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November 4, 2018

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Expo focuses attention on Qingpu

WHEN people talk about Shanghai, they often talk about the towering skyscrapers in the Lujiazui financial zone illuminated by dazzling neon flashes along the Huangpu River at night, or the gorgeous Bund standing opposite, a silent witness to the city’s remarkable growth.

But with the China International Import Expo around the corner, suburban Qingpu District, far from the jostling concrete jungle, is the focus of attention at home and abroad.

Famous for its agricultural products and charming watertowns, the district neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces is everything but the typical bustling Shanghai stereotype.

Qingpu is considered the root of Shanghai for it is the birthplace of Songze culture, a Neolithic civilization dated back 6,000 years ago that is thought to be the first human settlement in the Shanghai area.

Fuquan Hill, where relics from the Songze culture have been found, has become a minor tourism attraction in the district. Over the past three decades, relics from the Neolithic Age to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) have rolled out a scroll of the history of rural lives. More of the origins of Shanghai can be found in the Songze Relic Museum and Qingpu Museum.

In 2004, the tomb of a male aged between 25 and 30 who lived around 6,000 years ago was excavated during the fifth excavation of the site. He was considered the “first Shanghainese.” His skeleton is now displayed in Songze Relic Museum. The museum itself was built on an excavation site.

The most famous watertown in the district is Zhujiajiao, a fan-shaped town near Dianshan Lake that covers an area of 47 square kilometers. It is one of the most popular watertowns across the city and it attracted more than 320,000 visitors during the National Day holiday in October.

Wandering in this crowded but somehow tranquil watertown, the first eye-catching structure can often be the Fangshen Bridge built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The local villagers used to come to the bridge and free animals such as tortoises and fish, which is what the name fangsheng means in English.

It is the largest stone arch bridge in Shanghai. Its reflection in the water at night has made it a popular spot for visitors to take photos.

Twenty-six alleys and countless small footpaths entwine in the town. Visitors can easily get lost in the maze as they encounter the local lifestyle around every corner and a variety of places to drink coffee or enjoy traditional snacks.

At the very north of the watertown is the Kezhi Garden, built by businessman Ma Wenqing at his private villa.

Older people in the town will tell you that Ma spent 15 years traveling to every single garden in the Jiangnan region, south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, for inspiration.

In the garden you can find upside-down lions like the Lion Grove Garden in Suzhou, corridors with stele carved with calligraphy by side like the pavilions in Hangzhou’s Solitary Hill, and, of course, zigzag bridges similar to the one in Shanghai’s Yuyuan Garden.

As the fame of Zhujiajiao spread, more watertowns in Qingpu were developed. Among them is Jinze Town, a 25-minute drive from Zhujiajiao along the Dianshan Lake.

Jinze is known for its old bridges. During its peak in the Song Dynasty, there were 42 bridges across the rivers in the town.

Seven remain today. The oldest and biggest, Wan’an Bridge, was built around 1260 with two Buddha temples that are nowhere to be found today. Wan’an means “all people live a good life.” The tradition of worshipping the Buddha has remained as niches are placed near the bridge.

Unlike Zhujiajiao, it had been limited commercialization in Jinze.

Instead of large numbers of tour groups or people posing for photographs, what you can see here are cobblestone streets with mottled or sometimes shabby walls. A stray cat may flee from your feet and in the distance an old woman stirs a cauldron of soap in front of a house.

Last year, Metro Line 17 made it to Qingpu District which brought vitality and opportunities. It takes only 45 minutes to get to Shanghai Oriental Land from Hongqiao Railway Station.

Oriental Land is a famous youth off-campus activity camp that draws schools as well as families to enjoy nature and outdoor adventures.

In the future, Qingpu is planning to build shopping malls at almost every single Metro station. Companies such as Wanda and Shimao have invested in the malls.

Last week, preparations for the expo had been completed. Water is crystal clean and greenbelts alongside the streets have attracted many passersby to take selfies. Shining through the night, neon lights echoing the downtown area seem to indicate the desire for a brighter future.


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