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Nanxun – the Most Soulful Ancient Town near Shanghai

Nanxun is a soulful and profound water town with a history of over 1,400 years. It is the richest town in modern Chinese history and totally different to other small, girly water towns: the stone roads, bridges and water ways are wide, and houses are big. The most special feature of it is, that its architecture mixes Chinese and western styles.

The town is one of the six famous ancient towns in south China, along with Tongli, Wuzhen, Zhouzhuang, Xitang and Yongzhi. Some visitors like to visit Nanxun together with Tongli.

  • Transport: 2 hours drive from the Bund, Shanghai; 1½ hours from Hangzhou
  • History: over 1,400 years
  • Visiting time: 1 day
  • Suitable for: all people, especially photographers
  • English signs: not many
  • Features: architecture mixing Chinese and western styles; profound water town history; one of the biggest water towns

Why We Recommend Nanxun

Nanxun Water Town

When you enter the town, you will feel the profound water town history and be amazed by how civilized and rich it was. There are many attractions in this big water town. So if you meet a big tour group at an attraction, you can go and see other attraction first to avoid the crowds. When they leave, return to your planned route.

  • Local people still live in traditional residences: One-Hundred Residential Houses; this is a spot favored by shutterbugs.
  • Chinese style architecture mixes with western style
  • Different from girly, small water towns, Nanxun is like a rich bel-esprit.
  • As the road in the town is wide and straight, it is a water town recommended for those who have some problems with walking.

Explore the Highlights

Take a Boat Ridealong the canal to appreciate the beauty of it.

One-Hundred Residential Houses

One-Hundred Residential Houses

These are actually houses of locals. Many owners still live there. The houses, one or two storey tenement dwellings, built along both sides of the canal stretching some 400 meters, date back some 400 years to the end of the 16th century, i.e. near the end of the Ming Dynasty.

They are characterized by their distinctive white walls and black-tiled roofs. One-Hundred Residential Houses, according to historical records, was built to house the famous water town's army of servants and their families, which, given the relative luxury even of these handsome servant houses, is very impressive, and bears further witness to Nanxun's former status as part of South China's lucrative silk trade.

One-Hundred Residential Houses of Nanxun Water Town can be said to be a living museum in the sense that the ancient houses are still inhabited, and the residents wash their clothes in the canal just as they did 1400 years ago.

Little Lotus Garden

Little Lotus Garden

It is the former private garden of Nanxun's richest man. The centerpiece of the enormous garden compound, which comprises over 7,000 square meters, is a lotus pond. Artificial streams run here and there throughout the large garden, with winding, in places tree-lined paths nearby, and with numerous smaller buildings surrounded by lawns, shrub oases, flower gardens, and scattered trees.

The garden is considered the best of Nanxun's private gardens. The lotus flowers in the pond blossom pink in the summer, creating a colorful, magical effect. The walls inside the buildings are adorned with paintings, plaques and stelae that were the work of famous calligraphers, which points at another interesting detail about Nanxun Water Town:

Just as the wealthy city-states of early renaissance Italy attracted some of the period's best Italian artists, Nanxun Water Town - thanks to its silk industry wealth - attracted numerous Chinese artists, from painters to poets and calligraphers.

Former Residence of Zhang Shiming

A phonograph in the residence

The former residence of Zhang Shiming, a wealthy Zhejiang merchant who introduced many foreign luxury goods – principally luxury goods from Western countries – to the people of Nanxun, was built during the period 1889-1906, in the late Qing Dynasty.

The entire area of the former residence, including its complementary garden, spans some 6140 square meters. Like many similar residences in Nanxun, the Former Residence of Zhang Shiming combines traditional Chinese and western architectural styles.

The residence comprises numerous rooms, including salons, halls, studies and bedrooms. Each room is designed in a separate style, yet the whole is one of harmony, reflecting the "organic" nature of the construction philosophy.

Construction of the exterior required several tons of delicately chiseled stones, while its exquisite embellishment, especially its arched window frames, involved countless wood-and-brick carvings. The window glass itself, with its intricate, Gothic style tracery is so unique that it keeps the windows perennially dust-free.

You can imagine how rich this family was. Both the overall design of the building, with its complementary architectural styles, as well as the superior craftsmanship of its construction, sets the Former Residence of Zhang Shiming apart not only from the other garden residences of Nanxun but also from other garden residences of southeastern China.

