Zhujiajiao (Chinese: 朱家角; Pinyin: Zhūjiājiǎo Zhèn; Zhujiajiao means "Zhu Family Settlement") is a township in the Qingpu District of Shanghai. The population of Zhujiajiao is around 60,000. The town has a very vibrant ancient water village that is the focus of this article.
Formed 1,700 years ago, Zhujiajiao was an important trading hub for the surrounding countryside, and many of the buildings that can be seen there today date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Traditionally, goods and people were ferried on the small canals from house to house, passing under the 36 ancient stone bridges that are all still in use by locals and tourists alike.
The settlement of Zhujiajiao dates back to the Yuan dynasty, when it was an important marketplace for the surrounding countryside. It was finally granted township status during the reign of the Emperor Wanli of the Ming dynasty. Conveniently placed at the intersection of a number of local rivers, the town prospered through trade in rice and cloth, transported on boats from the surrounding countryside right to the houses of the Zhujiajiao merchants.
The ancient district of Zhujiajiao occupies about 3 sq. km, and exploring it thoroughly will take you about two hours - more if you reserve some time for some of the numerous teahouses, coffeehouses, bars and restaurants. While a lot of streets have become very touristy, you may also find alleys which are still the home of local residents - mainly elderly people and even people of a slightly bohemian streak. Doors are often left ajar, and little distinction is made between the house and the alleyway as people go about their day.
Having been a pretty sleepy town in the past, Zhujiajiao is now in a new era. In recent years, there has been an influx of tourists that stroll along the waterways and are the main source of income for the inhabitants. Some young bohemian people from Shanghai and elsewhere have settled in Zhujiajiao as well. As a result, the ancient quarter now sports a number of artsy bars, cafes and shops that make for great hideouts if you tire of the pushier merchants in the main streets.
The most affordable way to get to Zhujiajiao is to take a bus from the bus station at the Puanlu（Chinese: 普安路）bus station near People's Square or the bus station at Shanghai Ti Yu Guan Station (Chinese: 上海体育馆站) both in Shanghai. Make sure you take the bus line called Hùzhū Gāosù Kuàixiàn (Chinese: 沪朱高速快线) - they usually use pink buses. This should take around 1 hour and the fare is about 12 yuan. There are other bus lines, but they can sometimes take up to 2 hours. These cheaper options do not take the main highway, are much more crowded at peak hours and stop at every stop, filling the bus to absolute standing capacity. Don't worry about where to get off, Zhujiajiao is the end terminal. Also, make sure you don't miss the last bus back to Puanlu, which departs at about 9 PM.
You can get both to and from Zhujiajiao by taxi, but it will usually set you back between 150-200 yuan.
The town is arguably the best preserved of the river towns in Shanghai's vicinity, and the main charm of the town lies in strolling its streets. There are however quite a few specific sights. Many of them require you to have a ticket, which can be bought at the main entrance and includes a map and guide pamphlet. About a kilometer long, Bei Dajie (North Street) is the main thoroughfare in old Zhujiajiao. Lined with old buildings, some many hundred years old, it makes for a nice stroll, from the Fansheng bridge in the northeast to the Handicraft Exhibition Hall and the Tongtianhe Pharmacy in the southwest. In theory there is a nominal 10 yuan charge to even enter the old district, but we have never heard of anyone being asked to pay it - probably because there are numerous ways into the old district, most of them without any formal entrance. Different plans can be bought that include different number of attractions depending on how long you want to stay. The prices range from 35 (4 attractions) to 80 yuan (12 attractions plus the boat ride). However, monitor your time closely as most of the buildings close at 16:30 sharp, and the tickets are only valid for a day.
