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“Bridge within a bridge” at night (July 2011).

Wuzhen (烏鎮) is a quaint, historic town situated about an hour’s drive (80 kilometres) from Hangzhou. It lies within the triangle of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou, which are the three largest cities in central-east China and are the most-popular places to check out, given that each point is no more than a two-hour’s drive from each another. That said, Wuzhen makes for an ideal day trip from Hangzhou, and it’s a great town to discover the smaller, civilian life away from the big cities.

The town is famous for its picturesque canals, which has historically been nicknamed as the “Venice of the East” (a title also shared with Suzhou, its larger cousin). However, it has also been interestingly nicknamed the “Internet Town,” for it’s the headquarters of the World Internet Conference (WIC) that has annually taken place since 2014. The conference discusses the country’s cyber issues and policy, and overall, it really is a fascinating contrast of Wuzhen’s two nicknames– one being culturally-historical and the other modern-tech. All the same, the town embraces them!

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Wuzhen canal.

My family and I only one night in Wuzhen, but it was a solid amount of time to explore two museums, enjoy a few local dishes, and stroll the tranquil canals– although the town wasn’t tranquil with the many tourists milling about! In fact, it’s reputed that over seven million visitors come every year, and as a result, the small town gets inundated with bodies that can be easily overwhelming. Not the best way to experience a quaint area, but you do what you have to do to make your visit worthwhile…

We had just spent an intense two days hiking in Huangshan when we headed to Wuzhen. It took over three hours to get there, and we soon enough reached the waterfront town. After parking the car and paying admission into the quarters, we began our visit that very same day.

It’s important to note that, despite being a small town of 60,000 inhabitants, Wuzhen is still divided into two notable tourist sectors (East and West Area), as well as six districts within: workshop, culture, dwelling, food and beverage, shops, and life/customs. The East Area is tourist-packed, with most of the museums, food, and shops located there, whereas the West Area is a lot more tranquil, with less visitors and more of where the inhabitants reside– the latter is especially great for a quiet stroll along the canals, to get away from the bustle on the other side of town.

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By the water.

We began our visit with our first of two museums we would check out while in Wuzhen. It was at the Beizha (“North”) Silk Factory, where we toured the still-operating mill as we witnessed and learned about the art of silk manufacturing, which is interestingly called “sericulture.” We saw the silkworms being harvested to produce silk cocoons, which are then boiled and extracted to create the actual fabric to be spun and produced into items like clothes, pillows, even tapestries.

It was fascinating to examine the hard work put into making a single strand (which requires up to eight cocoons), let alone over 5000 cocoons to make just one kilogram’s worth of silk. But despite the labor, it yields an extremely-resilient fabric: it might appear thin and fragile, but in fact can be stretched as far as you can go without breakage. In addition, its texture is light and breathable, which makes it the ideal choice for making clothes to withstand the oftentimes unbearable summer heat in China. That said, there are plenty of advantages to silk, whether it’s for durable or convenience.

We had an early dinner of sorts following our visit of the Beizha Silk Factory. It was at a two-story restaurant by the waterfront, where we enjoyed a few plates of local, Wuzhen cuisine. Much of the food is centered on fish and rice, although there’s the occasional red meat for a cold winter’s day. The meal was enjoyable, and I admit that I’d gotten a bit too carried away with how good everything was, but I do not regret having a lovely dinner in Wuzhen, especially by the waterfront.

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Restaurant by the waterfront.

Just before heading to our hotel for the night, we checked out one of the “Bridge within a Bridge.” There are two of these bridges in Wuzhen, and the curve of their structures are meant to evoke a full moon, as the water is supposed to reflect the bottom half of the arch. It was already fairly dark when we arrived at the bridge, so we weren’t able to see the reflection clearly, but it was still a beautiful view. It was a great way to end our first day in Wuzhen, before we would see more the following day…

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Wuzhen at night.
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“Bridge within a bridge.”

It was an early rise the next day as my family and I decided to take a brief stroll along the canals near our hotel, before the tour that day. The scenery of the water, bridges, and narrow walkways were all serene, and it was a refreshing view of Wuzhen before it would be overwhelmed with tourists later in the day.

Later, we met up with our guide to begin the second half of our tour. This time, we headed to our second museum, which was about the history of Chinese foot binding. Up until 1949, foot binding had been a notable tradition, especially among girls as young as five years old. They were subjected to intense, painful rituals of bandaging, as means of preventing their feet from growing– as a result, these girls grew up unable to walk. Having small feet was considered a sign of wealth and beauty in traditional Chinese culture, and it was shocking for me to peer at the museum’s exhibition of slippers and shoes as small as an infants, when in fact they were meant for adult women.

Following our visit of the museum, we concluded our time in Wuzhen and got ready to head to our next destination in China. Although our time in the small, canal town was brief, I thought it was incredibly picturesque, and I really appreciated just how beautiful it was at every turn along the way. Should you have the time to make a day trip from Hangzhou, I would highly encourage it!

The final installment of my trip to China will come soon. Stay tuned!

 

— Rebecca

22 thoughts on “Destination: Wuzhen, China

  1. Thanks for the visit. Through your articles I discover how much there is to see in China and I am happy that the people are keen to present their history and traditions in an interesting way for visitors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading! I think the locals not only want to preserve their history and traditions, but also showcase them to the world– hence all of the tourists! Either way, it makes Wuzhen all the more worth seeing. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post and fantastic photos, Rebecca! I love historical towns built on water were traditional buildings remain intact even after years of weathering. I would love to visit one day; the town would make for perfect long exposure photos! Thanks for sharing and inspiring. I hope all is well. We are getting ready for seasons to e, such exciting times! Hugs from Ireland 😊 Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful little town! I’ve never visited Wuzhen despite being in its proximity for so long. The two nicknames are a great example of how tradition intertwines with modernity in China. Two simultaneous threads running through time and space. Another reason to go back to China.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your beautiful photos of the bridges and canals. Looks like a charming town. I like how you toured two museums with such important Chinese history. The silk one sounds fascinating. Did you purchase anything there? The foot binding museum makes me very glad it was outlawed in 1949. The extreme things we do for beauty! The lesson still applies today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, my family and I purchased some silk pillows and sheets! Foot-binding was definitely an unsavory practice (at least, according to the West), but it was a big tradition in China and it goes to show that the history has really evolved over the centuries.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the “Bridge within a Bridge” was really cool to experience in the evening! Wuzhen is lovely, and it’s worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of China!

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  5. Wuzhen is really great, but it is too crowded.I planned to travel to Wuzhen a long time ago, but it seems to be overcrowded on all public holidays.
    However, in recent years, the number of tourists seems to have started to decline.Because Xitang, another ancient town 50 kilometers away from Wuzhen, has become a new popular destination. It is said that the scenery there is very similar to Wuzhen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wuzhen was very crowded, from what I recall when I went almost 10 years ago. It fascinates me that places like Xitang, which originally didn’t hold appeal to visitors, would become the new hotspots to check out. Guess that’s the way it goes with these changing times!

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