Wuzhen / putting on a show for the tourists

Wuzhen is a little town with quite a long history.  Settled about 1500 years ago, it’s location (within the ‘golden triangle’ formed by Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou) pretty much guaranteed its success as a place of trade.  And now, its proximity to Shanghai guarantees that every weekend, it will play host to thousands of weekend tourists from the big smoke.


It is the quintessential water town, with a network of natural rivers and artificial canals, criss-crossed by a multitude of bridges and laneways.   It’s sometimes called “the Venice of the East”, but it seems that this moniker is attached to pretty much any water town in China.

Small in scale and free of cars, it makes a very pleasant change from Shanghai.  The central part of the town is its main attraction, and thus you need to pay an entry fee to get in.  As long as the main share of the money goes to retaining and upgrading the old building stock, rather than the overzealous gate guards, I don’t paying for the privilege.

It’s easy spend a few hours there, just wandering around the water edge and snacking and looking at stuff.


Amongst all the visitors, a whole bunch of people actually live here too.

The traditional houses open straight to the waterfront, which is also the focus of the public domain of the town.  The scattering of artefacts of everyday life – washbasins, pot plants, clothes drying in the sun – contribute to the character of the place.


And the architecture is defined (as it should be) by climate, local materials and function.  I am very fond of these operable timber awnings.


As we were gawking at people, people were gawking right back at us.  Wuzhen is definitely a destination for local tourists, so we were met with much interest.  All day, whispers of “waiguoren!” (foreigner) and pointed fingers were directed towards us.  Huge tour groups would stop in their tracks just to stare and take photos of us, usually not bothering to conceal their purpose.  Things would often descend into a mutual paparazzi situation, which seemed to make everyone amused.

Perhaps to distract the tourists from each other, there were lots of traditional performers throughout the town.  Wuzhen is most famous for shadow puppetry (the theatre was outside the gated area, so we couldn’t go there without surrendering all rights to re-entry) and a local version of opera (even less melodic than the Western version).  But there were also these guys doing some martial arts with swords and sticks, on a boat of course.


And this guy, who climbed out onto a long stick of bamboo to do some acrobatics.  It was most skilful and quite scary to watch, but he didn’t really draw a crowd.  Perhaps he was the one doing all the watching … spotting waiguoren from on high.



2 Responses to Wuzhen / putting on a show for the tourists

  1. Justin says:

    Lovely pictures, and it looks like a great little village to explore – all the more attractive for the lack of cars.

    • thanks. i should have mentioned that it was also missing those silent terrors, electric motor scooters. so relaxing compared to my usual walks around the city.

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