Zhouzhuang Ancient Town (also known as Zhouzhuang Water Town, or simply Zhouzhuang) is a picturesque town renowned for its canals. Situated in Jiangsu province, it was located amongst canals, ponds, and rivers. The site of the ancient town has a history spanning over two thousand years. It is famous for its extensive cultural background. Deemed “The Venice of the East”, Zhouzhuang is a popular tourist destination, and an attraction that cannot be missed.
- Located 30 km southeast of Suzhou, in Kushan, Jiangsu province.
- Zhouzhuang comprises 124 acres (0.5 sq km) in total.
- 60 percent of the exiting buildings in Zhouzhuang were constructed during the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), and Qing dynasty (1636 to 1912).
- The China National Tourism Administration classified the ancient as a AAAAA (5A) scenic area. This is the highest possible rating for tourist attractions in the country.
History Of Zhouzhuang Ancient Town
During the ‘Spring and Autumn’ period (770 BCE to 476 BCE) of the Zhou dynasty, the site was called Zhenfengli. It was part of the fiefdom of Yaocheng. Throughout this time, the Zhou royal family was beginning to lose authority over the dukes and marquesses, who were gaining increased regional power. As their respective autonomy evolved, more began defying the king’s court, located in the Louyang. In successive power struggles, the aristocracy also wagged wars amongst themselves.
This period of Chinese history gets its name from an ancient chronicle, ‘Spring and Autumn Annals’ (‘Chunqiu’), which is traditionally believed to have been compiled by Confucius. It is regarded as one of the classics in Chinese literature.
According to legend, Zhouzhuang was also known as ‘Yao City’ during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. It was reputed to be the home of Yao, son of Helv, who was king of the state of Wu.
In 1086 during the Northern Song dynasty (960 to 1127), a devout Buddhist monk named Zhou Digong, donated 32 acres (13 hectares) of land to Quanfu Temple. As a token of appreciation, the local inhabitants renamed the surrounding area “Zhouzhuang”, translated to “Zhou Village”.
In the 14th century, during the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), one of the wealthiest individuals south the Yangtze River was Shen Wansan (1330 to 1379). Born in Suzhou, he made his fortune as a foreign merchant. Taking advantage of the waterways surrounding Suzhou, the area (including Zhouzhuang) became an important trade route. Zhouzhuang, itself, was an important centre for trade goods such as silk, foodstuffs, and handicrafts. The city and its inhabitants prospered during this period.
Culture Of Zhouzhuang Ancient Town
Bridges: Being surrounded by canals, lakes, and rivers, Zhouzhuang contains 14 stone bridges, some of which are ancient. Two of the most famous bridges are the Shide Bridge and Yongan Bridge. Referred to as “Shuangqiao”, ‘The Double Bridges”, or “Twin Bridges”, they have become the symbol of Zhouzhuang. Located in the northeast section of the town, these two bridges were constructed during the Wanli period (1573 to 1619) of the Ming dynasty. Running east to west, Shide Bridge was built with a curved arch. Yongan Bridge is straight, and runs north to south.
Fuan Bridge was built during the Yuan dynasty, in 1355. This bridge is wholly unique because of its single arch, and towers situated on all four corners. The beams are ornately carved, and the rafters are painted. These towers now house restaurants and tearooms, providing scenic vantage points of Zhouzhuang.
Shen’s House: Located at the southeast side of Fuan Bridge, this was once the private residence of a descendent of Shen Wansan. Built in 1742, the entirety of the complex was constructed in the Qing architectural style. With over 100 rooms divided into three sections, it spans more than 2,900 square metres (0.7 acre). The compound also has seven courtyards, five archways, a gatehouse, and a wharf for mooring boats.
Zhangting House: Also known as “Zhang’s House”, it was constructed during the Zhengtong period (1436 to 1449) of the Ming dynasty by the Xu family. In the early Qing dynasty, the property was purchased by the Zhang family, hence the name. Located south of the Twin Bridges, the house covers about 1,800 square metres (or about half an acre). With more than 70 rooms, Zhangting House has a serene courtyard complete with a pond in its centre.
Chengxu Taoist Temple: This is one of the oldest structures still standing in Zhouzhuang. Also known as Shentang Hall, it was constructed from 1086 to 1093, during the Song dynasty. Covering a total area of (16,145 square feet), it is now one of the most famous Taoist temples located in the Wuzhong District of Jiangsu province.
- It is recommended that visitors set aside at least a day, to explore all that Zhouzhuang has to offer.
- If you don’t enjoy crowds, it is best not to visit the town on public holidays, or on weekends.
- The most beautiful times to visit Zhouzhuang in spring (April and May), and autumn (September and October).
- Vehicles (including bicycles) are not permitted in Zhouzhuang. The only available transportation in the town is boat or gondola.