The Venice of the East: Zhouzhuang is China’s 900-year-old water town

Ivana Andonovska
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Situated across 118 small islands, separated by canals and linked by bridges, Venice is one of the most popular cities in the world. Founded in 421 A.D., the Italian jewel is one of the most romantic places on the planet and is under the protection of UNESCO.

In 2016, Venice was officially proclaimed as the most beautiful city in the world. Home to many artistic movements and once an independent city-state, Venice is unique in the way it was built. Or at least that’s what we thought until we found out about Zhouzhuang, the Venice of the East.

Town of Zhouzhuang. Photo Credit

Situated in southwest China, this village is located between the cities of Suzhou and Kunshan. Known as Zhenfang Lane in ancient times, Zhouzhuang was once a part of the Kingdom of Wu. Back in the Spring and Autumn period (approximately 771 to 476 BC), the village was called Yaocheng. The name was changed to Zhouzhuang at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. The city was an important distribution center for silk, ceramics, arts, crafts, and food, mostly because it was used as a trade center by the wealthy businessman Wansan Shen, the richest man in the time of the Yuan Dynasty. Zhouzhuang resembles Venice not only because of its watery foundation but also because it is a huge tourist attraction, full of people.

Boat in Zhouzhuang passing through canals. Photo Credit

This ancient town, more than 900 years old, still looks much as it did in ancient times. Surrounded and divided by lakes and rivers, there are 14 stone bridges built across the water.

The biggest tourist attractions in Zhouzhuang are the Fuan Bridge, Double Bridge, and Shen’s Hall of Residence. The first one was built in 1355 and today is the only structure of its kind which remains intact. The second one, Double Bridge, connects two bridges, forming a whole. As for Shen’s Hall of Residence, it is probably the biggest attraction of all. Located on the southeast side of Fuan Bridge, this construction was erected in 1742 as a private property of the descendants of Wansan Shen, the aforementioned first millionaire south of Yangtze River. The entire complex is built in Qing’s style, occupying an area of 21,000 square feet.

A canal in Zhouzhuang. Photo Credit

Shen’s Hall of residence has more than 100 rooms, divided into three sections, each one connected by aisles and arcades. The first section is the water gate, where the Shen family washed clothes and moored boats. The second one includes the main hall, a gate tower, and a tea room. The last section consists of several buildings, built in a different style than the main hall. Cultural relics and a sculpture of the legendary businessman Wanshan Shen are placed in this section.

Zhouzhuang, a renowned historic town in China. Photo Credit

All the houses in Zhouzhuang are built on the river, connected with bridges and streets. Every family in the water town has its own pier. Here, tourists are welcomed with delicious food, such as the Wansan pork hock, named after the ancient businessman.

Zhouzhuang. Photo Credit

Another delicacy offered in the local taverns is the Sanwei rice ball, a dish also prepared by every family in the village.

The Chengxu Temple in Zhouzhuang. Photo Credit 

Tourists that want to visit Zhouzhuang have to pay an entry fee of 100 yuan per person for a day, equivalent to approximately $14. The ticket grants entrance to the ancient city area and all the tourist attractions. There are also boat rides organized by the town, which take tourists on a trip on the narrow canals.

Read another story from us: Giethoorn: A picturesque car-free village in Netherlands also known as “The Venice of the North”

The China National Tourism Administration has given Zhouzhuang the highest rating, placing it among the most important places in Chinese history. With all this in mind, Zhouzhuang certainly sounds like a place that should be visited.