LOCATED between Shanghai and Hangzhou, Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province is a third-tier city. Though less well-known than its neighbors, it has been called one of China’s top 20 cities for retirees, due to its slower pace of life and low living costs.
Jiaxing’s history dates back 7,000 years when the ancient Majiabang Culture originated there. Being a strategically vital city that faces the Qiantang River in the south and Taihu Lake in the north, armies fought for control of Jiaxing through the dynasties.
The city is crisscrossed by rivers and classic water town scenery, typified by its renowned Wuzhen Town and Xitang Town. A significant river port in the Yangtze Delta, the Grand Canal also runs through Jiaxing.
Jiaxing stands out from some other Yangtze Delta cities due to its distinctive scenic spots, specialties and rich folklore.
Shanghai Daily took a 72-hour trip to Jiaxing, covering many scenic spots and sampling its local dishes.
South Lake is to Jiaxing locals what West Lake is to Hangzhou natives. Although South Lake is smaller than West Lake, it occupies a major place in China’s history as the Chinese Communist Party was founded on a boat on South Lake in 1921. The lake is considered a revolutionary spot and groups of Party members go there every year to commemorate the Party’s establishment.
South Lake is renown as a scenic area goes back to ancient times when it appeared in poems. Huxin Island in the center of the lake was created from piled up sediment dredged from the lake during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Traditional Chinese architecture has been erected on the island, forming a classical garden characterized by bonsai, stones and buildings with ornate carvings and patterns.
Most cities have their own specialties, and Jiaxing zongzi — glutinous rice dumpling — is a must-try for tourists.
The popularity of Jiaxing zongzi is partly down to its long history of agriculture. Since the Han (206BC–AD220) dynasty, Jiaxing has been dubbed “the granary of the south Yangtze River” because cereal produced around the city could almost meet the demand of the whole area.
Another factor is that Jiaxing boasts a rich Dragon Boat Festival culture, and one of the festival’s customs is eating zongzi to commemorate the great statesman Qu Yuan (340BC-278BC).
Unlike other Chinese people who only eat zongzi on that festival, many Jiaxing locals take zongzi as a daily snack.
The oldest and most renowned brand offering authentic Jiaxingzongzi is the time-honored Wu Fang Zhai. Its zongzi fillings vary from duck and pork to sesame sauce and chestnut. Today, its products dominate the zongzi market in the Yangtze Delta.
At the south entrance to the South Lake there is a Wu Fang Zhai branch store where fresh-made zongzi can be sampled.
Ten years ago, the local government rejuvenated an old residential area at the west side of South Lake and turned it into present-day Meiwan Street. Now, the area is a fusion of Chinese traditional architecture and modern commerce. Boutiques, fashion brands and restaurants line the street which has become a hipster hangout.
In addition, the road also has the former homes of several renowned figures. Among them is the former home of Zhu Shenghao, China’s first translator of Shakespeare.
Like Hangzhou cuisine, Jiaxing dishes are typically defined by fresh ingredients and mild flavors. Jiaxing natives name local food chuancai— which means “delicacy cooked on a boat.” The South Lake Chuancai Restaurant offers authentic Jiaxing cuisine to round off the first day.
The second day starts with a tour of Yuehe Street, named after the river it built along. Being a tributary of the Grand Canal, the Yue River — Moon River — got its name from its crescent moon shape.
More traditional than Meiwan Sreet, Chinese buildings with stores selling folk crafts, ink paintings and tea create a historic ambience along Yuehe Street.
Wandering along the street feels a bit like getting in a time machine and going back to ancient times.
Jiaxing boasts a couple of local catering brands, including Hangzhou’s popular Green Tea and Grandma’s Kitchen. Zou Da Xian Restaurant on Yuehe Street attracts both local foodies and tourists. It serves traditional Jiaxing cuisine at reasonable price.
Xiangjiadang has been getting more and more exposure in recent years. This scenic resort is a combination of water town scenery, idyllic lake views, farm sightseeing and entertainment activities.
It covers an area of 718 hectares and is divided into 14 function areas, including a fishing port, motel and fairground.
Xiangjiadang is also a popular barbecue spot among Jiaxing natives. Barbecue fans need to bring their own food, but can rent tables, chairs and cooking utensils on the site.
So why not take a tour around Xiangjiadang, then have a relaxing BBQ after sightseeing?
Jiaxing has five subordinate counties with their own characteristics and tourist attractions. These include Nanbei Lake in Haiyan County.
Said by tourism authorities to be the “only scenic site in the country that has hills, the sea and a lake,” Nanbei Lake covers 45 square kilometers north of Hangzhou Bay.
Yingke Spot is the best location to see the sun and moon in one place at the same time — at sunset on the first day of the 10th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Meanwhile, Baiyun Pavilion is the ideal location for views of the lake, as well as the sea.
In spring, visitors can dig bamboo shoots and in autumn they can pick orange in orchards. In winter, hiking or cycling around the lake are perfect choices. Nanbei Lake is surrounded by family-run guesthouses that serve local delicacies, including fish and shrimps from the lake and abalone from the sea, as well as chicken and lamb.
In addition to Nanbei Lake, Haiyan County boasts another scenic spot, Qi Garden. Known as one of top 10 beautiful Chinese gardens, Qi Garden resembles Suzhou’s noted Zhuozheng Garden.
The garden is nearly 10,000 square meters, with greenery covering 70 percent of this area. It was created during the Qing Dynasty and enlarged gradually over time.
Featuring zigzag stone bridges, ivy-covered arches, lofty trees, black-roofed and white-walled buildings, odd-shaped stones and ponds, Qi Garden embodies classical Jiangnan — south Yangtze River — garden style.
Haiyan has a 100-year history of pickling turnips and today the pickles are still closely associated with the area. Since they go well with congee and mild soup, locals use them as a common ingredient in cooking.
They can be bought for low prices at roadside stores and supermarkets, ending our trip to Jiaxing on a tangy note!