Central China Travel Guide
Despite the proliferation of new buildings, this canal town has retained its charm, with its narrow streets, arched bridges, and whitewashed houses. Ancient Shaoxing was the capital of the Yue kingdom during 770–221 BC. It remained important over the years even when Hangzhou became the Song capital. Today, it is a scenic place to explore for its waterways.
The Qing Teng Shu Wu (Green Vine Study), former home of the 16th-century writer and artist Xu Wei, lies off Dacheng Long, an alley not far from Jiefang Nan Road. Regarded as the best example of traditional domestic architecture in China, the house has a simple ornamental garden, while one of its rooms displays Xu’s expressive art.
There are also several houses associated with Lu Xun, perhaps the best known modern Chinese writer, born here in 1881. Most of them are clustered together on Lu Xun Road. The Lu Xun Memorial Hall has no English captions, but Lu Xun’s Former Residence is a fine example of domestic architecture, with photographs, furniture, and personal items. Opposite is Sanwei Sushi, the school where he studied.
Shaoxing’s most famous bridge, the 13th-century Bazi Qiao, resembles the Chinese character for number 8, and lies in a charming area of old streets off Baziqiao Zhi Jie, north of Lu Xun Lu.
The town makes a good base for several excursions. The scenic Dong Hu (East Lake) is nearby. Visitors can also take a boat to Yu Ling, allegedly the tomb of Yu the Great, founder of the Xia kingdom (2200 BC). Farther out is Lan Ting (Orchid Pavilion), where China’s greatest calligrapher, Wang Xizhi (AD 321–79), threw a party where, so one story goes, guests had to drink cups of wine as they floated past and compose a poem, recorded by the host.
Qing Teng Shu Wu
- Houguan Xiang
Lu Xun’s Former Residence
- 429 Lu Xun Zhong Rd.
around Tianye Ge, Ningbo
- 90 miles (145 km) SE of Hangzhou
- 61 Dashani Jie, 0574 8731 0467
China’s greatest port between the Song and Ming eras, Ningbo is located upstream from the coast on the Yong River. It was later eclipsed by Shanghai, but has recently regained some importance due to its deep natural harbor. The town has had a long association with commerce. When Shanghai and Guangzhou prospered in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Ningbo’s residents were employed as “compradors,” agents or mediators by the foreign companies.
Ningbo’s main sight is the Tianye Ge, a 16th-century private library, the oldest in China. It resembles a traditional garden with bamboo groves, rockeries, and pavilions, one of which exhibits ancient books and scrolls. To the southeast off Kaiming Jie, is the 14th-century Tianfeng Pagoda. The former foreign concession lies at the northern end of Xinjiang Bridge, with a 17th-century Portuguese church and a riverside Bund with bars and restaurants. Outside the city, Baoguo Si temple’s Mahavira Hall is the oldest surviving wooden building in the Yangzi delta region.
Nestled amongst numerous islands in the Zhou Shan archipelago, Putuo Shan is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains, having strong associations with the goddess of compassion and mercy, Guanyin. It has been considered holy since the 10th century, and although the temples suffered greatly at the hands of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, they are still impressive and full of fascination. A small, attractive island, fringed with bright blue waters and sandy beaches, Putuo Shan has become a very popular place of pilgrimage. Minibuses ply the roads between the major temples and sights, but the island’s hills, caves and beaches are best explored on foot.
- 50 miles (80 km) east of Ningbo, off coast of Zhejiang
- at Zhou Shan
- from Shanghai (fast ferry: 4 hrs; slow ferry: 14 hrs), Ningbo (fast ferry: 2.5 hrs; slow ferry: 5 hrs), and Zhou Shan (half hour)
- for island access, plus minimal fees for separate sights
- Guanyin Festival (early Apr)
Close to the top of Foding Shan, Huiji Temple, dating back to 1793, stands resplendent amid tea bushes and bamboo groves.
Qian Bu Sha
The loveliest of Putuo Shan’s beaches, Qian Bu Sha (Thousand Step Beach) stretches along the eastern coast and is separated from Bai Bu Sha (Hundred Step Beach) by a headland and cave, Chaoyang Dong, concealing a teahouse.
