The days before the rain comes are
the best days to visit the ancient towns in South China's
water regions. On a breezy day, one can shoulder a camera
and ramble along an old street sipping a well-aged liquor.
But however pleasing this may be, such ancient towns
are becoming fewer and fewer, so we can feel lucky that
Xitang still preserves its original look.
Xitang is in Jiashan County, Zhejiang
Province. As early as the Spring and Autumn and Warring
States Periods (770-221B.C.), it was a place of strategic
importance on the boundary between Wu and Yue States,
and it was thus known as the Bottom of Wu and the Corner
of Yue. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it developed
into a prosperous town, and during the Ming and Qing
Dynasties (1368-1911), it was known as an important
town for commerce and handicrafts in South China. Today,
Xitang is like an ancient piece of jade, glittering
The area has a flat terrain, and the nine
rivers that run through the town divide it into eight
parts. Xitang is known for its bridges, lanes, and ceilinged
corridors. There are 104 bridges of varied structure,
all from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, some looking like
rainbows over the river, and others like long flutes.
Standing on one of these bridges and watching the boats
through a round opening, one feels drawn into deep meditation
on the past.
Many of the shops and houses in Xitang are
built on the riversides. There are a total of 122 lanes,
long and short, wide and narrow. The lanes are paved
with stone planks, polished by the feet of pedestrians
as well as hundreds of years of weathering. Together
with the black-tiled houses along the roads, the polished
stone planks bear witness to the town's long history.
Because of the rainy climate, local residents
have invented their own style of ceilinged corridor.
Each family puts a ceiling over the stone-plank road
in front of its own house, and the ceilings connect
with one another to form corridors, the longest being
1,300 meters. Nowadays, the ceilinged corridors are
the main places for outdoor activities and attract countless
Xitang is also attractive because of the
easygoing lifestyle that local residents have followed
for thousands of years. Unlike the towns of Zhouzhuang
and Wuzhen, Xitang is not a bustling place (see China
Pictorial November 2001 and February 2002). People in
the town live ordinary, peaceful lives. The elderly
play with their grandchildren on bridges and in lanes,
and women wash vegetables and clothes in the rivers
running beside their houses. The simple lifestyle and
peaceful atmosphere may have died out in those now commercialized
ancient towns, but they fill every lane in Xitang. For
tourists from modern metropolises, Xitang is a place
to experience a feeling of simplicity and leisure.
An advisor from the UNESCO World Heritage
Center spoke highly of Xitang after coming here. "Xitang
is like the limpid and melodious music of a flute,"
he said. "People need to appreciate it with their