The Spanish-style Former Residence of the Liu Family (Red Houses)

Red House

Built in 1908, it was the residence of Liu Ti, the leader of the "Four Elephants” (i.e. the wealthiest people) in Nanxun. The residence is called "the red house" by local people because of two western-style buildings with red bricks.

Liu's Residence is typical for most of the private garden residences of Nanxun Water Town, in that the buildings combine both, traditional Chinese architectural elements with western architectural elements. Sometimes the facade is in quintessential Chinese style, with the back of the building, in Western style, but this pattern is often reversed.

In the case of Liu's Garden, the facade of the main building is designed in traditional Chinese style whereas the rear side of the building, which faces the garden, is built in Western style – i.e. it has arched French windows and a second-storey balcony that is supported by Greek columns, creating a gallery of sorts. This feature distinguishes the private gardens of Nanxun from all of the other private gardens of southern China, which makes them of particular interest.

Jiaye Tang Cangshu Lou (Jiaye Hall Library)

Jiaye Tang Cangshu Lou (literally: Jiaye Hall (Tang) Book-Depot (Cangshu) Multi-Storied Building (Lou)) is a private library built by Liu Chenggan in the period 1920-24. The library's collection of books and documents numbers some 600,000. The facade of the library reflects a western architectural style, though its rear portion as well as the garden proper is reminiscent of the layout of a typical scholar garden, with a lotus pond surrounded by rockeries and pavilions, the whole connected by walkways, some of which are narrow corridors.

Despite the western style facade, Jiaye Hall Library comes closest in form and spirit to the typical scholar gardens of the city of Suzhou, situated on the northeastern shore of the lake that the two towns share, namely Lake Tai. Jiaye Hall Library, which has an extensive collection of ancient documents, is one of Zhejiang Province's four ancient libraries.

Essential Guide and Planning Tips

How to get to Nanxun

By Bus:

City

Bus Station

Operation Time

Cost (RMB)

Travel Time

Shanghai

Shanghai Hutai Road Bus Station

every hour(5:55-17:00)

50

2.5h

Shanghai Bus Station

7:20; 10:20

50

2.5h

Hongqiao Bus Station

8:00-17:00

50

1.5h

Hangzhou

Hangzhou North Bus Station

10 buses (8:00—17:30)

45

2h

Suzhou

Suzhou South Bus Station

6:30-18:10

25

1h

Suzhou North Bus Station

every 30 minutes (6:10-17:40)

25

1h

With China Travel

This will solve your problems, like not knowing Chinese, findimg the bus or train station, going to a wrong station or town, and waiting. Our English-speaking guide who knows Nanxun well and our experienced driver will make your trip easy and fun, and serve your party only, on your tour day.

We pick you up at the place you tell us (hotel, cruise terminal, airport or train station) and guide you in Nanxun, and then transfer you to the place you want to go:

1-Day Nanxun Water Town Tour

Best time to visit Nanxun

The scenery of Nanxun is suitable for a visit all year round.

  • During weekdays, there will be less people.
  • There are many attractions in this town, so if you go there at a weekend, when you meet a big tour group at an attraction, you can go and see other attractions first to avoid the crowds.   

Always avoid Chinese public holidays like National Day and Labor Day.

Admission fee: 100 RMB

Tour Nanxun with China Travel

Nanxun Gondola Ride

  • Explore highlights listed above.
  • Take a 20 mins gondola ride along the canal in Nanxun
  • It’s uncommon to find western-style toilets in the water towns, but our guides know where they are.
  • A driver with over 5 years of experience and an English-speaking guide with excellent knowledge of water towns will be dedicated to serve your private party only, on your tour day.
  • Be picked up at the place you wish

Included in the Price

  • Private English-speaking guide service fee
  • Private transfer service with air-conditioned 7-seater business car.
  • All entrance tickets and lunch
  • Service charge and tax
  • China life tourist accident/casualty insurance

Good to Know

  • This is a private no-shopping tour. Your guide and driver only serve your party, on your tour day.
  • You will receive a confirmation letter within 24 hours of payment.
  • An extra fee will be applied if you need to be transferred to or from the airport, cruise terminal or train station.
  • The meal will be in a Chinese restaurant and your guide will order dishes according to your taste.