Though not a well-known destination in China, Yangzhou has charms worthy of seeking.
Situated at the northern bank of the mighty Yangzte River, Yangzhou grew to attention during the Sui Dynasty, under Emperor Yangdi. It was named the southern capital of China – Jiangdu – until the completion of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal – one of the largest man-made canals in the world.
Like many great cities throughout history, Yangzhou underwent a succession of ruling parties, from the Wu Kingdom to the Qing Dynasty. What has remained consistent is this city fostered foreign trade, development and cultural exchange through the ages. The discovery of Katarina Vilioni’s tomb dated 1342, suggests a thriving Italian community existed in the city. Vilioni was the daughter of an Italian merchant, her father likely involved in the silk industry.
Two hours from Wuxi by bus, my university took us for a weekend excursion, where I captured some photographs.
Ge Garden is a human devised oasis, built by Huang Zhiyun in 1818 during the Qing Dynasty. A rich salt merchant, Zhiyun admired bamboo for all it symbolizes – uprightness, longevity and good luck. The Chinese characters for bamboo leaves resemble the world ‘ge’, thus Ge Garden was baptized.
The garden is a veritable wonderland of serene pools among a canopy of trees and clusters of bamboo.
The garden was also enjoyed by Huang Zhiyun’s four sons. He had seasonal themes built in different areas of the garden, like fall:
As one explores further, pagodas are dotted all around, as places to turn to for reverie, relaxation or snapping photographs.
Huang Zhiyun instilled the importance of education in his sons, encouraging them to be indoors as well as outdoors to exercise the mind.
The rich woods, warm lighting and enclosed gardens can turn the most violent thoughts into a sea of calm.
Though I was enchanted, many of my colleagues said once you’ve seen a few Chinese gardens, they all tend to look similar. What we find exotic can be commonplace to the local.
Slender West Lake is a man-made lake surrounded by a whopping 24 attractions – White Pagoda, 24 Bridge, among others. Worth a full day’s attention.
The lake itself is called ‘slender’ in homage to slim, beautiful girls. The water supports more than beauty though, transporting tourist gawkers back and forth.
In my estimation, China is bursting with recreation in tune to the ancient – that maze of re-inventing the old. Yet, at times, fresh paint leaves one yearning for rubble, instead of sheen.
Sometimes though, wonders do grab hold. 5 Pavilion Bridge, for instance.
Marco Polo alluded to spending time in Yangzhou, likely under the command of the Mongol Emperor Kubilai Khan. A major trade center for salt, rice and silk – it’s probably more true that Polo was working in the salt industry, though no texts exist to confirm this.
The White Pagoda stands in Beijing’s Beihai Park and during the Qing Dynasty the emperor demanded a recreation be built. Legend says it was built from salt.
A visit to Yangzhou is not complete without an excursion to Daming Temple, famed for Monk Jianzhen, a monk who became the superior of the temple and traveled to Japan to spread Buddhism. He failed to cross several times until he was successful and welcomed with open arms by the Japanese people. He spent his final years in Japan.
The front entrance of many Chinese temples usually has an array of Buddhist deities on hand and Daming is no different.
In places of worship it’s easy to miss small details.
Or gaze above to the heavens.
In between all this sight-seeing, don’t assume I was starved. I got to sample some local cuisine. Yangzhou is famous for its fried rice.
I discovered more vegetarian delights – pickled celery anyone?
Though I call myself vegetarian, I am technically a pescetarian, so breaded fish with chillies landed in my mouth.
The university was generous with my accommodations. I slept like a princess over a weekend:
Not to mention having the perfect lounging chair.
I’m told hotels of this nature is a fairly new concept in Yangzhou, perhaps I’m lucky to sample this city right now?
Before you skip to hotspots like Beijing, Guilin, X’ian or Shanghai, pick an unknown place and see what you discover. You might be surprised.