Wuzhen lies in the north of Hangzhou city of Zhejiang Province, and at the center of the triangle formed by Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing. Wuzhen enjoys a history of over 1,000 years since its establishment in 872 A.D. However, according to the textual research of the Tanjiawan site, one of the important cultural relics under state protection, ancestors of the Wuzhen people existed here during the New Stone Age 7,000 years ago. The town covers an area of 72 sq. km, with a population of 60,000 and permanent residents of 12,000. The town is divided into four parts by a cross-shaped river. That’s making it the only ancient water town adjacent to the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Because its warm and humid climate, the products here are rich, making Wuzhen well-known as “The town of fish, rice and silk.” .
For hundreds of years, its residents have been building houses along the rivers. The ancient docks, waterside pavilions, and corridors stretch out for miles and make a romantic atmosphere that is typical to Jiang Nan water towns. Wu Zhen boasts its prosperous past and simple lifestyle. Unique folk custom, Hua Gu Opera with local character, Shadow Play, and Gathering Pilgrim show the rich tradition of the locality! Wu Zhen is famous for its natural beauty and many talented people in history. Since the South Dynasty when the prince of Liang kingdom-Zhao Ming once studied here, such literary master as Mao Dun had left many cultural relics here. If boating around the water network, or lingering in the lanes one can always feel the serenity, peacefulness and subtle beauty of the Jiang Nan water town.
On both sides of a slab stone-paved street stand pubs, restaurants, pawnshops, weaving and dyeing establishments, and other businesses, all housed in wooden structures of brown. Rivers and creeks spanned with stone bridges in various designs flow through the town, and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal passes by. Old waterside houses and outside corridors can be found here and there. This is the ancient town of Wuzhen.
Wuzhen has many sites of historical and cultural interest. From the Song (960-1279) through the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, Wuzhen produced more successful candidates in the highest imperial examinations than any other town south of the lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. Bearing witness to the town’s emphasis on education is the Lizhi (Aspiration) Academy of Classical Learning of the Qing Dynasty, which still retains its original appearance.
During the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-581), Crown Prince Liang Zhaoming once studied at Wuzhen. The prince is famous for his Literary Selections by Zhaoming, a milestone in the history of Chinese literature, and the town of Wuzhen built a memorial archway to commemorate his stay there and has kept it well preserved. Other historical and cultural sites include the Wenchang Pavilion, the Xiuzhen Taoist Temple, the ancient stage, the mansion of a member of the Imperial Academy, and the former residence of Mao Dun, a great master of contemporary Chinese literature.
Tradition is still very much alive in Wuzhen. In addition to flower-drum opera, shadow-puppet shows, and temple fairs, Wuzhen also attracts visitors with its time-honored art of making indigo-dyed printed calico. In ancient times, indigo-dyed printed calico was used for curtains, scarves, and tablecloths in every household in the countryside of Zhejiang Province. Today, it is still common to see old women in indigo-blue gowns leisurely operating spinning wheels or looms at weaving workshops in the old lanes of Wuzhen, while the squeaks of the looms resound throughout the lanes. Carrying on this tradition has become a part of the lives of the old women.
Wuzhen is at its best on rainy days. Strolling with an umbrella along an old lane past the centuries-old wooden houses and seeing the rain flow off the engraved eaves that cover the doorways is an amazing experience. The falling raindrops bring ripples on the river surfaces, while boats travel to and fro. The waterside pavilions and corridors and the arched bridges, all shrouded in drizzle, make up a charming scene.
People in Wuzhen live a simple life. Many of them breed silkworms and raise chrysanthemums, and they have mostly retained the tradition of buying fruit and vegetables from trade boats through the windows of their waterside houses. They benefit from an inherited harmony of man and nature and enjoy the pleasing living environment that comes from social progress. In May 1999, the local government invested 200 million yuan for maintaining and improving the town’s environment. The project was to be completed within five years, and the first phase, with an investment of 80 million yuan, was completed by the end of 2001.
Wuzhen has been included by UNESCO in the reserve list of world cultural heritages.