jump to the content

The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River

Date of Submission: 28/03/2008
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
State Administration of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province
Ref.: 5328
Export
Word File
Disclaimer

The Secretariat of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Heritage Centre do not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information or documentation provided by the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to the Secretariat of UNESCO or to the World Heritage Centre.

The publication of any such advice, opinion, statement or other information documentation on the World Heritage Centre’s website and/or on working documents also does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of UNESCO or of the World Heritage Centre concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Zhouzhuang Town: Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province, N 31 06, E 120 50

Luzhi Town: Wu County, Jiangsu Province, N 31 17, E 31 17

Wuzhen Town: Tongxiang City, Zhejiang Province, N 30 44 46, E 120 29 44

Xitang Town: Jiashan County, Zhejiang Province, N 30 56 50, E 30 56 50

2500 years ago, when Suzhou became a city, its surrounding areas sprouted a number of half-urban, half-rural towns such as Tongli, Luzhi, Wuzhen, Nanxun, and Xitang. Since ancient times, by making full use of the natural conditions and geographic environment, residents of these towns accumulated rich experience of how to live with rivers and lakes in a harmonious way. With the growth of economy, culture, and productive forces, a network of towns connected by watercourses came into being in the 11th century. In the 13th century those towns began to thrive.

1. Zhouzhuang Town

Zhouzhuang Town lies to the east of the Grand Canal, and is encircled by Jishui River, its ancient sluiceway. The stone wares, wooden wells, remains of ancient animals, and rice seeds excavated at Liangzhu Site in Taishidian, which lies to the north of the town, indicate traces of human activities that dated back to 5,000~6,000 years ago. Driven by social and economic progress, the town was founded in 1086, and the name ‘Zhouzhuang' has been used ever since. Located in the basin of Suzhou section of the Grand Canal, it enjoys a favourable geographic environment, with a well developed watercourse system. Since the 12th century, when ancient residents of the town connected Jishui River with the Grand Canal, Yangtze River and its sluiceways, the town has become a socio-economic centre for trade in daily necessities and social intercourses. Since the 13th century, the town, surrounded by important areas of crops and cotton production and fishery, has been a crucial centre for trade in staple food, cotton cloth, and handicrafts. As rich merchants and men of letters came to settle down in large numbers, waterside structures sprouted, such as arch bridges with stone rails, large houses with spacious courtyards, arcades over streets, riverside galleries and pavilions, and revetment steps, creating an environment for the townspeople to be in harmony with nature. As self-initiated protection has been going on continuously, the town has retained its original appearance, with its #-shaped river system, traditional layout of constructions, and unsophisticated folk customs. It provides important data for research into ancient waterfront towns.

2. Luzhi Town

Subordinate to Wuzhong District, Suzhou City, Luzhi Town is situated in the east of Suzhou; it is 18km to the west of the downtown areas of Suzhou and 58km to the east of Shanghai.

With an area of 54 hectares, Luzhi Town is surrounded by vast lakes, shallow lakes, ponds and pools; inside the town, there is a water system shaped like the Chinese character, which is formed by Dongshi River, Xishi River, Zhongshi River, Nanshi River and Xihui River. A river is usually accompanies by two streets at both sides and crisscross bridges. At the intersection of two rivers, there is usually a quay square, which is the important collecting and distributing centre of the town. There is the "west market", the "middle market" and the "east market". This is the typical characteristic of Luzhi streets.

In the ancient town, bridges are of various styles; mooring stones on the stone-paved revetments are engraved with beautiful designs, featuring various topics; the traditional clothes of women there are of unusual ingenuity and show the unique values of Luzhi's customs and craftwork. This year, women clothes of Luzhi are listed in China's first group of intangible cultural heritage. Along with the development of commercial economy after the 15th century, Luzhi has become a town of significance in the east of Suzhou depending on its water transport advantages.

