Living In the Museum

IT MAY sound like the title of another Ben Stiller movie, but living in a museum isn’t that uncommmon in China. Wu Zhen is just one of three such towns in Zhejiang alone, kept locked in the past for the sake of tourism, writes Vickki Howe.

People arrive from all over the country by the coach load every day in order to soak up the history , culture and picturesque scenery.
The town is linked by a series of waterways, paths and bridges. The residents take advantage of the facilities on offer: housewives don’t even need to leave their home to buy fruit and vegtables or do their washing.

But what is it like to live in a museum with the constant hustle and bustle of tourists peering into every aspect of your daily life?
Locals reap the benefits of their heritage by intergrating their skills into shops and services for the tourists.

With just 12,000 permenant residents the small community thrives on the trade brought by its visitors. The busy back streets have had £20 million spent on maintaing and improving their condition, through lighting, sanitation and asthetics.

The perks of living in a tourist attraction might however be outwayed by factors such as the encroachments of privacy. Ashlee Yang a student of ZUMC said that she “would like to live in a place like Wu Zhen but I do not like people to disturb the tranquil life.”

Wu Zhen is only one of many established town-cum-museums: including Xi Tang and An Chang.They share common atributes, such as environmental layout, arcitecture and famous former residents.

Wu Zhen was once home to Mao Dun, the famous educator and writer, whose literary works included “The Midnight”, “The Spring Silkworm” and “The Autunm Maple Leaf is redder than the flower in February”, his former school has now been imortalised as a museum.

The town has been seperated into two distinct halfs. The busy canals ferry passangers between commericial and residential districts illustrating further the division between tourism and traditional culture. Settled among the towns homes are several museums documenting several elements of the towns varied past, including wood carving, fabric printing and wine making.

Living in the community doesn’t banish them to the dark ages, and although they maintain a traditional way of living it still doesn’t forego them living a contempary lifestyle complete with modern amenities, clothing and the obligatory chinese scooter.


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Filed under China Trip 2010

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