Zhouzhuang, as a quaint water town, offers boating down venetian-style canals and charming bridges, and is one of the best sights outside of Suzhou itself. It is, however, the most famous in part because in 1984, Russian-American oil baron, Armand Hammer presented a painting of a Zhouzhuang bridge to Deng Xiaoping, resulting in a gush of tourism that has not stopped to this day.
Zhouzhuang lies between Tai Lake and Shanghai, southeast of Suzhou on the southern shore of Lake Baixian, and is bisected by the Baixian River. Zhouzhuang is also connected to the Grand Canal, which historically brought added prosperity to this small village.
Founded more than 2,000 years ago, the village took on its current name in 1086 when its lands were donated to the Quanfu Buddhist Temple (Quánfú Sì; 全福寺), which remains one of the village’s top sights. Many of the village’s old buildings still retain their distinctive watertown-style of white-washed walls and gray slate roofs that date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) or earlier. There is no motorized traffic allowed in Zhouzhang, helping to keep this little gem a bit closer to the charms of yesteryear than in nearby Suzhou.
If you need a rest from walking Zhouzhuang’s willow-lined streets, you can take a gondola or hail one of the numerous rickshaw drivers who are more than eager to serve you. Of the 14 ancient stone bridges that arch across the canals and rivers dividing the village, the so-called Twin Bridges, made up of the Shide Bridge (Shìdé Qiáo; 世德桥) and the Yongan Bridge (Yǒng’ān Qiáo; 永安桥), are the most famous symbols of Zhouzhuang. These two bridges, which were built around 1600, cross different channels to meet at a perpendicular angle. A far older and more beautiful construction is the single-arched Fuan Bridge (Fù’ān Qiáo; 富安桥), which was built in 1355 and has bridge towers containing shops and teahouses on either end. The original buildings of the Chengxu Taoist Temple (Chéngxū Dàoguān; 澄虚道观) were erected between 1086 and 1093, and the site has expanded over the centuries to become one of the most important Taoist sites in Jiangsu Province.