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Building bridges

2016-11-16Source: China Daily   

Zhou Qiankang says the soul of Wuzhen lies in the waterways that have run through the town for centuries.

The 70-year-old is familiar with every street and bridge in this part of East China.

He is also an expert on the town's history for the local government.

Wuzhen's origin can be traced back 7,000 years, according to the discovery of the Tanjiawan archaeological site.

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Crisscrossing waterways are now the biggest draw for visitors to Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Visitors stroll along the banks or hop aboard boats to take in the views. [Photo/China Daily]

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), Wuzhen was the border between the Wu state in the north and the Yue state in the south. Wu stationed its troops here in defense.

Connecting with the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in the west, Wuzhen, as the transborder area of three prefectures-Suzhou, Huzhou and Jiaxing-has become an important stop along the canal. It is the largest ancient town in Tongxiang city.

"Wuzhen was a military stronghold that could provide necessary money and food. No matter which army occupied it, they would try to protect the town," Zhou says.

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Crisscrossing waterways are now the biggest draw for visitors to Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Visitors stroll along the banks or hop aboard boats to take in the views. [Photo/China Daily]

The town's main river, Shihe, runs 1,500 meters from north to south, connecting smaller rivers along the way.

Many rivers branch out to form the water system.

Ferries were important means of transport in olden days, and bridges were vital to local people.

By the time the Song Dynasty (960-1279) came to power, there were 72 bridges. The number rose to 122 in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Some bridges were destroyed in wars. Others became redundant when people began to prefer motor vehicles to boats.

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Crisscrossing waterways are now the biggest draw for visitors to Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Visitors stroll along the banks or hop aboard boats to take in the views. [Photo/China Daily]

Today, there are more than 30 bridges left, including "double bridges", built according to an architectural style unique to Wuzhen.

The most famous double bridges are Tongji and Renji in the Xizha tourism area. They were built before the Ming Dynasty. Tongji bridge, which spans a river running north to south, and Renji bridge, which spans a river running east to west, form a right angle.

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Crisscrossing waterways are now the biggest draw for visitors to Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Visitors stroll along the banks or hop aboard boats to take in the views. [Photo/China Daily]

All the town's ancient bridges are carved with couplets.

"The couplets explain where the water in the rivers comes from and if the rivers are important transportation routes," Zhou says.

There are also patterns carved under the bridges.

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The Xizha area, one of the most popular destinations in Wuzhen, is home to many ancient bridges.[Photo/China Daily]

Tongji bridge's belly, for example, shows two dragons playing with a ball-an auspicious symbol.

The pattern under Renji is of carps jumping over a gate to be transformed into a dragon-also a blessing, especially for students.

But as the small rivers dried up and more people started driving, some arched bridges became both inconvenient and unnecessary, so they were rebuilt as parts of the streets.

As a result, bridges like Gutong have disappeared.

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Traditional houses, featuring gray rooftops and white walls, flank the riversides. [Photo/China Daily]

Since many are gone, those returning to Wuzhen after a long time may no longer seem familiar, Zhou says.

But a few bridges have survived wars and changes, such as Fuchang bridge. It was built by intellectual Hu Min during the Ming Dynasty and has lion statues.

Ferries stop near the bridge, and couples take photos in front of it.

"Each bridge marks a perspective of people's lives in Wuzhen in olden times," Zhou says.

A teahouse called Fangluge near Yinjia bridge was where merchants drank tea and decided on the prices of goods like rice.

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Wooden boats with roofed decks are popular in Wuzhen. [Photo/China Daily]

A shop made red and white candles for weddings and funerals near Nanchang bridge.

To the south of Gongqiao bridge, a shop sold wooden containers for daily use, and a malt-sugar store stood to its north.

In the past, local residents painted and made wood cravings.

South of Jiyuan bridge were several picture-mounting shops.

South of Dengying bridge was a carving workshop.

There were more bridges linking financial and entertainment institutions.

"Bridges are vital to Wuzhen. They are witness to our history," Zhou says.


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