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Excursions from Shanghai

  'In heaven there is paradise, on earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou' is a proverb known to every Chinese. While today both of these earthly paradises have been invaded to some extent by industries and modern buildings, they still have considerable charm.

  Yangtze RiverSuzhou is the nearer of the two (two hours by car, 90 minutes by train) and makes a pleasant day trip. Known as the Venice of the East, the old part of town is still a city of canals, hump-backed bridges, and low, white-washed houses. Above all, Suzhou is famous for its exquisite gardens, over 100 of which survive. The Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets (part of which has been reproduced in the Metropolitan Museum in New York), the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Lingering Garden are some fine examp1es. The city is also notable for its silk production, silk embroidery and other handicrafts such as sandalwood fans.


  Hangzhou's fabled West Lake was formerly perhaps China's best-known beauty spot. With its Yangtze Riverwillow trees, lotus blossoms in July and arched stone bridges, it conforms to everyone's idea of what Chinese scenery should look like. Many Chinese come here for their honeymoon. The huge lake has four landscaped islands and the whole area is dotted with pavilions and temples.
In addition to enjoying the scenery, you may visit silk factories (as in Suzhou) and also one of the tea plantations producing the famous Hangzhou Lonkjing (Dragon Well) tea.

  Hangzhou is three to four hours by train from Shanghai or 30 minutes by plane. It can be visited in a day, but an overnight stay is recommended to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.


  Those with more time who have seen Shanghai's major sights and visited Suzhou and Hangzhou might be interested in visiting some of the outlying counties, which are part of Shanghai Municipality.

  In SonaJiang, a county seat for over 2,500 years and situated 19 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Shanghai, is the beautiful Square Pagoda (Si Fang Ta), which is 900 years old. Although renovated in 1975, much of the l1th-century brick and wood structure is original. It is over 48 meters (157 feet) high with nine stores and was once part of Xingshengiiao Temple, of which one hall remains. There is also a Tang-dynasty stele, engraved with Buddhist scriptures, lions' heads, lotus petals and cloud patterns. It is said that the stele was erected to redeem the souls of crimina1s who were executed here. The Hu Zhu Pagoda (Hu Zhu Ta), an octagonal scven-storey leaning brick tower was built in 1079 during the Northern Song dynasty (960--1127). The Xilin Pagoda (Xi Lin Ta) was built during the Southern Song dynasty during 1127--1279.

  A lovely example of a classical Chinese garden, with bizarre rocks, ponds and miniature landscaping, can be seen on a visit to Zhuibaichi Park. This once-private garden probably dates from the late Ming dynasty and became the villa of a painter, Gu Dashen, in the mid-17th century.

  The local specia1ity is Four-grilled Perch, which is now rather rare and has been known for centuries as 'the number one dish south of the Yangtze'. Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (581--618) praised the fish, saying it was 'as precious as gold and jade', while the Qing emperor Qianlong (retried 1736--96) had it sent to him annually.

  Twenty--five kilometers (15.5 miles) northwest of Shanghai is Jiading County, where a Confucian temple has existed since the 13th century. In the courtyard, stelae set into plinths of stone turtles record the temple restorations and meritorious deeds of various officials. Three old cypress trees are all that are left of 60 planted in the Yuan dynasty (1279--1368). Memoria1 tablets of Confucius' disciples and records of the achievements of local scholars 1ine two corridors, which are part of the county museum.

  Five streams converge at the site of the Huilong Tan (Pool of Convergent Dragons), and adorning the surrounding stone railings are 72 different lions (Confucius had 72 disciples). During the Taiping Rebellion, the soldiers of the Dagger Society were bound to the trees beside the pool and executed. Yingkui Hill in the centre of the pool dates from the Ming dynasty, while the Literary God Tower, on the eastern bank, was restored recently after being bombed in the Sino-Japanese War.

  The Garden of Autumn Clouds (Qiuxia Pu), near Hui1ong Pool, is another example of private garden architecture. This was laid out by Minister of Defense, Gong Hong, in around 1520. Another garden, Guyi Yuan (Garden of Ancient Splendor), built by a high official of the Ming dynasty, can be seen at the town of Nanxiang in Jiading County.

  Nanxiang dumplings are famous in the area, their skin being especially thin. Chen He set up his dumpling shop 100 years ago and his recipe was so successful that the dumplings took on the name of the town, rather than of his shop.


  Qingpu County is 22.5 ki1ometres (14 miles) west of Shanghai, is the city's main supplier of fresh Water fish. Zhuiajiao is a delightful old town criss-crossed by canals, spanned by l6th-century stone-arched foot bridges, with traditional wooden boats moored alongside ancient stone houses. You can spend a day walking along the narrow stone-paved lanes, riding in the boats or sitting beside the canals at sidewalk cafes. There is an active 18th-century City God Temple (Cheng Huang Miao) and an active Christian church daring from the l9th century. The town is one hour away from Shanghai by bus or taxi, and about l5 minutes' drive from Dianshan Hu. This town is similar in style to Zhouzhuang but less crowded.


  This huge lake covers 6,300 hectares (15,570 acres), some 12 times larger than Hangzhou's West Lake, and teems with fish, freshwater shrimp and crabs. A holiday resort popular with Shanghainese has been developed near Yangshe Village on the southeastern stretch of the lake.

  The landscaped garden, Daguanyuan (Grand View Garden), is on the shores of Dianshan Hu. Constructed in 1984, it represents authentic Song-Qing-Ming architecture. It is presented as a 'Heng Lou Meng' theme park, with music, costumed characters, and exhibits all based upon the stories from that most famous of Chinese novels, The Dream of the Red Chamber. Look for the 'wishing trees' onto which people have tossed written wishes tied to bright red ribbons. You can only see the lake if you exit the walled enclosure. An expansive free garden area stretches along the water's edge. Across the road from Daguanyuan sits a Nationalistic Village with examples of traditional architecture from each of China's 43 ethnic minorities.
Yangtze River
  The Meandering Stream Garden (Qushui Yuan), on the bank5 of the lake, is also a popular excursion for Shanghainese. It was built with funds donated by local townsfolk in 1745 and redeveloped in 1927.


  This is a delightful piece of rural countryside, incorporating several National Parks, situated in the middle of the Yangtze (Chanajiang) River's mouth. It is a part of the Shanghai municipality although the environment is light years away from the urban centre. You can take a relaxing hour-long ferry boat ride from Wusong Port up the Huangpu and into the ChangJiang to this island. Many former residents of the Three Gorges have been resettled on Chongming Island. It is also the place where the transatlantic telecommunications cable connects China with the U.S.A. It is home to the Dongping National Forest Park (Dongping Guojia Senlin Gongyuan).


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• Excursions from Shanghai