When I visited Wuzhen last year, I fell into deep fascination in its history. Like a cultural geek, I wanted to know how walking through an ancient town, though beautiful, is like unwrapping a polaroid camera. It’s a spanking new tourism machine, producing glossy boutiques that are meant to look vintage.
Instead of walking you through boring texts of this Water Town’s history, let’s just answer questions that were boggling my mind. Hopefully, they’ll satiate your inquisitiveness as well.
How long has Wuzhen been around?
According to some local websites, Wuzhen has been in existence since 7,000 years ago during the New Stone Age. But it was only 1,000 years ago during the Tang Dynasty that the name Wuzhen came to be, as well as the ignition of the current way of life revolving around its waterway system.
Despite bearing the vintage vibe, why do stone pathways and wooden architecture still look so new?
Twenty years ago, a huge fire destroyed a large part of Wuzhen’s architecture. Locals saw this as an opportunity to rebuild the town as a tourist destination. Without majestic landscapes, all Wuzhen had was a canal. So construction began from the East side to rebuild some old buildings that were burnt down. The refurbishment continued to the West side.
Due to tourism’s expansion, locals were forced to move for extra lands to build hotels. Factories were forced to shut down and transmission lines were buried to make room for parking lots and tourist centers.
When did Wuzhen reopen to the public?
In January 2001. But massive ascend in tourism truly occurred only in the last few years.
There are so many tourists in Wuzhen, do locals actually live there?
Although today’s Wuzhen is a profitable touristic town, many locals were forced to move at least once for the expansion of tourism. Unlike other littered streets in China, there are 200+ cleaning staff who make sure the vintage alleys of Wuzhen are spotless. You’ll never see clothes drying outside because tourism bureau ensures every corner is a great spot for the making of a postcard. Locals obey new regulations because they aspire to be disciplined Chinese citizens. In addition, with more tourists, their local businesses also become more profitable.
Which parts of the past are still preserved in Wuzhen today?
We may see tourists enjoying boat rides on canals, but back in the day, boats were the most important mode of transportation and locals still use them today to get around. Transactions are still being done on water due to the practical waterways that were originally built along the rivers.
Tea drinking was a huge part of locals’ lives since more than 60 teahouses existed in Wuzhen at one point. Today, drinking tea in clubhouses still runs deep in the Chinese lifestyle as a destination for catching up on public affairs and the latest gossip.
Photos: Wendy Hung
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