3. Wuzhen Town

Wuzhen Town is close to Tongxiang City in Zhejiang Province, which is located on a plain within easy reach of cities such as Hangzhou, Jiaxing and Huzhou. The Shi River runs through the town from north to south, linking various tributaries, such as Jinniu pool,baima pool, ziyun pool and so on into a perfect water net in southern China which provides mode of production and living styles based upon water. Wuzhen town,nurtured in a long history.

Stone implement, palaeontologic remains, potteries and rice seeds have been excavated in the Tanjiawan site of eastern suburb of Wuzhen Town which manifest that ancestors of this place began to live here as early as 7,000 years ago. During AD860-874, it was a fortress of military importance. In the 12th century, the South Song Dynasty made Hangzhou(then called Lin'an) its capital, which brought to increasing important economic status owing to its geography environment and developed water system,hence Wuzhen Town became entrepot in Northern Zhejiang area.

The Ming Dynasty witnessed its prosperity as it was regarded as one of the five noted towns in South China. When the Qing Dynasty began to rule the country, Wuzhen, at its height of wealth with its developed agriculture and frequent commercial activities on a fairly large scale, became a magnificent trade centre.

Ever since its establishment of township approximately more than 1,000 years ago, Wuzhen Town has been largely depending on its rivers in developing handicrafts, promoting business, helping its farming. The history of paddy cultivation may trace back to more than 5,000 years ago. Silk was and still is its famous brand, while sun-cured tobaccos, lamb's hides, white chrysanthemums tea-leaf and pastry made by sisters-in-law competing with each other. Silk and satin, the products of the household craftsmanship, favoured by agricultural growth, promoted, in turn, the handicrafts industry worked as the principal economic part. Even during Ming and Qing Dynasties, there were already more than ten thousand households, as if it is a big city .It brought into play connecting function between countryside and city. Wuzhen Town is a model in its fair preservation of its river features and traditional buildings. Criss-cross rivers spread along the streets, roads and houses dotted eighteen bridges built during Ming to Qing Dynasty where a harmonious panorama, an epitome of water culture reflecting its specific features of architecture. Wuzhen is also a town where literator gathered together for common interests. Famous tombs, celebrated tutor's house, the 1,000 years old gingko, noble officials relic, the brave Aga Wu's death ,famous novelist(MaoDun's) former residence all reveal its significant past, while various fairs with local garments and dainties are to dazzle every visitor.

4. Xitang Town

Xitang is located in the north of Jiashan County, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province and at the juncture of the provinces and municipality of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. A village started to grow here during the Kaiyuan reign of the Tang Dynasty, and it developed into a town in the Song Dynasty. The long-standing South China waterfront landscapes are the rich natural landscape resources of Xitang, which has been boasting of numerous bridges, narrow lanes and canopy corridors since the ancient time. Covering an area of 24 hectares, there are continuous patches of traditional architecture clusters in the ancient town, with the floor space amounting to 110,000 square meters, accounting for 63% of the town's total floor space. It is rare in China that ancient buildings are of such a big scale and have been so well preserved. Buildings in the ancient town of Xitang are mainly from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The locals give special emphasis to pursue buildings on river banks, facing street in the front and backing on rivers at the rear. The dimension and scale of single buildings are not big, the layout seems to be random but delicate, the modelling is simple, neat and pithy, the color is light, elegant and pleasant, and the outline is mild and beautiful. Under the economic factors, buildings were constructed along the streets and rivers, forming a building style of integrating the functions of commerce, residence and production - front houses as shops and backyard houses as residence, lower houses as shops and higher houses as residence, and front houses as shops and backyard houses as workshops. Furthermore, the architectural styles vary a lot. Buildings, low and high and with black tiles and whitewashed walls, are distributed along the rivers, and are of high artistic, architectural and archaeological values. Such huge clusters of traditional buildings are divided into six sections by rivers of Xitang and are connected with numerous bridges. The households are connected with narrow lanes, naturally forming one of the striking features of this ancient town - narrow lanes. The town has a total of 122 lanes, narrow or wide, and long or short. In addition, because trading on waterways in ancient times was fairly convenient and developed, roofed corridors were erected along the rivers by the families, providing a shelter from sun and rain for merchants. This has become one of the major landscapes of Xitang - the long canopy corridor.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

