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Jewels of China
Zhouzhuang: China's little Venice
This spring the author happened to visit one of very picturesque corners of South China the place of Zhouzhuang (周庄) near Shanghai. After that noisy ten-million-strong city deservedly called the storefront of modern China, the quiet charm of ancient Zhouzhuang village makes especially contrast impression. This settlement, placed directly on waters, has the right to be proud of its history it was founded about thousand years ago.
Zhouzhuang's primary streets are the canals with local inhabitants' boats passing through. Almost every house has its own quay. Besides, the stone pavements along the canals allow people moving by their feet.
Purple fog, almost permanently wrapping the ancient village on waters, emphasizes the impression that Zhouzhuang floats. In those transparent clouds the curved roofs and bridges, rounded shapes of southern trees and bushes create the visible impression of eternal slow flowing of time.
From time to time, this harmony becomes ruined from the tour guides' loudspeakers, warlord-alike calling more and more squads of Shanghai tourists for advance on Zhouzhuang. Notably, it takes much effort finding quiet corners in the village to hide out from that multi-voiced crowd of ibiquitous southern Chinamen.
Good half of nowadays' Venice of China was built in the epoche of Ming Dynasty about 350 years ago as minimum. In China, every descent place of interest is unthinkable without museum expositions. Zhouzhuang's ones are in the mandarins' throne halls. One of those halls, which belonged to noble state official, exhibits chess, musical instruments and heavy volumes of ancient Chinese wisdoms. As guides say, in Chinese past times the official had to be advanced in many areas (as we say, Jack of all trades). At examination, the candidate besides the book knowledge was expected to play lute.
Modern inhabitants of Zhouzhuang aren't eager for laurels and glory, they prefer to enhance their prosperity. Narrow streets are full with souvenir shops trading local landscape paintings, ancient samurai swords with serial numbers, pearl stuff and even pre-historic, as they claim, animal sculls. Those locals who don't sell souvenirs are employed in catering: there are some descent restaurants in Zhouzhuang, usually placed on upper floors of ancient houses, allowing to enjoy nearby views. The only thing that can spoil good dining again is the noise of tourists eating aside. The southern Chinamen are very noisy: two or three freely talking touristic groups have little distinction from a jet engine.
While eating, it is necessary to know that the water for making tea is taken from those canals, where inhabitants not only drive their boats but also wash socks and drawn hens as well. As our guide said, that water after boiling is very safe, moreover, it has unique scent not available in other places. Maybe, in other places they do not wash socks, but in Zhouzhuang the quiet waters gathered scents of different
It is worth saying about Zhouzhuang's primary transport. Unlike the rest of China, this is not a bicycle but an agile wooden boat. The boats are driven mostly by women. Acting by long oar which works similar to fishtail, the lady skippers move their boats along the water streets rather fast. Of course, tourists can enjoy boat rides for a small fee: Zhouzhuang has whole fleet of water taxis. Almost Venice, isn't it?
In general, this ancient village can be seen in different ways, depending on mood and personal mentality like many other things in China. But Zhouzhuang definitely may be considererd the place worth visiting.
Translated by Dmitry Alemasov
Photos by the author
© Dmitry Alemasov
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