Jiaxing

Jiaxing (嘉興) is a historic city located in Zhejiang province. The historic city centre is less than an hour by train from its much larger neighbor to the north-east, Shanghai, which makes Jiaxing a popular day trip destination from Shanghai. It is also easily reached from Hangzhou, Suzhou or Nanjing. Jiaxing city also includes Wuzhen (烏鎮) and Xitang (西塘), two well known preserved canal towns.

Understand

The Pavilion of Mist and Rain, on an island in South Lake, Jiaxing
A small canal in Wuzhen, a preserved canal town in the suburbs of Jiaxing
Xitang, another well-known canal town in the suburbs of Jiaxing

Jiaxing is more than 2000 years old. Historically, it was a strategically important town, and fought over by different kingdoms. The citadel at the city's centre is one vestige of this history.

The countryside around Jiaxing became some of China's richest agriculturally, and Jiaxing became a rich market town. In the 6th century, Jiaxing became an important stop on the Grand Canal, the 1,000km long watercourse that connected the economically important Yangtze Delta with Beijing, the political capital. Jiaxing became a popular place for scholar-officials to retire to. It was a favourite destination of the Qianlong emperor. To the emperor, Jiaxing, with its prosperous town and busy canal, combined with a beautiful lake and unspoilt countryside, was the ideal Chinese city. In the 19th and 20th centuries, neighbouring Shanghai rose up as an international port and metropolis, and modern, Western influences also came to Jiaxing. The Carmelites built one of China's grandest churches in the city centre.

Jiaxing proper is best known for historic buildings in the city centre and South Lake, a picturesque spot favoured by emperors. Jiaxing and South Lake have long been a popular day-trip destination from Shanghai, while revolutionaries have also used it as an "escape" from Shanghai. In 1921, a group of young revolutionaries whose meeting in Shanghai's French Concession had been disrupted by authorities came here disguised as daytrippers, and finished their meeting on a boat on South Lake - and founded the Communist Party of China. Between 1932 and 1936, Kim Koo and various Korean revolutionaries also took refuge here to escape from Japanese authorities in Shanghai. Jiaxing's reputation for producing and attracting the literati continued into the 20th century. Several houses where prominent scholars and politicians once lived have been preserved and are now open to the public.

Jiaxing city also contains two of China's most famous canal towns - Wuzhen (烏鎮) and Xitang (西塘) - which feature preserved houses set on a dense network of narrow waterways, and are popular with visitors wanting to experience a taste of what was once typical life around the lower Yangtze delta, known as the Jiangnan region. If you have seen a Chinese period drama or kung fu movie set in a Chinese canal town, chances are it was filmed in one of these towns. (Mission Impossible III was also partly filmed in Xitang.) Wuzhen is located to the west of Jiaxing, further towards Hangzhou, while Xitang is located to the northeast, further towards Shanghai.

Get in

By rail

Visitors arriving by train usually alight at Jiaxing station, which is within walking distance to both the city centre and South Lake. This station is served by the the Hangzhou-Shanghai Railway (not the bullet train). Travel time is 45-60 minutes from Shanghai, and just under an hour from Hangzhou. There are numerous trains in both directions throughout the day, but the frequency of trains can vary. Check the timetable when planning your journey. Trains from Shanghai depart from Shanghai South railway station.

You can save a few minutes on your train journey from Shanghai or Hangzhou by taking the high speed rail to Jiaxing South station, but the stations on the high speed rail line are in general all further from the city centre. You can take a cab to the city from Jiaxing South railway station.

Jiaxing will be a station on the proposed Shanghai-Hangzhou Maglev Train Line.

By coach

There are numerous long distance coaches connecting Jiaxing with all surrounding cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing.

By car

Jiaxing is on the Shanghai-Hangzhou Highway and 320 National Highway.

By boat

The World Heritage-listed Grand Canal runs through Jiaxing. While travelling by boat used to be the main way to get to the cities and towns in this region, it has now been replaced by rail and road. Scheduled intercity boat services on this part of the Grand Canal stopped in 2006, and it is no longer possible to travel on the Grand Canal by public transport.

Get around

In the city centre

Jiaxing's taxis are plentiful and (compared to Shanghai and Hangzhou) cheap. There is also a good bus network serving the urban area. The old city is surrounded by a ring road and there are a couple of major avenues running north-south and east-west through the city that connect with the other scenic areas near the city centre, buses will usually follow either the ring road or one of these avenues. The old city itself is walkable on foot.