As for the criterion (ii):

Economy in Zhouzhuang and Luzhi Town are the typical type of the water-based economy in waterfront towns south of the Yangtze River. Since its birth 900 years ago, both of them have been centers for handicraftsmen and a distributing center of goods from the rural parts of Suzhou, stimulating the growth of a water-based economy in the surrounding rural areas. As recorded in history, those areas, rich in fertile soil and water, abounded in rice; there were many families engaged in growing cotton, spinning, and weaving. Thread and cloth produced by them were shipped to many places in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Some town residents and rural families produced farm and fishing tools with bamboo or wood. The rivers, teeming with fishes, yielded a steady production all year round. As a result, an economic structure based on staple food, cotton textile, bamboo/wooden wares, and aquatic products came into being, which served as a link between town and countryside in the urbanization process of the latter.

Wuzhen and Xitang Town respectively, are both nestled in the Hangjiahu Plain, which is endowed with a fertile land, a mild climate and a diversity of farm produces. Both towns are aligned along the river, and have each hosted a well-developed agricultural economy. Besides, due to their unique geographical localities, they have both entered into intensive exchanges in commercial, cultural and trading terms frequently with other peripheral regions in the Jiangnan area, and become well-known for their prestigious handicraft industries and commercial undertakings. In reality, the two towns have jointly exercised a significant influence on the social and economic development in the north of Zhejiang Province.

As for the criterion (iv):

Known as a zeguo, or land abounding in rivers, Zhouzhuang had been attractive to many renowned figures in history. For instance, in the 3rd century, Zhang Han, a great writer who held a high office, missed the weever and water shield so much that he resigned and came to the town to lead a carefree life as an angler. In the 6th century, famous poet Liu Yuxi sojourned here, seeking inspiration for poems. In the 13th century, Shen Wansan and his son moved here from Nanxun, Zhejiang, built up a fortune with farming, and became the richest family south of the Yangtze River through trading with foreigners by water. In the 19th century, a scholar named Tao Xu wrote an important monograph on rural economy in feudal times, which has attracted attention from the international academic circles. The town was also the origin of Nanshe, a literary society that appeared in the 19th century. Today it retains 38 cultural sites and landscapes from different periods. It is rich in folk customs, such as drinking ‘apo tea', sixian xuanjuan (local ballad performance), rowing lantern boats, rowing fast boats, datiancai; local women's costume is characterized by headcloth, corset and embroidered shoes. It abounds in special local food, such as Wansan trotter, three-flavor ball, warmed lotus root, water shield and weever soup, and white clam soup.

Luzhi Town has kept a lot of ancient buildings, such as bridges, temples, residences of famous people, the memorial archways, ancient wells and so on. These buildings are either tall or short, forming a height contrast and constituting a very rich space pattern. In addition, Luzhi also preserved many traditional ancient houses in the Ming and Qing dynasties from 15th century to 19th century. These large-scale residential houses are in rational layout and appropriate dimension. Colors are elegant and decoration is delicate. Ordinary residences look light-weighted and concise. And the residential areas along the streets formed architectural forms of "lower houses for shops and upper houses for residence, front house for shops and rear houses for residence, and front houses for shops and rear houses for workshops.

