Xin (pronounced shin) means ‘new’ and Chang means ‘town’ but this ancient settlement dates back to 1363. Located on what were once the salt fields of the Yangtze River delta this was a thriving town for centuries as salt was once as valuable as gold.
Now it has been turned into a tourist attraction with government backing to provide an out of town venue for artisans and craftsmen to practice their trades among the picturesque narrow lanes that line the canals. It was a 40 minute drive from where we live.
The day was grey and damp but that didn’t deter us and it had the benefit of keeping away the crowds.
At the entrance to the old part of Xinchang stands an impressive arch. These arches were usually donated to the town by inhabitants who had gone on to become successful. The inscriptions here tell of two sons who had passed the exceedingly competitive university entrance exams (tests which lasted for 3 days) and who had gone on to become politicians.
Inside the gate were shops selling all manner of goods that we had never heard of.
I wasn’t so keen on the whole flattened pig’s head though!
We tried a local delicacy of what was essentially shredded radish in a sort of fritter batter. Sounds weird but it was really good.
The preserved wooden screen in the picture below is fairly unique because very few of them have survived (being wood). This was the frontage of what was originally a pickle shop
The original carvings were defaced during the cultural revolution (reminiscent of the Reformation) but are gradually being restored to their former glory.
Next stop was another food outlet, this time for a hot round thing filled with red bean paste and coated with caramelized sugar. on a cold damp February day this was heavenly! It’s called a Begonia cake.
One of the iconic crafts in China is that of paper cutting. We visited the shop of a talented lady who had been taught by her grandmother. Finding herself alone in Shanghai and having had her wallet stolen she used the small change in her pocket to buy some scissors and a few pieces of paper. She did some cutting and tried to sell them on the streets hoping to make enough money to get back to her lodging. A tourist approached her and mistook her 5 quai for 500 and she thereby learned the value of her art.
Then it was our turn to try our hand at paper cutting.
Now for the tricky one…
Then for an excellent lunch at a family owned business. Our food was being prepared by the grandmother on the steps outside!
Next stop the hand made lanterns. Bunnies are popular at the Lantern festival (which was actually yesterday, the 15th day of chines e new year) as the lady in the moon is said to have had a pet rabbit.
The streets were full of atmosphere and we would stumble across beautiful doorways.
I particularly like seeing the faces of the locals selling their wares.
Then it was on to the tea pot maker. He was another master craftsmen who operated his business from his apartment making teapots which were not only original and creative designs but also fully functional.
We thoroughly enjoyed the rich cultural experiences and the chance to play with clay and cut paper in such a lovely setting.