Zhoucun made its fortune from silk trade, being the northeast end of the Silk Road. And with fabric, you need dyes. Therefore the dye houses flourished here as well.
Zhoucun in Zibo, Shandong is the northeastern end of the ancient Silk Road. Silk trading can be traced back to the Han dynasty and there are archaeological evidence here that traced back to the Song dynasty.
Many of the buildings in Zhoucun have been repurposed for other uses, like this museum for dough figurines. It was originally an embroidery workshop, where delicate diagrams were embroidered onto silk.
This is still a living and breathing township, where locals thrive alongside the tourism trade. Many make a living of selling things to the passing tourists. And some have not really moved along with the tides of history. Like this toy shop with plastic moulded toys from my childhood can still be found on sale here. I guess children not matter when they are born have tremendous amount of imagination that you don’t need computer or mobile phone games to simulate.
Unlike many other ancient tourist streets and towns around China, many of the buildings in Zhoucun have remained in their original condition. This gives a level of authenticity to this ancient town.
However foreign cultures have also found their way into the place, like this African drums and dolls shop. It was closed when I was walking around in the evening, but I am sure when it is open in the morning, the goods it offers must be really eclectic for the place.
But what is really beautiful are the murals on the walls. They are decorated with paintings in the style of Chinese brush watercolours depicting the mountains, the flora and fauna.
Although most of the commerce were closed (I was there at 7pm in a cold winter night), you can still see the town folks retiring back to their homes and resting.
Commerce of Zhoucun
Zhoucun has been a place of commerce for centuries, earning it the reputation of a “waterless dock” 旱码头 for the amount of goods being sold and transported from this Silk Street 丝街.
Zhoucun is not famous for its wine industry, but with commerce, wine and dine became the favourite pastime of the wealthy and powerful here.
Li Huaxi 李化熙 (1594-1669) was originally a scholar in the 7th year of Chongzhen (1643) in the Ming Dynasty, and an official who went on to become the governor of Sichuan. Later, he became an official in the Qing Dynasty and went to become the minister of the Ministry of Criminal Justice. In the 11th year of Shunzhi (1654) in the Qing Dynasty, he resigned from his post and returned to his hometown, Zhoucun. In order to develop the economy of Zhoucun, he bore all the municipal taxes and erected the 今日无税碑 “No Tax Today” Plaque in the north of the street, making Zhoucun a first “tax free” zone in China.
This is a very unique museum. 票证博物馆 Coupons and Certificates Museum displays the ration coupons used during the early years of the founding of the PRC, where many commodities were of limited supplies and everything had to be rationed.
Besides coupons, many Nationalist period and older certificates of commerce, marriage, etc are also on display.
In the 30th year of Qing Guangxu (1904), after Zhoucun was turned into a commercial hub, the level of trade in the town expanded. From as close as Qingdao and Jinan, to as far as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Guangzhou, there had been frequent trading between these cities through Zhoucun. This was the heyday of the town. Hence many banks were found along Silver Street. One of them has been converted to a money museum.
Zhoucun was an important silk trading hub since the Shang Dynasty (1600-1044 BC). In its 2,000-year history, it has the same status as Suzhou and Hangzhou in terms of silk trading the and one of the starting point of the Silk Road. Zhoucun’s silk products have won the love of consumers with their generous flowers, bright colors and bold designs.
Located in the southern section of Silver Street, it is the former site of Donglaisheng Silk House 东来升布庄, founded during the Qing Daoguang (1821-1850) period. The premise was used for the TV series “The Dye House” 大染坊. The dyeing workshop recreated for the filming is still intact. The buildings are nearly 200 years old and have been preserved very well. At present, there are only one and a half courtyards preserved, and the other courtyards are demolished during the renovation of the old city.
From the Dye Houses, you will come to the southern end of Zhoucun.
On the southern entrance of Zhoucun is a Qing dynasty temple.
Kuixing Pavilion 魁星阁 was built in 2nd year of reign of Emperor Xianfeng 咸丰二年 (1852) and is the best preserved buildings of worship in Zhoucun. It consisted of a God of Bixia temple 碧霞元君殿, Guanyin temple 观音殿 and Kuixing Tower 魁星楼.
Kuixing 魁星 is the god in ancient Chinese myths and legends that is in-charged of the fortunes of the scholars. Kuixing originally refers to the first star of the Big Dipper 北斗七星 in ancient Chinese astronomy, and later also refers to the first four stars of the Big Dipper – Tianshu 天枢, Tianxuan 天璇, Tianji 天玑 and Tianquan 天权. These stars represents the gods who dominate the rise and fall of the literati. Every Confucian temple also has a Kuixing Tower.
In the next instalment, we will take a lot as a snack food from Zhoucun, the Zhoucun Pancake 周村烧饼.
Zhoucun Series 周村特辑
- #1 Northeast End of Silk Road 丝绸之路东北端
- #2 Dye Houses 大染坊
- #3 Zhoucun Pancake 周村烧饼
- #4 Zhoucun Pancake Museum 周村烧饼博物馆
Date visited : Dec 2021