"Wuzhen and Xitang Town both have a long history and an enviable indigenous culture. Nowadays, they have still preserved completely the layout and settings in the late Chinese Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China period. The ancient architectures during the Ming, Qing and the Republic of China period were mostly built along the river, forming delicate and unique layout and becoming the typical symbol of the architectural style in this area. They are an epitome of the architectural culture in Jiangnan area. Wuzhen and Xitang Town both have a long history and an enviable indigenous culture. Nowadays, they have still preserved completely the layout and settings in the late Chinese Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China period. The ancient architectures during the Ming, Qing and the Republic of China period were mostly built along the river, forming delicate and unique layout and becoming the typical symbol of the architectural style in this area. They are an epitome of the architectural culture in Jiangnan area. Wuzhen and Xitang has been a fruit of interaction of geographical, historical, social, cultural and customary factors within a certain number of years. Moreover, owing to their disparities in terms of geographical, humanistic and environmental attributes, the two towns bear different traits in ally and lane layout and architectural styles.

As for the criterion (v):

The waterfront areas in the south of yangtze River mainly refer to those areas to the south of Jiangsu Province and those to the north of Zhejiang Province, jointly to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. These areas are endowed with numerous natural resources and a diversity of farm produces, and have been better developed in economy. For thousands of years, there have formed a number of villages and towns in these areas, most of which have made full use of their God-given geographical conditions to plan out their alleys, lanes and streets along rivers and waterways, thus creating a unique architectural style. These four towns,, are deemed as typical representatives of the development in the waterfront cities and towns in Jiangnan area, as they visually and physically demonstrate a charming and peaceful living scenario featuring "bridges over water, households aligned along the banks". Such a unique layout in town planning honors the principle of harmonious interaction between the humankind and the nature, and emanates a strong sense of liveliness and dynamic livelihood. What's more, compared with other ancient waterfront towns in the Jiangnan area, which have been impacted heavily by the tide of industrialization and fast growth of rural economy, hence having lost their original architectural and cultural landscapes, the four towns, have been better preserved in a timely manner and thus still appear as charming as they used to be, showing their uniqueness in town layout, architectural style, environmental landscapes, and traditional lifestyle.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

1. Zhouzhuang Town

In terms of appearance, Zhouzhuang town has a special geographic environment characterized by surrounding and interconnected rivers and lakes. As a result, its layout is based on water, with rivers serving as roads, streets connected with bridges, forming the unique landscape of ‘little bridge, flowing water, and dwelling houses'. The major materials used for structures in the town are black bricks, butterfly tiles, stone, and wood. Many beautifully arranged structures, with white walls and black tiles, stand on riverbanks, such as piers, steps on wharfs, stone bridges, stone rails, canopy corridors, halls, galleries, and pavilions. Traditional structures, such as stone-paved streets and black-stone lanes, have been well preserved and kept their authenticity.

Since its founding in 1086, the town has remained unchanged in terms of its name, location, river-and-lake system, traditional structures, traditional customs, and the lifestyle of the residents. Its protection is important for preserving the integrity, diversity, and uniqueness of the waterfront culture in the south of the Yangtze River. It provides important data for research into the development of local cultures.

2. Luzhi Town

Archaeological discoveries and documentary in Luzhi Town: In 2003, large-scale village site dating back to 5,500 years ago have been found in Chenghu Lake, Luzhi. In 1977, stone tools, potteries and jade wares of Liangchu Culture in Neolithic Age 5000 years ago have been found in Zhanglingshan Mountain. In the late 9th century, Lu Guimeng, a poet of late Tang Dynasty led a monastic life in Luzhi (called Puli at the then time), and his poems of that time have been kept. After the 14th century, Ni Zan, painter of the Yuan Dynasty, Gao Qi, Wang Shizhen, Gui Youguang, poets of the Ming Dynasty, Wen Zhengming and Dong Qichang, painters of the Ming Dynasty visited here, writing poems and drawing pictures. In documentaries such as Puli, Wu County Records edited in the 18th and the 19th centuries have recordation about Luzhi.

