A picturesque water town, Fengjing (Fēngjīng, 枫泾) sits on the very southwestern cusp of Shanghai’s massive urban sprawl. It is only 60 km (37 mi) from the city center but feels like a whole world away, with its graceful stone bridges and greenery that creeps out from the cracks in their ancient joints. Like other water town favorites Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajao and Tongli, Fengjing is full of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses backing on to the water, but unlike the others, it is not quite as packed with tour groups and maintains a more relaxed and local vibe.
Fengjing’s history dates back 1,500 years when it began life as a Country Fair before graduating to full town status during the Yuan Dynasty, under the name of Bainiu (Báiniú, 白牛), or “White Buffalo.” The name was changed to Fengjing during the Ming-era.
Aside from its picture-postcard perfect canal town scenery, complete with lanterns and boat rides (RMB 50 per person, negotiable) up and down the tranquil waters, Fengjing boasts a host of usual and not-so-usual tourist attractions. On the usual side, there are bridges a-plenty (52 of them in fact), all of which make for nice views and pretty photo-ops. , Rainbow Bridge (Cǎihóng Qiáo, 彩虹桥) and Zhihe Bridge (Zhìhé Qiáo, 致和桥), also refered to as Man and Wife Bridge (Fūqī Qiáo, 夫妻桥)—where newlyweds should cross on their wedding day—are particular standouts.
There are of course, also the pre-requisite souvenir shopping streets where stall upon stall hawks a combination of local handicrafts and tourist tat. Get away from these four main drags and instead explore the winding back lanes and beautiful architecture full of intrictae carvings, upturned eaves and hidden courtyards.
Stop in at the Memorial of a Hundred Trades to ponder the possibilties of a career change with hitherto unimagined occupations played out by wax models, the Fengjing Air Raid Shelter (fángkōngdòng, 防空洞), complete with a MiG 15 fighter jet, or the Old Fire House (Huǒ Zhènghuì, 火政会) and fire boat. Other highlights include the homes of famous Fengjing natives such as the Former Residence of Cheng Shifa (Chéng Shífā Zǔjū, 程十发祖居), a master painter, and Ding Cong (Dīng Cōng Mànhuà Chénlièguǎn, 丁聪漫画陈列馆), a renowned contemporary cartoonist. Just outside of town is the Jinshan Farmers Painting Village, a veneration of the traditional style of colorful scenes depicting rural life painted by peasants that developed here in the 1970s.
Hungry? Don’t leave without sampling one or two the local specialties known as the Four Treasures of Fengjing: yellow rice wine, Fengjing braised pig’s feet, zhuang yuan cake or “scholar cake” and tian xiang dry bean curd.