- At the northern edge of the old district, on Xijing Street, you'll find Kezhi Yuan (Kezhi Gardens). The name Kezhi is made up of the characters 课 (kè) which means "to learn" and 植 (zhí) which means "to plant". It consists of three parts - the main hall, the garden and an artificial hill area. The most iconic landmark of the gardens is a five story building with a pavilion on it's roof - the tallest structure in old Zhujiajiao. The history of this garden dates back to 1912, when Ma Wenqing built it, drawing inspiration from a mixture of Chinese and European influences. The construction took 15 years and 300 000 silver taels, equivalent to 12000 kg of silver. The wars and revolutions of the following half century brought much destruction to the garden and it's buildings, and in 1956 additional old structures where torn down to make room for teaching buildings of the Zhujiajiao Middle School that had come to occupy Kezhi Gardens. It was not until 1986 that the garden became a protected structure and renovation to return it to it's original style was started, and in 2003 the middle school was relocated.
- On the southwestern end of Xihu Streed (which begins at the south end of Caohe Street) you'll find a Qing Dynasty Post Office. It's said to be the best preserved Qing post office in China, and among it's exhibits you'll find antique post cards of old Shanghai and letters written on bamboo.
- The Yunjin Monastery on the northern end of Caohe Street is a Buddhist monastery with three main buildings and separate living quarters.
- The Town God Temple (Chenghuangmiao) is a Daoist temple dedicated to Guanyin, the goddess of mercy. Authentic worship still goes on, but like most temples in tourist destinations, it's a pretty exploited. It's located on the middle of Caohe Street, in front of the Qijin bridge.
Bridges are something of a star attraction of Zhujiajiao, which sports no less than 36 stone bridges. Most are only a few meters long and broad enough for a pushcart. Many of them are very old, dating back as early as the Ming dynasty.
- The most iconic bridge is the 70-meter long Fangsheng bridge. Resting on 5 symmetric arches, the height of the bridge peaks at 5.8 meters. It was originally built by the monk Xingchao of Cimen Temple in 1571, and then rebuilt in 1812. The central arch is decorated with a stone relief of eight dragons surrounding a pearl, and the pillars at the ends are sculpted into lions. It's the largest stone arch bridge in Zhujiajiao and populated by merchants who want to sell you everything from live fish to batteries for your camera. And have some small change ready for the beggars.
Two kinds of boat rides are available in Zhujiajiao.
- Canal gondolas. These small gondolas are ubiquitous and are a nice way to get a view of the town from the water. Each gondola can seat 6 people, and they are available for two kinds of trips - short distance (60 Y per boat) and long distance (120 Y per boat). The short distance will only take you up and down the main canal, while the long distance basically takes you all over town and back. Tickets are available in the small wooden ticket booths that can be found next to all major tourist sites in town.
- Lake trips. If you want to take a trip out on the lake, larger boats are available at No. 60 Dongjing Street. The tickets for these trips are charged per person, and will usually cost you between 40-60 Y for a trip, lasting either 30 minutes or and hour, depending on which boat you choose.
Cafes & Teahouses
- Book Room (Books Tearoom 书房) 漕河街35号 (No. 35 Caohe Street) A Cafe with about 30,000 Chinese books and more than 7000 DVDs, just like a mini library.They also provide organic drinks and home made food, amazing place.
- Time of China. 东湖街34号 (No. 34 Donghu Street) A nice little teahouse, next to "HEIMa bar" and "Cloth of the Centuries".
- Bum Cafe（游民咖啡） 漕河街44号 (No. 44 Caohe Street). A good place to go if you have a craving for coffee or tea. It's a homey cafe on two floors that also stocks a selection of cookies and sweets.
- Every year, usually the last week of October, there is a music festival in Zhujiajiao.
- On 东湖街19号 (No. 19 Donghu Street) there is a fortune teller. He is a friendly and eccentric old man who dresses in traditional yellow silk clothing and a black top hat. You'll know that you are in the right place when you see the songbirds and parrots that he keeps outside his house.
There are countless little shops in Zhujiajiao, everything from the usual T-shirt salesmen to handmade textiles and antique carved wood sculptures and furniture.
- Clothes 2 漕河街41号 (No. 41 Caohe Street). all hade-woven traditional local cloth and original designed clothes. nice shop.
- Chinese instruments 漕河街36号 (No. 36 Caohe Street). This very stylish shop specializes in showcasing the ancient Qin instrument and other aspects of Chinese culture. They sell various instruments, but also traditional teapots and teacups.