Historical relics of Luzhi Town: Ancient sites and cultural heritages in Luzhi include: Baosheng Temple built in the early 6th century in the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Yang Huizhi's Arhat wall of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century; Lu Guimeng Tomb, Ducking Fight Pond, Fengyang Bridge and Guangji Bridge of the Tang Dynasty in 9th century;  Zhongmei Bridge of the Song Dynasty in 11th century; Dongmei Bridge of the Ming Dynasty in 15th century; Jinyang Bridge of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century; former residences of Shen Bohan and the Xiaos respectively, Wan'an Bridge, Jin'an Bridge, Sanyuan Bridge and Datong Bridge, as well as other ancient architectures.

3. Wuzhen Town

From the 10th century to now, chorographical books of various regions, and works by personages in different dynasties, as well as currently available poems, stone inscriptions and epitaphs have all borne written records with regard to Wuzhen. Since its founding in 872, Wuzhen has never been renamed, nor have its locality, water system and lifestyle. The traditional architectures in Wuzhen, which have witnessed vicissitudes for thousands of years, still appear exactly the same as they were in the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China, characterized by a scenario of "bridges over water, households aligned along the banks".

4. Xitang Town

Up to date, Xitang has hosted a large number of traditional architecture clusters, the building area totalling 110,000 square meters, constituting 63% of Xitang's total building area. What's more, those architectures of the Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republic of China, have inherited and preserved dissimilar traits. For instance, the road & water system, ally and lane layout, architectural style, building materials and techniques have all appear exactly the same as their original state, showing little hints of alternation or modification in modern times, thus possess great historical authenticity. People living here are still adhering to their traditional way of living, featuring "starting to work when the sun rises, and getting back home when the sun sets", which has passed down for centuries. To be specific, over 7,000 persons are now living within an area of 1.01 square kilometres. Therefore, this town is reputed as a "living ancient town with a history of over 1,000 years".

Comparison with other similar properties

Unlike Pingyao and Lijiang, two ancient towns that have been listed in the World Heritage List, The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River are dwelling place that is half urban and half rural. Its growth was driven by primitive economic activities. By making use of the Canal, ancient residents created a lifestyle centering on water, also a lifestyle that has been well preserved and inherited. That lifestyle, which embodies the diligence and wisdom of the ancient residents, is of great significance in the history of mankind.

The properties are located in the Yangtze Delta in the China. Numerous lakes and countless rivers constitute a unique natural landscape. During the Southern Song Dynasty from the 12th century to the 13th century, a great many towns along rivers in Suzhou and Zhejiang came into existence. From the 14th to the 19th century during the Ming and the Qing dynasties, there appeared countless waterfront towns.

Comparison with Venice, the Western Venice city on water

With a European flavor, Venice is a waterfront city composed of small islands in the Adriatic Sea. And ancient waterfront towns in Suzhou and Zhejiang have preserved the ancient water village appearance and ancient residences with Chinese characteristics.

Comparison with ancient cities as Pingyao and Lijiang, and ancient villages in southern Anhui Province in China

Pingyao, Lijiang and ancient villages in southern Anhui Province which have been inscribed in the World Heritage List are small in size and located in the remote and underdeveloped regions, and are therefore easier to preserve. The ancient waterfront town in Jiangsu and Zhejiang are ones of the big towns in the Yangtze Delta area where the economy is fairly developed. In this area, there is the Taihu Lake in the west, the ocean in the east, the Yangtze River in the north, and the Grand Canal running through the region from the north to the south. Transport has been convenient since ancient times, material and cultural exchanges with other parts of the country or the world are also convenient, therefore, the region is at an open and leading position in terms of economy and culture development. Through years of protection and development, these four ancient towns are still maintaining the original style and historical and cultural tradition as a waterfront town.

Comparison with other ancient waterfront towns in the south of the Yangtze River

These four ancient waterfront towns have been among the six famous ancient towns in the south of Yangtze River. These ancient waterfront towns in Jiangsu and Zhejiang have traditional flesh-and-blood ties with each other. The smooth transport of ancient water ways among the towns and other ancient waterfront towns form a regional unity, which has well preserved the historical information and the nature of the town.