Jiaxing has a public bicycle rental scheme, but you need to get a special bicycle rental card, unless you already have a "city card" (issued to residents) or a public transport card. As such, this is not a practical option for casual visitors.

South Lake is served by a regular ferry service, but public transport around the rest of the city by boat ceased several years ago.

To suburban towns

To get to, and between, Wuzhen, Xitang, and other towns, a combination of trains and buses is available.

Around Wuzhen and Xitang

A canal boat for hire in Xitang. Canal towns are often best seen by boat.

In both Wuzhen and Xitang, there are buses and taxies to convey visitors between major locations such as between the train station or coach station and the preserved scenic area. Once you are in the preserved quarter, visitors mostly get around on foot. There are also rickshaws for hire and small canal boats. Some places (like the Western Quarter or Xizha of Wuzhen) have boat-buses the cost of which is closer to a taxi, while other places might only have sightseeing boats for hire with guides, which cost a lot more.

Talk

The language of the region is the Wu dialect; it is not mutually intelligible with standard Chinese (Mandarin), or Cantonese for that matter. The specific dialect in Jiaxing is very similar to that of nearby Shanghai (or "Shanghainese"), and is also mutually intelligible with the Suzhou dialect, which is the prestige dialect of Wu. However, as anywhere in China, most people are bilingual in the local dialect and Mandarin, and you should have no problem speaking Mandarin unless you are talking to the elderly.

English is less widely spoken than in Shanghai, Hangzhou or Suzhou, although staff at the better hotels and more tourist-oriented restaurants will speak some. Cab drivers, staff at local shops or restaurants or railway ticket offices are unlikely to speak any English. For prudence, have the names of your destinations written in Chinese, so that taxi drivers can get you there; carry a business card for your hotel so they can get you back to it.

See

City centre

The still-imposing spires of the ruined St Mary's Church
Front gate of the Zicheng, the citadel of Jiaxing
Kim Koo's Refuge on Meiwan Street, a neighbourhood of restored canal-side houses

Jiaxing is currently going through a programme of unearthing its tourism assets. A number of attractions are being restored or renovated, while others have recently been refurbished.

South Lake

South Lake (Chinese: 南湖; pinyin: Nán Hú) or "Nanhu Lake" is a scenic lake located the south of the city centre, and is Jiaxing's main tourist attraction. The lake covers an area of 0.54 km². It is also known as "Mandarin Duck Lake", due to the lake's shape. The main South Lake to the east is connected to the "western South Lake", a smaller water body to the west. The lake is connected to the Grand Canal between Hangzhou and Beijing, a channel of which runs next to the northwestern shore of the lake.

Other than the mid-lake island, most of the lake's shoreline (and most attractions) are accessible for free on foot or by taxi or bus, but the best way to see the main sights of the South Lake is by boat: see entry in "Do" below. The main attractions are:

Wuzhen

Atmospheric canals in Wuzhen
Paper umbrellas repurposed as sign in Wuzhen
Soy sauce fermenting in a traditional workshop in Wuzhen

Wuzhen was originally two towns administered by two prefectures, divided by a canal. The two main preserved quarters of Wuzhen today (the "Eastern Quarter" and "Western Quarter") are located on opposite sides of the same canal, and access to them are quite separate. They are based around two old main streets called the "Eastern Palisade" (Dongzha) and "Western Palisade" (Xizha) respectively. Both of these quarters have been comprehensively redeveloped for tourists, are fenced off and charge admission. The areas around the "Northern Pallisade" and "Southern Palisade" (two other old main streets) are also preserved scenic areas, but have not been redeveloped for tourists as much (and still have local residents) and so have less of a "theme park" feel. They are not as scenic, but the Southern Quarter in particular is interesting for a walk that is further off the beaten track, although there are few attractions open to the public. The Northern Quarter has a couple of preserved buildings open to the public, but it has mostly been replaced by modern buildings, so is much less atmospheric. Between the old streets is the modern town centre, which is less atmospheric but has cheaper accommodation than (especially) the Western Quarter.

Xitang

Traditional wharf and a covered bridge in Xitang.
A traditional rice wine brewery in Xitang.

Xitang has remained largely a rural township. The core of the old town has been preserved as a "scenic area", but you can find atmospheric lanes and houses outside the scenic area too.

Do

Eat

Sleep

Go next

Wuzheng and Xitang, two well-preserved canal towns located within Jiaxing city limits, are popular destinations for a taste of "water country" life in the Jiangnan region. They are easy to reach from Jiaxing. Wuzheng can be reached by local train plus bus, while Xitang can be reached by bus from Jiaxing railway station.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, February 25, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.