- Jazz Age. 漕河街58号 (No. 58 Caohe Street). A bit of a local celebrity, this jazz music shop has been here for quite some time. The owner is an eccentric bald jazz-fan. Half cafe half music shop, he also serves some nice coffee and tea in cozy surroundings.
- Porcelain Shop. 北大街36号 (No. 36 Beida Street) A two level store dealing in handmade traditional Chinese porcelain wares.
- Cloth of the Centuries 东湖街21号 (No. 21 Donghu Street). Self designed and handmade clothing and other textile items, all made in-shop by the talented owner. Mainly modern style clothing using traditional Chinese materials and influences with some very nice patterns and embroideries. She also sells handmade notebooks, jewelry and other items.
- Cloth and Dragons shop 东井街106号 (No. 106 Donghu Street). A shop split up in two sections - one selling handmade dragons and monsters made out of twine and pearls, and the other selling handmade textile wares and jewelry.
- Wooden Puzzles are sold at a shop on the left bank of the canal as you enter. Many of the puzzles with interlocking solid parts were devised by the ancient carpenter-puzzlemaker Luban (c. 500BC). Has a wide diversity of puzzles, mostly made in the famous Yunhe region in Zheijiang.
- You will find a cool restaurant next to the bar Zher close to the north entrance on No. 120 Xijing Street. They have two spacious rooms furnished old wooden chairs and tables in rustic old stone house. It's owned by a photographer, who showcases some of his work on the walls of the dining room. Compared to other places the menu is refreshingly selective. They also serve coffee, tea and cold beer. Price range is usually between 40-60 Yuan per person.
- HEIMa Bar, 东湖街25号 (No. 25 Donghu Street). Located on the quiet Donghu Street, this self styled Viking Bar is the only bar in Zhujiajiao that serves both beer and a wide range of liquor and cocktails. HEIMa is an Icelandic word that can mean both "home" and "world". With a homey DIY feel, they have built a two story bar-cafe-hangout that mixes the traditional style of Zhujiajiao with their interests in all things Scandinavian. This is probably the only place in China where you can find a tibetan yak skull next to a painting of the Icelandic coat of arms. The fridge had a good selection of cold beers and the drink menu had custom drinks and shots with names like "Iceland" and "Swordstrike".
- Zher, 西井街118号 (No. 118 Xijing Street). Run by a friendly punk called Frank, this beerhouse is a local favourite. The Chinese name 这儿 simply means "here". Drinks and snacks are served outside under the willow trees during the spring and summer months. During the colder pars of the year it's better to sit in his newly renovated house, with psychedelically painted floors, comfortable armchairs and a film projector. The music follows the preference of the owner, who is the vocalist of a Shanghai punk band. It's a great place to hear some elusive underground Chinese punk, ska and hardcore. He has a nice fussball table and provides Hookahs and flavored tobacco, and also sells some kitschy communist era souvenirs and handmade jewelry.
- uma hostel (窝), No. 4 Lane 103 Xijing St.（西井街103弄4号）, ☎ +86 21-59240487, 18918082961. UMA Hostel(窝) is The first and only mini hostel in the town, homey and cozy. Good for backpackers.
- Cao Tang (草堂), 31 Dongjing St.（东井街31号）, ☎ +86 15221361365. Cao Tang (草堂) is a guesthouse in an historical Qing Dynasty building. They have very comfortable and beautifully decorated double rooms, a room with a antique bed and a dorm room. The bar has lots of comfortable sofas to lounge in, good coffee and a nice selection of beer including Xinjiang Black Beer.
- 1,2,3... (壹贰叁), 123 Xijing St.（西井街123弄3号）, ☎ +86 13482629203. 1,2,3... is a cozy guesthouse at the end of an old narrow lane next to the Kezhi garden, one of the most beautiful sights in town. Enjoy the charm of its traditional architecture in its secluded courtyard while benefiting from the comfort of its western facilities. Relax, you’re home! (English, French, Spanish & Chinese spoken)
There is a hostel on Xijing street, ask for directions. Zher would be a good place, as the owner speaks some English. The owner of HEIMa bar also rents out an apartment for short term stay.