Central China Travel Guide
Tongli’s numerous canals
A pretty little water town typical of the region, Tongli gives visitors a good idea of what Suzhou must have been like in its heyday. All its houses open out on to a network of canals that are spanned by dozens of stone bridges and are busy with transportation and trading boats. Some of its buildings are open to the public, such as Jiayin Hall, the former home of Liu Yazi, an early 20th-century actor renowned for his rather bizarre collection of gauze caps. The other interesting sight is Tuisi Yuan, a classical garden dating from the late Qing period. Please click here to read more information about Tongli.
Please click here to read more information about Tongli.
A small town on the Jinghang Canal, which links Suzhou and Shanghai, Zhouzhuang was once a flourishing port, specializing in silk, pottery, and grain. It attracted scholars and officials who built fine bridges and houses between the Yuan and Qing eras. The charming Old Town can be explored on foot or via a boat tour on the canals. Among the sights are the Ming-era Hall of Zhang Residence with 70 rooms, and the Hall of Shen’s Residence, with 100 rooms connected to the main hall. The Chengxu Temple, located near the museum, is a Song-dynasty Daoist shrine.
- 25 miles (40 km) NW of Suzhou
- services to Hangzhou & Suzhou
- 88 Chezhan Lu.
- 0510 401 6081
The highlights of a trip to Wuxi are the scenic Tai Hu (Lake Tai) and the Grand Canal, and the lakeside cherry blossoms in spring. According to legend, the town was established 3,500 years ago as the capital of the Wu Kingdom and was a center for the production of tin. When the mines ran dry (Wuxi means “without tin”), the capital moved west, but Wuxi remained significant due to its location on the Grand Canal. Xihui Park in the west of town was established in 1958, and houses the Jichang Yuan garden. At the park’s entrance, a path leads to the Dragon Light Pagoda on top of Xi Shan. A cable car connects Xi Shan to nearby Hui Shan. The Wuxi Museum has exhibits dating back 6,000 years.
- Huihe Rd.
- 6am–6pm daily
- 71 Huihe Rd.
- 9am–4pm daily
- 3 miles (5 km) SW of Wuxi
One of China’s largest lakes, Tai Hu is famous for its rocks, an indispensable feature of a traditional garden. The lake’s northern shores are fringed with scenic spots including Mei Yuan (Plum Garden), spectacular in spring when its 4,000 fruit trees blossom. Yuantou Zhu (Turtle Head Promontory) is a favorite with the Chinese, with tea houses and pretty lake views. Nearby, Sanshan Island is a former bandit’s haunt with temples and tall Buddha statues. However, none is as tall as the 289-ft (88-m) Lingshan Buddha on Ma Shan peninsula, a short bus ride from the other sights. The area also has a handful of lakeside theme parks.
Mei Yuan & Yuantou Zhu
- 7am–5pm daily
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, started in 486 BC, was built in sections over the next one thousand years, with the aim of linking the Yangzi with the Yellow River, and one capital with another. It remains the world’s largest man-made waterway. The earliest northern section was built for military reasons but large-scale construction began in the 7th century under the Sui Wendi emperor, involving over 5 million conscripted males aged between 15 and 55, supervised by a vast and brutal police force. Linking the comparatively populous north with the southern rice-producing region, it reached Beijing only in the 13th century. In the early 20th century, a combination of the altered course of the fickle Yellow River and the rise of the railways saw its gradual demise.
the canal laden with agricultural
produce and factory supplies.
performing domestic tasks. Families,
even if they have houses, may live on
board the boats when they are working.
Tourist boats are now the only way to enjoy a journey on the canal as road and rail transport is favored by the locals. Regular tourist boats operate overnight services between Hangzhou and Suzhou or Wuxi, whilst boats can also be chartered for day-trips between the major tourist stops.
Barges splutter their way along the canal laden with agricultural produce and factory supplies. The busiest sections are in the south and north of the Yangzi to the border with Shandong.
The canal banks are lively with people performing domestic tasks. Families, even if they have houses, may live on board the boats when they are working.
The followng map shows the route of the 1,112-mile (1,900-km) canal from Beijing to Hangzhou. Crossing the traditional battlefields between north and south, the canal supplied food throughout the empire. The hilly terrain led to the first recorded use of double locks in AD 984.
