Neatly hidden away in tranquil surroundings around 25 kilometres to the east of the Chinese city of Suzhou is the picturesque ancient water town of Luzhi. The town almost falls under the city of Kunshan’s jurisdiction. The small town posses’ absolute beauty on it’s pristine land that will leave you gobsmacked. There are plenty of colours in the air to mesmerize your senses. These include beautiful water canals, elegant stone bridges, and some real edible treats that will take you into a fascinating world away from the hustle and bustle from the big cities such as Shanghai.
A massive imperial style gate adorns the entrance of the ancient water town. From here onwards, you are effectively walking on the same tiles on which emperors strolled 1400 years ago. It takes around a 5-minute walk to the narrow lanes of the town. As you begin to absorb the sights and smells of the water town, it becomes evident that this is not going to be any ordinary water town. There is an abundance of action packed activities that will keep you busy. Try riding a boat in the canals, or eating one of the many delicacies.
Apart from the beautiful canals, the food, and the narrow lanes, Luzhi is also renowned for housing the ‘Statue of Arahats’ in the Baosheng Temple that was build in 503BC. The temple originally had 18 statues of arahats (Buddhists saints), however in 1928, 9 statues were ruined when the main hall collapsed.
The surviving nine statues are well preserved and posses an outstanding artistic value. The wall behind them is carved in the shape of rocky islands. The forms are steep, severe, and the arahats sit upright placed asymmetrically among this backdrop as if part of a 3D landscape painting.
The sculptor has adopted the techniques of exaggeration and contrast to create a unity of appearance expression and thought for each figure. The result is highly appealing and testifies to the superb sculpture skill of the tang dynasty sculptor Yang Huizhi.
Then there is also the fabulous Shenzhai Residence. This is the former residence of Mr. Shen Baihun, a member of the Chinese Revolutionary League, and an educationalist from Luzhi. The residence features original furniture and his original office for doing business. The total area covers more than 3500 square meters, and the reconstructed part that has been open to the public covers an area of around 1000 square meters.
Shen came from an affluent family who owned a lot of real estate at the end of the Qing dynasty. The residence is composed of gateway, ceremony hall, main hall, study, wing rooms, and other rooms/halls featuring elegant structure, simple decoration, and delicate carvings. It was a typical Suzhou style architecture of the Qing dynasty. Many movies and plays have found their place here. Film production companies regularly use the setting as a backdrop for period movies and television serials. In 1998, Luzhi township people’s government reconstructed part of the residence and put the ‘Village Women Garment Show; It is a scenic spot full of characteristics south of the Yangtze River.
In between the canals and narrow lanes lies memorial hall to the great writer Wang Tao. Born into a family of scholars in Luzhi Town, Wang Tao was a famous Chinese thinker and poet. Invited by a British preacher, he went to Shanghai Muohi Press in 1849, where he was engaged in translation and edit for about 13 years. Later he became a criminal who was wanted by the Qing Government because he was writing letters to the Taiping Army. In 1862 he escaped from Shanghai to commence what would become a 23 year old exile. During those exile years, he helped a few influential people with translation of four books and five classics into English from Chinese, like for example the president of the Yinghua Press in Hong Kong. Between 1867 and 1869 he travelled to Europe and it was the first time that a Chinese intellectual had ever surveyed Europe in sheer detail. After arriving back to Hong Kong, in 1874 he became the editor in chief of the ‘Circulation Daily’, where he reformed for a better understanding of the western culture and encouraged his readers to open up their mindset towards Europe.
In 1884, after being approved by Li Hong Zhang, Wang Tao was allowed to finally return back to Shanghai. In the years ahead in Shanghai, Wang Tao actively supported the revolutionary activities of Sun Zhongshan and Kang Youwei. He died peacefully in his Shanghai home in 1897. His body was buried in Luzhi, his birthplace and hometown. In recognition of his patriotic contributions, the Luzhi People’s Government established a memorial hall built in his memory. Covering an area of around 800 square meters this wonderful Qing Dynasty architecture building consists of Taoyuan Garden, Wang Tao’s Memorial hall and various beautiful gardens. The memorial hall was designed by the famous Chinese artist, Qian Juntao.
You really need around half a day to follow absorb the complete atmosphere of Luzhi. Lying in a corner of the town is the original site of the famous Wansheng Rice Firm. Built in the 1910s, Wansheng Rice Firm is located at Nanshishao of Luzhi Township. It was run by two rich businessmen called Shen and Fan respectively. Being a large scale firm, it had about 100 warehouses for storing rice and finally ended up becoming a rice distribution centre for Luzhi and 10 other towns around Luzhi. Ye Shengtao, a famous author and educationalist taught in Luzhou for about 5 years since 1917. His inspiration for many of his works, including ‘Over Collecting 3-5 Dou’, came from the Wansheng Rice Firm. The firm became very well known throughout China, especially as the Wansheng Rice Firm was mentioned in his school textbooks.
The town's most distinguished features are its many old-fashioned stone bridges, which were built in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Owing to that, Luzhi deserves its reputation as a 'Museum of Chinese Ancient Bridges.' At one time, there were 72 bridges in the tiny town; 41 still exist and are well preserved 9they are safe to walk on!).
How I got to Luzhi
I took a regular bus from Suzhou north coach station (next to Suzhou Railway Station). The one hour journey costs 9 RMB one way.
Visitors can also take a local bus no. 518 that goes from Suzhou railway station and takes around one hour. Route 518 is great if you want to also go to visit the other sites in Suzhou as the bus goes right through the middle of downtown and then onwards towards Suzhou SIP (Singapore Industrial Park) before heading to Luzhi.
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