Zhouzhuang, one of the most famous water townships in China, is situated in Kunshan City which is only 18 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Suzhou. It is noted for its profound cultural background, the well-preserved ancient residential houses, the elegant watery views and the strong local colored traditions and customs. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), the smalle town was a part of the fief Yaocheng and called Zhenfengli. After being donated to Full Fortune (Quanfu) Temple by Zhou Digong, a very devout Buddhist, in 1086 during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), it got its present name as a memorial of the donor.
In an area of 124 acres (half a square kilometer), 60 percent of the existing structures here were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which is from 1368 to 1911. Taking the most convenient form of transport here, a gondola, we will admire some of the breathtaking sights one by one.
Twin Bridges (Shuang qiao)
Zhouzhuang is surrounded and divided by lakes and rivers. 14 stone bridges cross the rivers, showing distinctive views of the water town. Twin Bridges which comprise Shide Bridge and Yong’an Bridge are the most famous and considered the symbol of the peaceful town. Built in Wanli era (1573-1619) of the Ming Dynasty, Twin Bridges is in the northeast of the town. Shide Bridge is east-west and has a curving arch, while Yong’an Bridge is north-south and the bridge beam is straight. Crossing the two crisscross rivers (Yinzi Creek and Nanbeishi River) and connecting at the middle, Twin Bridges look like an old-style Chinese key. In 1984, 38 canvases of the notable painter, Chen Yifei, were exhibited in a New York gallery named after Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corporation. ‘Memory of Hometown’ which depicts Twin Bridges was one of the items on display and has gained the world’s attention for Zhouzhuang. The painting was chosen to be the first-day cover of the United Nations’ postage stamp in 1985.
Located at the eastern end of Zhongshijie Street, Fu’an Bridge was built in 1355 during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The unique trait of Fu’an Bridge is the consummate combination of the single-arch bridge and the bridge towers which have no inside stairs to link the ground floor and the second floor. People have to make a detour and go up to the second floor via the bridge stairs. The towers are used as tearooms, restaurants and stores, providing good places to appreciate the views while taking a rest.
Built in 1742 and located at the southeast side of Fu’an Bridge, Shen House was the private property of the descendant of Shen Wansan, the richest man in Jiangnan (South of Yangtze River) in the early Ming Dynasty. The whole architectural complex is of the Ming’s style and occupies an area of more than 0.7 acre (2,900 square meters). Over 100 rooms are divided into three sections connected by arcades and aisles. The first is the water gate and the wharf, where Shen’s family moored boats and washed clothes. The middle part includes the gate tower, the tearoom and the main hall. Bricky gate tower carved with lively and ingenious figures which tell the historic stories or show the good wishes, make it a rare artwork. Tearoom and main hall are places for serving guests, and the furnishings here are all very elegant. The last section is the two-storied dwelling which consists of several buildings which are quite different from the main hall, more comfortable and refined in pattern and atmosphere. Datang Tower was where the womenfolk in the family lived. In Xiaotang Tower stands a painted sculpture of legendary Shen Wansan. Cultural relics including ancient folk instruments are exhibited in this tower and Back Hall.
The house was built by Xu’s family in the Zhengtong era (1436-1449) of the Ming Dynasty and bought by Zhang’s family in the early Qing Dynasty. Located to the south of the Twin Bridges, Zhang House has more than 60 rooms and takes up about 0.44 acre (1,800 square meters). With Zhujing River flowing through, Zhang House is a dapper and graceful residential house with a tranquil courtyard and pond. Deep halls all indicate the secluded life of the quondam owner.
Once called the De’s Tavern, Milou Tower perches next to Zhenfeng Bridge which is at the southwest corner of Zhouzhuang. It is famous for being a rallying place of the literators in old times. Numerous poets, songs and stories about Milou Tower are wide spread and make it more charming.
Chengxu Taoist Temple
Standing on Zhongshi Street which is opposite to Puqing Bridge, Chengxu Taoist Temple was built during 1086 – 1093 of the Song Dynasty and also known as Sanctity Hall (Shengtang Hall). After several periods of expansion, it is one of the most famous Taoist temples in Wuzhong District. Covering an area of 1,800 square yards (1,500 square meters), simple but majestic Shengdi and Doumu halls, Yuhuang, Wenchang and Shengdi pavilions are really elaborate works and masterpieces of Taoist architctures.
The preceding sight-seeing sites are just a little part of the pretty attractions of this water town. Besides these historic sights, the local folklore, traditions and legends of this water township, such as the dragon boat race, the granny tea or the Wansan home-style banquet which are formed from the immemorial civilization and history are also the indispensable elements for an unforgettable tour.
How to get to Zhouzhuang from Shanghai, Suzhou or Hangzhou
1. Take a bus from Suzhou North Bus Station to Zhouzhuang Bus Station. The bus departs about every 40 minutes from 7:00 to 18:05, at a fare of CNY 16.
2. Take a bus from the north square of Suzhou Railway Station. The bus departs about every 30 to 40 minutes from 6:45 to 17:50, at a fare of CNY 16.
Suzhou Bus Search
1. Take a bus from Shanghai South Long-Distance Bus Station to the town. The bus departs at 8:11 and 13:21, at a fare of CNY 29.
2. Take a bus from Shanghai Long-Distance General Bus Station. The bus departs at 7:05, 8:00, 10:10, 12:00, 14:20 and 16:20, at a fare of CNY 29.
3. Take a bus from Shanghai Hongqiao Long-Distance Bus Station to Jiangze, and then walk around 5 minutes to the west gate of the water town.
3. Take a tourist bus from the General Station of the Shanghai Tour Bus Center or Hongkou Branch to the town.
4. Take Shanghai Subway Line 11, get off at Huaqiao Station and then change Kunshan tourism bus no. 7 to Zhouzhuang Bus Station.
Take a bus from Hangzhou North Bus Station located at No. 766 Moganshan Road to Kunshan New Bus Station. Then take bus no. 130 or tourism bus. no 1 and get off at the town.
|Admission Fees||Daytime Ticket: CNY 100 (for entry to the town and seeing 15 scenic spots)|
Night Ticket: CNY 80 (for entry after 16:00 and seeing only two scenic spots – Shen House and Zhang House)
Free of charge for children below 4.6 feet (1.4 meters).
1. One can enter the town without a ticket from 20:00 to 7:00 the next morning, but can not visit any of the scenic spots inside without a ticket.
2. If a daytime ticket holder wants to stay overnight in the town, he/she should have his/her picture taken and printed on the ticket at the ticket office, so that the validity of the ticket can be extended to three days. During the three days, one can enter and exit freely.
|Opening Hours||The town is open all day long.|
The scenic spots inside are open from 8:00 to 16:30, except Zhang House and Shen House are open for the whole day.
|Performance||Four Seasons of Zhouzhuang: CNY 150 (ordinary seat)|
|Boat||CNY 120 for a rowboat|
A boat allows six people at most and a cruise takes about half an hour.