Related News

Home » Feature » Travel

A serene watertown without tourists and touts

THE moment I arrived in Fengjing during the Chinese New Year holiday, it seemed to me like another Zhujiajiao, or Zhouzhuang, or Xitang, or Tongli -- any watertown you can name around Shanghai.

Same winding water, same ancient bridges, same deep, narrow lanes, same cobblestone roads, same riverside families ...

However, it is not -- not your cliched touristy canal town. The fewer number of visitors, much fewer, means this 1,500-year-old ancient town in suburban Jinshan District remains almost intact.

Here, time stops; life goes slowly, just like the quietly running river.

Crisscrossed by 52 ancient bridges, Fengjing has long been known with the saying, "Pass two bridges within a few steps, and catch a glimpse of 10 rivulets," referring to the water network.

Standing on the oldest Zhihe Bridge, I enjoyed a panoramic view of this sleeping beauty-like town, with old houses and ports on both banks and the Rainbow Bridge in front. Famous Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) poet Shen Rongcheng wrote in his "Folk Songs of Fengxi:"

"A swing is swinging by Rainbow Bridge, and it is much more beautiful when the Qingming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day) is coming."

In the morning, when tea shops on both ends of the bridge open for business, the aroma of tea fills the air; fishermen row alongside buildings and piers to extended platforms by the river, forming a mini fish market. This is reflected in the folk song:

"Freshwater snails are tasty in January, clams delicious in February, turtle the most sturdy in March ..."

Entering a partitioned stone archway inscribed with "Fengjing" in flourishing Chinese calligraphy, I walked along the zigzagging water, amazed by the red lanterns hung high under the eaves. It reminded me of the scene in Zhang Yimou's film "Raise the Red Lantern."

Red paper strips bearing puzzles were hung all along the walkway. Kids who got the answers would joyfully take the strip off. The more red strips they collected, the luckier they might be in the coming lunar year.

Past the archway, I found myself standing on Shengchan (Produce) Street, where during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties, just as the name indicates, rice stores were one next to another, with awnings in front.

Due to the erosion of time, almost all were damaged by weathering; those remaining were restored.

In early 2003, the local government launched projects to protect and renovate old bridges, buildings and lanes in the old town area.

Residents living by the river still lead a riverside life, washing vegetables, dishes and clothes in the flowing water, or just sitting by the rivulets, chatting, laughing and enjoying the sunshine, tea in hand.

Riverside streets in Fengjing are all in the same style - one side of the river literally the "backyard" of houses. Usually, when young people go to work, the grannies will go to the river, killing fish, washing rice, vegetables or clothes.

On the opposite side of the river is Heping (Peace) Street, a road with old houses. On the east side stands a well-painted building with a sloping angle on the stone pedestal. It is an ancient open-air theater built when China's drama took shape in the Song (960-1279) and Kin (1115-1234) dynasties.

The 28-square-meter theater, in the square of the Town God's Temple, has a gable and hip roof and overhanging eaves. Opposite is a row of old houses near the river serving as tea shop. Visitors can select a window seat, and enjoy the tea as well as the drama in a sunny, laid-back afternoon.

Another option: watching in the boat since the theater also has river frontage.

It is said that the Town God's Temple Fair started in the Qing Dynasty when young men and women went out to watch the performances that were usually kilometers away.

So the river was usually obstructed by so many boats, and venders, Peking Opera troupes and circuses would swarm into Fengjing, bustling with noise and thrills.

As I walked further down, a doorplate reading "Jinshan peasant painting studio" caught my eye.

Among Fengjing's well-developed folk culture, the best known is definitely the peasant paintings, which have borrowed the essence of other folk arts, including indigo prints, furniture carving, kitchen mural, lantern making, paper-cut, embroidery and weaving.

Unfortunately, the studio was shut down during the holiday. Peeking through the window, I saw rows of easels lining the room, some empty, some with unfinished works.

A bit frustrated, I passed the studio and followed wisps of smoke and fragrance to a nearby "one-man" lane where a middle-aged woman was cooking braised pork in a tucked-away old-style house.

She greeted me with a beaming smile. "Take a bite," she said.

Not a big fan of pork, I hesitantly cut a piece and tried.

Hm ... incredibly yummy!

As a typical watertown south of the Yangtze River, Fengjing has been an important rice wine production area since the 1930s. Jinfeng Rice Wine and three other local specialties, with a century of history, are known as the "four treasures of Fengjing."

The others are Ding's Pork Knuckle, No. 1 Scholar's Pastry (the favorite pastry of a local man who excelled in the imperial examination) and Dried Bean Curd. In 1915, Ding's Pork Knuckle won a gold prize at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 in San Francisco.

Fengjing specialties:

Ding's Pork Knuckle (above), Jinfeng Rice Wine, Dried Bean Curd and No. 1 Scholar's Pastry are Fengjing native products. Jinfeng Rice Wine was awarded a national silver medal, and Shikumen Rice Wine is praised as the "Chinese version of XO."

How to get there:

There's convenient land transport as the Shanghai-Hangzhou Railway connects a number of cities in southern China. Apart from the Zhujing-Fengjing Highway connecting State Highway No. 318, the busy Shanghai-Hangzhou Expressway, A7 Highway and State Highway No. 310 all run through the ancient town.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend