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The Water Towns

The Water Towns

Explore Zhujiajiao and Wuzhen on a holiday to China

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Not far from the bustling, and bodacious centre of Shanghai lie a number of sleepy, water towns which transport you back to a time which you thought only existed in fabled stories. Idyllic, tranquil, and unpretentious, these water towns show a way of life that could not be further from the urban core of Shanghai. Though numerous, three of the most authentic, water towns include Zhujiajiao, Wuzhen and Tongli.

Zhujiajiao, which translates literally as 'Zhu Family Corner', is in fact located in the suburbs of Shanghai in the Qingpu District, only 30km from the centre. Human activity in Zhujiajiao dates back over 5,000 years but it was not till the Ming Dynasty took notice in the 14th century that a waterway network grew in Zhujiajiao and trade became an important part of the peoples' lives. Zhujiajiao has maintained its old-world charm and stepping into this pretty town, you will feel like you are still in the Ming Dynasty, with red lanterns hanging over the canals and little wooden boats dawdling down the waterways.

Wuzhen is a very small water town whose origin as an important canal town dates back to the Tang Dynasty. Wuzhen was an important gateway to the Grand Canal; the largest canal in the world - which stretches from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north. Entry to the Grand Canal was an important part of Imperial China's economy as it was vital to transport rice grains that flourished in the south, to the north of the country, especially when Beijing became the capital in the Ming Dynasty. One of the notable residents of Wuzhen was a revolutionary writer of the early 20th century who wrote under the name Mao Dun, meaning 'contradiction'.

Tongli is located 18km south of Suzhou and has been in existence since the 9th century. Tongli is one of the most beautiful and authentic water towns in this area. The stunning white faces of the houses have maintained their colour from centuries past and the canal-side atmosphere is unbeatable, earning the town the nickname 'Venice of the East'. Tongli is home to many beautiful sights, including the Retreat and Reflection Garden, Loxing Zhou Lake and the Pearl Tower. There are 55 bridges altogether in Tongli too for you to walk over or cruise under.

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