Salt of the Earth
Experience a more cultured way of life in Yangzhou.
In the old times, many merchants in Yangzhou made a fortune from the salt trade and, with their new wealth, built large homes complete with traditional southern-style gardens.
An old saying in Yangzhou roughly translates as “in the morning, you pour water onto your skin and in the evening you soak your skin in water.” For the cultured Yangzhou citizens of old, this means starting the day in a teahouse and ending it in a bathhouse. Guests staying at Shangri-La Hotel, Yangzhou can experience Yangzhou’s age-old tradition right here at the hotel, but there is a lot more to explore in this 2,500-year-old city which has served as capital to a number of kingdoms.
The key to Yangzhou’s former prosperity was its location near the juncture of the Grand Canal that travelled between Beijing and Hangzhou. Merchants gained control over sea salt produced from the marshes in northern Jiangsu and used Yangzhou as the distribution hub for seven nearby provinces. As a monopolised commodity subject to government taxation, salt made Yangzhou a wealthy city. The affluent merchants used the money to indulge in the arts, a legacy that can still be seen today.
Just opposite Shangri-La Hotel, Yangzhou, the Culture and Arts Centre, containing both the Yangzhou Museum and the China Block Printing Museum, offers a good introduction to the city. During the mid-Tang Dynasty period, Yangzhou was one of the six major centres of block printing in China. This, along with its position on arterial communication routes, ensured the city’s cultural importance.
Slender West Lake is one of Yangzhou’s biggest draws. Combining southern elegance with northern scale, the “lake” is actually a river running on the outskirts of the city and was a favoured spot of Emperor Qianlong, who was entertained here by the salt merchants. The Five Pavilion Bridge, dating back to 1757, is an iconic landmark of Yangzhou. It is also one of the best places to view wild Chinese viburnum (Qiong flower), allegedly indigenous to the region. Together with ginkgo tress and weeping willows that lined the riverbanks, they make up the three floral symbols of Yangzhou.
In the old times, many merchants in Yangzhou made a fortune from the salt trade and, with their new wealth, built large homes complete with traditional southern-style gardens. Ge Garden is the best known and is ranked as one of the four famous gardens in China. Commissioned by the Huang family, the garden’s current form dates back to 1818 and made use of bamboo, rocks and bodies of water to create the scenery of the four seasons. Adjoining Dongguan Street, the residential part of the complex is divided into three parts that could be used separately.
The former residence of another salt merchant, Lu Shaoxu, consists of more than 130 rooms and was the largest salt merchant’s house built in 1897. Today, it is an upscale restaurant serving local fare. Nearby is the He Garden, which is as much about the buildings as the gardens themselves. The residence contains a second-floor open corridor connecting the various buildings and stretching for more than a thousand metres, allowing for appreciating the garden in all weather.
Much of the old city in Yangzhou remains. Dongmen is the gateway where, in the past, merchants would have entered the city from the Grand Canal. In front of the gate stands a statue of Marco Polo mounted on a horse. Supposedly, the Venetian traveller served as a government official in the city under Emperor Kublai Khan. Dongguan Street beyond Dongmen is home to many old-style buildings and owes its origin to Yuan Dynasty, almost 1,200 years ago. Today, it is a good place to stock up on souvenirs and try some traditional food. Those who are keen to steer clear of the tourist tack can venture to Pishi Street, where the Yangzhou Church Incident took place. In 1864, locals drove away British missionaries following rumours that they were stealing babies and killing them to make medicine.
The Three Knives
Yangzhou is famed for its “three knives” – the first one belongs in the kitchen. Huaiyang cuisine is one of the four grand styles in China and the yang in its name comes from Yangzhou. Shangri-La Hotel, Yangzhou’s Shang Palace is a great place to sample good-quality renditions of the famous dishes, such as the delicate lion’s head meatball and wensi tofu. Traditionally, Yangzhou locals start their day in the teahouses, eating baozi (steamed stuffed buns) for breakfast. To get a taste of authentic local life, Yechun Teahouse has been a Yangzhou staple for 200 years and is a good lunch spot when exploring the city centre.
The second and the third knives of Yangzhou are for haircuts and, surprisingly, pedicures. While haircuts may no longer be so renowned in Yangzhou, the culture of the final knife is still alive and well. Yangzhou, in addition to being a centre for culture and arts, has developed a sophisticated bathing scene. Today, this is most seen with foot massage and pedicure. For many locals, the ideal way to end the day is to soak your feet in a hot bowl of water and let the masseuse get to work. After a day’s exploring, you may well agree.
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ah, might hardly take a long vacation this year..., wanna go so far away from home!!