The county’s main town, Yixing, is a busy transport hub that provides connections to the entire region. This fer-tile area of canals and farm-land is known for its pottery, produced at Ding Shan for 3,000 years. Its name yixing or “purple sand” is derived from its distinctive deep mar-oon color. The town’s streets are lined with factories and pottery shops, the latter full of items such as traditional little pots in all shapes and sizes. Ding Shan’s tourist office also organizes factory visits.A short journey from town, the Pottery Exhibition Hall displays a range of objects, from fine, early Yixingware to the prized miniature teapots. Nearby are the Karst Caves, comprising three groups – Zhanggong, Linggu, and Shanjuan. The highlight of Zhanggong’s 72 caves is the Hall of the Sea Dragon King, that can hold several thou-sand people, while Linggu has an underground waterfall.
Pottery Exhibition Hall
- 150 Ding Shan Beilu
(Temple of Heavenly Peace), Changzhou
- 25 miles (40 km) NW of Wuxi
Often overlooked, this city on the Grand Canal is worth visiting for its old center, crisscrossed by streets of traditional houses and canals. The two main streets, Bei and Nan Dajie, are lined with shops selling silks and the locally-made painted combs. The 7th-century Tianning Si has 83 Buddha statues deco-rating its roof, while the Song-era Yizhou Pavilion is associated with the poet Su Dongpo, who stayed here when he visited the city.
- 31 miles (50 km) E of Suzhou
- 92 Zhongshan Xi Rd.
Attractively set on the banks of the Yangzi River, Zhenjiang’s prosperity was linked to the construction of the Grand Canal. In the 19th century, the city was ceded to foreign powers. The former Royal Hotel is a fine example of European pas-tiche, while the old British Consulate now houses the Zhenjiang Museum. Its exhibits include a photograph of the Amethyst, the British ship that sailed upriver in 1949 to bring aid to the British in Nanjing. After coming under heavy fire, it ran aground, and was stranded for months. The ship finally made a dash for freedom, and miraculously, managed to rejoin its fleet.
To the museum’s west, Jin Shan Park is the site of the Jin Shan Temple, founded in the Eastern Jin dynasty, and the Cishou Pagoda, one of a pair built in the Tang era. The climb to the top reveals splendid views of the Yangzi. To the city’s northeast lies Beigu Shan hill with its beautiful Lingyun Ting pagoda. Farther east is Jiao Shan, an island famed for its scenery, accessible by cable car or boat. Above the island’s fortifications, Xijiang Lou tower offers fine views of the river.
- 85 Boxian Rd.
Jin Shan Park
- 62 Jinshan Xilu
Calligraphy raises ordinary Chinese script into a high art form and is traditionally regarded as highly as painting or poetry as a method of self-expression. The beauty of calligraphy may seem hard to appreciate for most visitors who do not read Chinese. Freestyle calligraphy, however, which transforms ordinary characters almost into figurative and abstract paintings, can easily be appreciated for its artistry. The Chinese viewer, taught from a young age the basic sequence of strokes, can mentally trace the characters as they were created by the artists and so experience their spiritual world. As they are limited to the same eight strokes, the artists’ individual styles – the variations in stroke weight, angle, and vigor – are easily appreciated. Experts consider the balance and proportional weight of the strokes, the structure of the character and its unity and harmony.
The Four Treasures
The main tools of the calligrapher are known as “The Four Treasures of the Study” – ink sticks, ink stone, brushes, and paper. Anhui is especially famed for the quality of its ink and brushes.
Ink sticks are made from soot – pine wood or tung oil – mixed with glue and even spices. Inks are usually black although colors are available.
know what it is about to do
The seal is carefully positioned on the page. The cinnabar ink stamp may be the name of the artist or some poetry.
Practice is crucial. The hand must always know what it is about to do; there is no room for indecision. There are three levels of practice – tracing, copying and working from memory. Each step up allows the artist to add more individuality.
Brushes permitted greater freedom for expression than engraving bone or stone (see Language and Script) and led to more fluid scripts. Supposedly made from many varieties of fur, the tip should be round yet pointed, even and strong.