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Wuzhen villages offer authentic rural experience

2017-12-05Source: China Daily   

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An aerial view of the villages. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Near the ancient water town of Wuzhen, the scenic villages of Maming and Haihua provide the perfect destinations for travelers seeking a taste of authentic rural life. Xing Yi reports.

While most people in Tongxiang city in East China's Zhejiang province are still nestled beneath the covers at 3 am, Tu Yuanqing and his father Tu Bingfa are already up on their feet, arranging cups, boiling water and preparing tea leaves.

The doors to their rustic, cozy teahouse in Maming village open just half an hour later. By 4 am, the space is a hive of activity as elderly residents, most of them aged 60 and above, chat animatedly with one another while sipping cups of tea and smoking cigarettes. Some villagers can also be found playing mahjong in a small room illuminated by a solitary light bulb.

This tea party for the elderly ends at 8 am, the time the villagers begin their day in the fields. But there is no official closing time for the teahouse - the Tu family lives in the same building.

Located at a 30-minute drive from the ancient water town of Wuzhen, Maming village is the polar opposite of the famed tourist destination. There are hardly any crowds here. The old houses are not as well maintained. There are no bright colorful lights that flank the walkways.

Time seems to stand still in the village, making it the perfect day-trip destination for travelers who want an authentic experience of rural life.

Here, tea is not just a beverage, but a way of life. The street that the Tu teahouse is on may only be 50 meters long, but there are three other similar establishments. Not that anyone really cares about the competition. After all, there is little profit to be made from such a business. A pot of black tea costs only 1 yuan (15 cents). They sell between 50 and 60 pots every morning. What he earns in one morning is not even enough to buy him a ticket into Wuzhen.

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Tu Yuanqing runs his family teahouse in Maming village, a 30-minute drive from the ancient water town of Wuzhen. [Photo by Alywin Chew/China Daily]

Tu Yuanqing says that he helps run the teahouse, which was handed down to him by his grandfather, simply because it is an integral part of their village culture. He has been working there since he was a teenager.

One of the regular customers is 85-year-old Yu Jiannan. He says that he has been frequenting the teahouse for the past 10 years since his wife died.

"I come here to chat with my old friends. We share news about our family matters and each other's health," he says.

"Coming here has become a ritual for everyone. If someone doesn't show up for more than two days in a row, we start to get worried."

At the end of the street is a bridge that leads to a temple. According to local folklore, the village was named Maming because during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Qianlong's horse neighed three times as he made his way to the temple.

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Tu Yuanqing runs his family teahouse in Maming village, a 30-minute drive from the ancient water town of Wuzhen. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

The temple's origins can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when it was constructed in memory of a general named Pei Qu who protected the village against a rebel army. This heroic feat has since elevated him to a godlike status. Unto this day, villagers pray not to Buddha or other deities but to Pei. A worshipping ceremony is held every year during the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar. Activities include a temple fair and performances of traditional opera.

Another rural area worth visiting is Haihua village, which features an idyllic park and a number of canals and rivers that are popular fishing spots with the locals.

The village is well-known as the former residence of Jin Zijiu, a doctor who dedicated his life to helping others.

Born into a family of doctors in Hangzhou in 1870, Jin learned medicine from his father before getting married to the daughter of a rich businessman from Haihua village. He moved to the village following the wedding and earned himself a sterling reputation for his medical skills and compassion. Jin died in 1921. A museum documenting his life story is one of the attractions of the village.

Visitors to Haihua will also find a small museum that documents the lives of the "educated youth" - young people from cities who were sent to the countryside to work alongside the farmers during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

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Tu Yuanqing runs his family teahouse in Maming village, a 30-minute drive from the ancient water town of Wuzhen. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

According to Deng Yonggen, the former Party chief of the village, there were 16 young people from the neighboring cities who were sent to Haihua village. He adds that he organized a get-together in 2013 for the individuals, who are now in their 60s and 70s, and took pictures of them that are displayed in the museum.

"Some young people today don't know about this part of Chinese history and that's why we set up this museum," says Deng.

"I think it is important that the contributions of these people will be remembered. They sacrificed so much during those times."

While Maming village is known for its tea culture, Haihua has a reputation for being a model for afforestation in Zhejiang province.

Deng, who started the afforestation campaign two decades ago, says more than 90 per cent of the land in the village is covered by trees and other plants. Because of this, many residents from neighboring villages often visit Haihua to take a stroll and admire the scenery. There is also a scenic 18-kilometer walking trail surrounding the village for fitness enthusiasts to jog along.