnished with a system of interconnected pathways.
Not covered here due a paucity of information about it (but we will correct that as soon as we can!), but the city of Pinghu near the northern shore of Hangzhou Bay is quickly becoming a Hawaii-like getaway for those in search of beach life. If you want to get in on the action before everyone else gets wind of it, just call China Travel and book a vacation based on your intuition... and this inside tip – China Travel's booking assistants can surely tell you more about the place.
The inhabitants of Jiaxing speak a Northern Wu dialect, which belongs to the family of Wu dialects that include Shanghainese and the dialect of Suzhou, meaning that all three dialects are largely mutually intelligible. Jiaxing's climate is of the subtropical, monsoonal variety, with lots of rainfall and lots of sunshine. The regular daily rains begin in late spring and reach their monsoonal regularity during summer and generally provide relief from the humidity, but some days are indeed outright muggy, though these are not as frequent as they can be farther south. The winters are characterized by dry, chilly weather. The very best times to visit Jiaxing are naturally spring and autumn, but if it has to be summer, it will generally not be a catastrophe as long as one brings along the proper dress and rain gear for the daily showers (even monsoonal weather has rain periods that alternate with rainless, sunny periods – usually every day).
Three festivals that are not to be missed if one is in the area are:
The Jiaxing South Yangtze River Culture Festival, held at South Lake from October to November,
The China International Qiantang Tidal Bore Festival, held at Haining City the 6th day of the 8th Chinese Lunar month (which corresponds to Saturday, September 3rd this year... here is a handy and very easy Chinese Lunar to Gregorian Calendar conversion website, and if you don't know what the China International Qiantang Tidal Bore Festival is about, go here!), and finally,
The Nanbei Lake Tour Festival, held, not surprisingly, at the Nan Bei Lake recreational area, Haiyan County, April to May.
* Note that there is no Xun River anywhere near Nanxun or Jiaxing (!) – see the footnote in the Nanxun Water Town article for the details.
** This rather devious plot was similar to the very macabre plot to murder, also en masse, France's Protestant nobles (Huguenots) on August 24, 1572, known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the only difference being that France's "regent" at the time, Catherine de Medici (the nominal King of France at the time was Catherine's next-youngest son, Charles IX), succeeded royally, as it were, except that one of the intended victims, Henry, King of Navarre, was spared on Catherine's orders. Henry, King of Navarre, would become Henry IV, King of France. As the King of Navarre, Henry was husband to Catherine's daughter, Margaret, a marriage arranged by Catherine herself in order to separate the future Henry IV from the rest of the Protestant pack... and yes, in the end, Henry, King of Navarre and a Huguenot did indeed switch to Catholicism just before he was crowned Henry IV, King of France.
The problem (with allowing Henry, King of Navarre, to perish along with the other Protestants) was that Henry was in fact in line to succeed, as King of France, Catherine's soon-to-be-last surviving son, Henry III.
All of the offspring of Catherine de Medici and Henry II, second son of Francois I (the first son died under suspicous circumstances, and rumor had it that he had been poisoned... Catherine's uncle, Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici, aka Pope Leo X, wanted his neice to marry the crown prince, but Francois I, the then King of France, adamantly refused) were sickly and died the one after the other, in quick succession. King Henry II, Catherine's husband himself died a gruesome and untimely death when his sons were but toddlers, leaving Catherine as the Regent of France until each of her sons, in turn, came of age.
Catherine, knowing that her last son would not live long either, acknowledged that the House of Valois would inevitably be succeeded by the House of Bourbon, with Henry, King of Navarre waiting in the wings as the House of Bourbon's "crown prince", but as an impossibly unlikely crown prince as long as Henry refused to give up his Protestant faith. In the end, it got sorted out, as indicated, and with Henry IV even becoming France's most popular ever king.
Charles IX died aged 23, while Henry III, Catherine's youngest son, died in 1589, aged 37, though through it all, Catherine de Medici held the reins of power. If you would like to see a fictional (but not totally fictional!) rendering of this macabre massacre and of the power struggle in general between France's Catholics and Protestants (and with Philip II of Spain threatening to invade France if a Protestant ascended the French throne), see the excellent French film (alas, no English subtitles!), Queen Margot, based on the book, La Reine Margot, by Alexandre Dumas, author of, among several other works, Les Trois Mousquetaires and Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.