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Wuzhen, The ancient Water - Town

WUZHEN, a town with a history of 1200 years, is just 50 minutes' drive from Hangzhou City. This small town, with its black tiled, tung oil-painted timber framework houses, that contrast sharply with its white walls and gray flagging, brings to mind a Chinese ink and wash painting. The river running through the town was once the main means of transportation for local people, but these days is little used, other than when festive celebrations are held, calling for bulk cargo to be shipped in. The window sills of the houses on the banks of the river are further extended with boards, on which flowers, plants and bonsai bloom in the warm sunshine, adding a touch of life and color to this tranquil, archaic town.

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Local residents pay little attention to tourists, preferring to get on with their work, or to pass the time of day with their neighbors. The elderly like to gather in the pavilion at the head of the bridge, and talk over everyday matters.
There are some well preserved Ming and Qing dynasty buildings in the town, formerly the homes of those rich enough to escape the social turbulence of past centuries, and who chose Wuzhen as the place to build them for its out-of-the-way location and convenient transportation. There are several ancient villas and gardens in the town, of which the Zhu Family Hall is the most famous. Built in the late Qing Dynasty, the house has two storeys, each with a hall floored in square bricks -- unusual for civil buildings in south China at that time. The Xu Family Hall is noted for the carvings that decorate almost each wooden part of its structure, and it has consequently been converted into a wood carving and architectural museum. The Jin Family Hall and the adjacent Wang Family Hall combine to form the Wuzhen Folklore Museum, where visitors may see exhibits and displays of local customs when celebrating weddings, birthdays and festivals.
A wedding boat makes a circuit along the River-side Town Carnival

In the town center is a small square with a high stage. The actors, mostly local people, perform Shaoxing, Peking and flower-drum operas, all for free, as members of the audience mill around the square, coming and going as they please. It is said that performances were originally dedicated to the gods worshiped in the Xiuzhen Temple, opposite the stage. One of the three most renowned Taoist temples in south China, the Xiuzhen Temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in its history, and lost much of its former splendor in the process. A giant abacus, rather than a tablet, hangs over its gate, engraved on both sides with the couplet: "Man may have one thousand schemes, but God has just one disposition."
Another noteworthy feature of the town is its 1,000-year-old gingko tree. It is said that there was formerly a temple beside the tree in commemoration of a General Wu. According to local legend, General Wu defended the town during a war, but was eventually killed by the enemy. Upon his death the local people buried him in their town. The age-old gingko tree is now the only witness to that piece of history.
Much of the fame of Wuzhen Town can be attributed to Mao Dun, a great modern writer and the first cultural minister of the People's Republic. Born in Wuzhen, Mao has described the town with great warmth in several of his novels, and his former dwelling is preserved here. This Japanese-style building was built at Mao's own expenses, and its interior is surprisingly spartan.
There are several teahouses by the river, all clean, comfortable and pleasant. Great enjoyment may be experienced sipping green tea by a teahouse window, while admiring the pastoral scenery of this ancient riverside town.

Tourist Spots

The tourist spots in Wuzhen Town are concentrated in five regions. One is the traditional workshops region, where visitors can watch or participate in the production of local specialties, such as indigo printed fabric, and in the making of Sanbai wine, cloth shoes, cakes, and bamboo-ware. The traditional residences region is where the family residences mentioned may be found, and the traditional culture region includes the former dwelling of Mao Dun, the Xiuzhen Temple, the performance stage, Wenchang Pavilion, and the Residence of the Imperial Academician. Go to the traditional food and beverage region to enjoy teahouses, such as the Fangluge and Tianyunlou teahouses, and restaurants of traditional fame, like the Jiujianglou Restaurant, and the Sanzhenzhai Restaurant, noted for its braised chicken seasoned with soya sauce. The traditional businesses region offers visitors the opportunity to buy indigo printed fabric, silk, Gusao cake, tea and white chrysanthemums.
Around late March/early April every year, Wuzhen Town holds a River-side Town Carnival, during which various local folk arts are demonstrated, and people from neighboring areas come along to join in the jubilation.

Tour Route:

The route for the morning tour to the traditional workshops, and traditional residences regions takes in: Fengyuan Bridge, Xiangshan Traditional Chinese Medicine Drugstore, The God of Fortune Hall, Gongsheng Brewery, the Zhao Family Hall, the Jin Family Hall, the weaving-spinning workshop, the indigo printed fabric workshop, Dongtian Tea Garden, the pastry workshop, the bamboo-ware workshop, and the Xu Family Hall.
Lunch is at the Jiujianglou Restaurant.
The afternoon tour goes to: the former Dwelling of Mao Dun, Xiuzhen Temple, the Residence of the Imperial Academician, Fangluge Teahouse, and the pawnshop.

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