A young lady carries an oil-paper umbrella to shelters herself from the rain. She crosses the ancient stone bridge and continues walking as the sounds of jingling bells and wafts of intoxicating shaoxing wine lead her to a street hawker selling delicious Jiangnan cuisine. This is the rustic charm of Jiangnan.
Jiangnan which means “south of the river” is an area dotted with numerous water towns. In ancient times when waterways were the main means of transportation, the canals in Jiangnan provided these water towns with ample business opportunities. Needless to say, Jiangnan has been closely associated with prosperity since the Sui dynasty. Besides its wealth, Jiangnan has always been known as a living paradise and the affection that historians have for this Venice of the East is seen in the numerous poems and paintings depicting her beauty.
Let us see with our mind’s eye: multiple narrow rivers winding through a small town of delicately carved stone bridges, creeks with fishing arches and tranquil streets paved with stone slabs. A uniform row of two-storey dwellings with white walls and black tiles line the banks of the rivers, and some houses have steps stretching out to the water. Boats with black awnings cruise along the main waterway as white smoke spirals upwards. On a horizon, mountain peaks play hide-and-seek behind clouds that mists conceal.
In his old age, renowned Chinese poet Bai Ju Yi composed a poem reminiscing about the beauty of Jiangnan,
“Jiangnan is wonderful; her scenery is still so familiar and dear.
At sunrise, the flowers by the river are breathtaking,
In spring, the rivers are as clear like sapphires.
How could one forget Jiangnan!”