The 200 halls of this charming temple pile up against the flank of a hill overlooking the sea. The Dayuan Hall, unusual for its domed roof and beamless arched ceiling, was brought here from Nanjing in the late 17th century.
At the southern tip of the island a massive 108-ft (33-m) statue of Guanyin stands near the shore. A pavilion at its base exhibits a collection of some 400 statues representing the goddess in her numerous incarnations.
Surrounded by beautiful camphor trees, this extensive temple is located at the island’s tourist center. The first temple was built here in the 11th century, although the current temple is far newer.
To the summit
A cable car links a minibus stop with the summit of Foding Shan from where there are wonderful views across the island and out to sea.
- Guanyin Colossus
- Puji Si
- Fayu Si
The Legend of Hui’e
Hui’e, a Japanese monk who had purloined a Guanyin figure from the holy Buddhist mountain Wutai Shan, was sailing home when his ship was caught in a violent storm. Fearing for his life, he vowed to build a temple to Guanyin if he were saved. The seas suddenly calmed, and the ship floated gently towards the nearby shores of Putuo Shan. Believing that Guanyin was choosing the island, Hui’e built the promised temple and became a devoted hermit spending the rest of his life on Putuo Shan.
at the foot of Tiantai Shan
The heavenly terrace Mountain – Tiantai Shan – is the seat of the Tiantai Buddhist sect, which also has strong links with Daoism. A pilgrimage site since the Eastern Jin, today it is especially popular with Japanese Buddhists, who regard China as the Buddhist motherland. The sect’s founder, the monk Zhiyi, spent most of his life on the mountain, where the imperial court helped him to construct a temple. This wonderfully scenic spot, with its paths, streams, and woodlands, is ideal for walking. Several famous plants such as huading cloud, mist tea, the Tiantai mandarin orange, as well as a variety of medicinal plants, were discovered here.
The first of Tiantai Shan’s monasteries, Guoqing Si, lies at its foot, 2 miles (3 km) from Tiantai village. From here, a road leads to the 3,609 ft (1,100 m) Huading Peak. Visitors can then walk to Baijingtai Si (Prayer Terrace Temple) on the summit or to Shiliang (Stone Beam) Waterfall, near the Upper Fangguang Monastery, where there are a number of inscriptions, including one by the famous Song artist, Mi Fu. The Zhenjue Si (Monastery of True Enlightenment) houses Zhiyi’s mummified body in a pagoda in its main hall.
- 50 miles (80 km) NE of Wenzhou
- from Wenzhou to terminus at Baixi
This is a beautiful area of sheer hills, luxuriant slopes, and monasteries. Its highest peak, Baigang Shan reaches 3,773 ft (1,150 m). The Big Dragon Pool Falls (Dalongqiu Pubu) cascade 623 ft (190 m), making them one of China’s highest. The path leading to them weaves among towering columns of rock, where, on the hour, a cyclist performs a high-wire act. The largest area is Divine Peaks (Ling Feng), excellent for hiking among caves and strangely shaped peaks. The Divine Cliffs area (Ling Yan), reached by cable car, has walkways and a suspension bridge. From the bus terminus at Baixi, there are several walking trails.
Big Dragon Pool Falls
- 124 miles (200 km) S of Ningbo
- 107–1 Xiaonan Rd, 0577 8825 3137
Located on the southeast coast of Zhejiang province, Wenzhou has always been a seafaring city. It is still a busy port and its booming economy is mainly due to heavy investment in manufacturing and textiles by overseas Chinese. A good base for visiting nearby Yandang Shan, the city also offers a few sights of its own. The most popular, Jiangxin Park, is situated on an island in the Ou River and can easily be reached by the regular ferry service from Maxingseng Jie. Completely devoid of traffic, the park’s pretty gardens, pavilions, pagodas, and footbridges make it a pleasant place to spend a few hours. It also has a working lighthouse. Stretching between Jiefang Road and Xinhe Road to the south of the Ou River is what is left of the old town. Here and there are a few particular buildings of interest such as the 18th-century British-built Protestant church, the 19th-century Catholic church, and the Miaoguo Temple, whose origins are Tang-dynasty.
- Jiangxin Dao
- from Jiangxin Matou, Wenzhou
- 7:30am–10pm daily