Qingpu is one of my favorite areas of Shanghai. Around ten years ago, it was known as the countryside area where farmers and fishermen lived, but according to local history, it is actually the origin of ancient Shanghai civilization.
When I was a kid, a visit to Qingpu’s water town meant a fantastic weekend getaway; a perfect chance to forget the demands of school and concrete city buildings. Thoughts of the yummy local food and the beautiful village would excite me the whole night before the trip. I’d get myself ready and plead my mom to leave home as early as possible. After a long, half-day journey, we would arrive at the most famous water town, Zhujiajiao in the Qingpu area, to enjoy a lovely holiday.
These days, the road to Zhujiaojiao is really convenient – a 90-minute trip by car. People can escape from their busy, modern Shanghai life and step into traditional water town life. You can take a boat tour along the beautiful rivers in Zhujiajiao and find yourself lost in ease. This water town was formed during the Song and Yuan Dynasty and was officially set up as a town during Emperor Wanli’s reign of the Ming Dynasty.
Other names for Zhujiajiao include “Pearl Streets Pavilion” and “The Pearl Stream.” The town occupies an area of 47 sq km and is crisscrossed by rivers and canals with nine long streets running lengthwise along the rivers. There are thousands of buildings of Ming and Qing Dynasty as well as thirty six ancient stone bridges. Among these bridges is a large ancient stone bridge called “Fangsheng Bridge” or “Setting Free Bridge” where you can purchase fish to release for good luck.
There are numerous long streets and lanes in Zhujiajiao. Among these, Great North Street boasts “a mile-long road with a thousand shops.” Kezhi Garden is representative of the architecture of the rich families from the area south of the Yangtze River. The ancient streets paved with stone slabs, deep and quiet alleyways, arched stone bridges, and quaint boats express the beauty of life on the water in the ancient town of Zhujiajiao.
Zhujiajiao’s Local Food
The traditional native foods include rose-flavored fermented bean curd, fried gluten, dark-rice zongzi dumplings, meat wrapped in leaves, roast soybeans, and pork meat zongzi. In autumn, people can have taste of the fresh water crabs from Dianshan Lake.
The development of Zhujiajiao has brought prosperity to its townspeople. The economy has become more developed, offering various job opportunities to them. More and more local families have started their own small street front businesses, selling such things as zongzi dumplings, pearls and various crafts. The main streets are slightly touristy, but most streets are still home to local residents, mainly elderly people and young kids. Doors are often left ajar, and little distinction is made between the house and the alleyway as people go about their day. Most people prefer to keep their old life style and continue to maintain their traditional lives in Zhujiajiao.
Not far from Zhujiajiao, the Qingpu Museum offers a place for people to understand the culture and history of this area. The museum has a collection of approximately ten thousand pieces. The architecture, composed of five interlocking oval cylinders and constructed with modern architectural materials, looks like a flying butterfly. Inside the museum, visitors can easily learn the history of Qingpu and Shanghai. The Origin of Ancient Shanghai Civilization is the exhibition in the south wing of the museum. Starting with Shanghai’s origin, the exhibit shows the long history of Shanghai with beautiful archaeological finds from the Qingpu of Majiabang Culture, Sonze Culture, Liangzhu Culture, and the Maqiao Culture. Charms of Shanghai’s Water Culture is the topic for the display in the east wing. It covers the changes of water systems and construction related to Qingpu history. The models of Qinglong Town Port demonstrate the prosperous life and trade during the Song dynasty. Sections of Bridge Culture and Water Life vividly present the custom and folk culture of the local people.
The ancient district of Zhujiajiao occupies approximately 3 sq km, and exploring it thoroughly will take you at least half a day – even more if you reserve some time for some of the numerous teahouses, coffeehouses, bars and restaurants. The best time to visit is on weekdays.