This year's Joseph Levenson Book Prize goes to the 2021 work making "the greatest contribution to increasing understanding of the history, culture, society, politics, or economy of China."
Living the Life - A Day at the “Venice of China”
By Catherine Gao
After a month in Shanghai, I decided to get away from the craziness of the Expo and the restlessness of the city. The ancient town of Qibao lies about an hour south of Shanghai, a perfect destination for a one day adventure. Qibao is built around two intersecting canals and antiquated wooden houses make up most of the town. A tourism site I found on Google deemed the town the “Venice of China,” accompanied by beautiful pictures of serenity and peace. With these images in mind, I set out to experience this water town for myself.
I was caught off guard to exit the Qibao subway station in the middle of a bustling town. I had expected to step out into the images I had found on Google, but a ten minute walk revealed the Qibao Old Street for which I had been searching. The aged wooden shacks housed tiny restaurants and shops, featuring a strange variety of items, everything from “authentic” pearl necklaces to hand stitched shoes. On top of that, exotic aromas filled the air – fresh coconut juice, baby birds on astick, black sesame sticky rice, steam buns, stinky tofu and many more unidentifiable delicacies – were recommended to tourists as they strolled by the stands.
Although the town was tainted by these touristy endeavors, the boat ride down the canal revealed a more authentic side of the town. For less than two dollars, an ancient looking man maneuvered a shaky and equally ancient looking wooden boat up and down the canal. I was fascinated by the obvious disparity of the lifestyles separated by the five minute long boat ride. On the side away from the old street, modernistic apartment high rises overlook the narrow canal; whereas on the opposite side, battered brick buildings indicate a much tougher life. I couldn’t help but wonder who was really benefiting from the recently established tourism.
Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Qibao. To be sure, it is no Venice, but rather a quaint Chinese water town full of soothing food and adorable old men. I am ready to resume life in Shanghai.
Wherever you may be, we wish you and those close to you the very best Year of the Rabbit.
Join us for a discussion with Mike Chinoy on his new book that expands on USCI's Assignment: China series.