Tongli in Jiangsu Province is one of the many ancient water towns in the south of the Yangtze River Delta, which are famous for their rivers, ancient bridges and house complexes. Tongli occupies an area of 51 square miles (133 square kilometers) with a population of 55,000. The city is separated by 15 rivers into seven islets, which are connected through 49 ancient bridges.
Tongli, established in the Song Dynasty, has a history of over 1,000 years. It is very rich in cultural heritage. Traditional residences including gardens, houses and temples, built in the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, are the highlight of the city. Jiayin Hall built in 1922 is known for its fine carvings on the structure. Congben Hall built in 1911 is also known for its carvings on the structure. There are more than one hundred of well-preserved woodcarvings of traditional figures from Chinese classics.
Bridges are an important part of the city. The most famous bridges among the 49 bridges in Tongli are the three bridges named Taiping (peace), Jili (luck) and Changqing (celebration) bridges. The three bridges have now become the symbol of the city. Whenever there is an important occasion, such as a wedding, people will walk through the three bridges to wish peace, fortune, happiness and health in their lives.
There are also many traditional gardens in Tongli. Tuisi Garden is a classic of traditional Chinese gardens, which was constructed between 1885 and 1887 by Ren Langsheng, who was once an imperial scholar. The pavilions, terraces, halls, rockeries, ponds and other elements of the garden were harmoniously integrated together.
Tongli, divided by the streams into seven islets, is the best-preserved ancient water township in Jiangsu province. There are many ancient bridges and houses, and some of them were built in the Song Dynasty.
Tongli Town, best-preserved water township in Jiangsu province, is located in the east of ancient canal on the shore of Taihu Lake, 18 km away from Suzhou city. The town occupies a total area of 62.54 sqkm with a population of 33,500.
Surrounded by water, Tongli Town, setting among the five lakes of Tongli, Jiuli, Yeze, Nanxing and Pangshan, is divided into seven islands by 15 rivers and combined into a whole by 49 ancient bridges. Intersected by so many rivers, nearly all the architectures in this town were built facing water, which bestowed the town a name "Venice in the East".
Fortunately thanks to these lakes and waterways, Tongli Town stayed away from wars since it was inaccessible in the old times, which made more ancient buildings well preserved.
The layout of the town and the residences along both banks retain the traditional style. Occupying four tenths of the total, Ming and Qing buildings, which include grand houses, small exquisite courtyard and gardens, are the highlight of Tongli town. Decorated with flying eaves, brick carvings, elegant windows, they are mostly built towards the water, sometimes with a small garden in their rears. In order to be convenient for washing, small stairs were built in front of the house leading to the river.
Due to the charming environment here, in ancient times, many noblemen and distinguish families built their private gardens here in succession. These complexes, featured by the harmonious combination of residential houses and gardens, are especially unique and rare in all other water towns south of Yangtze River.
Retreat and Reflection Garden
Lying in the township of Tongli, this garden was built by Ren Lansheng in 1886AD during the Qing dynasty, after he was discharged from office. "When in office, one should be loyal to the emperor, when away from office, one should meditate upon his previous faults." It was the motto of the officials in imperial times. Hence the name "Retreat and Reflection Garden".
Covers an area of 10 mu, the garden is divided into two parts: the western part is residential area, including sedan hall, tea hall and the main hall and the eastern part scenery area, composing of the exterior and interior gardens. The three sides but the north of the exterior garden are halls for meeting or entertaining guests. Inside the courtyard is an eastward land boat, a rendezvous of the guests. The stern is combined with lattice windows and veranda. The northern side of the courtyard is the "Viewing Moon Loft", from where the host together with his guests hummed verses and responded each other with poems in the quiet moonlight. In the interior garden, the pavilions, terraces, boudoirs, the winding causeways and corridors and the rockeries all surround the pond or lie close to the water, giving an illusion of floating on the water.
In a water town, bridge always plays an important role in people daily life. There are about 49 bridges in Tongli, in which Taiping, Jili, Changqing bridges are most famous. Exquisite and simple, Taiping Bridge was built in 1747 during the Qing dynasty. Changqing Bridge, also named Guangli Bridge, was rebuilt by Xiezhen in the Ming dynasty.
Siben Bridge, built in the Southern Song dynasty, is the oldest bridge in Tongli town. Dubu Bridge, 5 feet in length and 3 feet in width, is the smallest bridge in the town.
As a character of Tongli, these ancient bridges today is reputed as the witness of the history, telling the story of the past.
Tongli is also rich in culture. In the long run of its history, it was once famed for its achievements in the imperial examinations and has produced famous Confucians and notables. About 40 stone tablets of different periods have been well preserved and a quite number of its streets and alleys are named after the official titles such as Zhuangyuan Street, Tongzhi Street, etc.
Tongli Town was open to the public in 1986 and in 1995 cited as one of the first historic cultural towns in Jiangsu province.