Many reasons to visit ancient town of Qibao

Chen Meiling Yang Yang Yang Keyuan
Qibao ancient town is adapting for its tourists, by recommending zanhua photography, reopening its Zhang Chongren memorial hall, and using lighting to illuminate the night.
Chen Meiling Yang Yang Yang Keyuan

It is a daily routine for some elderly residents of Qibao Ancient Town to repeatedly walk across its flagstone paths and the arched bridge across Puhuitang River, drink its tea and admire another round of pingtan performances (storytelling and singing in Suzhou dialect), as if the town is their "Mecca" and they are its pilgrims. For tourists, the ancient town is also adapting, recommending a new style of photography with zanhua as hairstyle accessories, reopening a memorial hall to invite tributes to a treasured and loyal local artist, and decorating its night landscape with sparkling and ethereal lighting.

Many reasons to visit ancient town of Qibao
Ti Gong

Women wearing zanhua headbands pose for a picture in Qibao Ancient Town.

Flower headbands in popularity

The trendy zanhua wei, or flower headband, originally worn by women from the fishing village of Xunpu in the southeast coastal Quanzhou City in Fujian Province, has now become a popular accessory especially among young women, in their hanfu (traditional Chinese Han-style attire) tourism photography in the ancient town.

The flower headband resembles a peacock fan in a splash of colors. Women from the fishing village of Xunpu about 930 kilometers south of Shanghai wear them and usually pose for photos in front of local houses built with oyster shells and red-brick windows.

In Qibao, the headbands also match well with the Jiangnan-style carved windows, flowing water, arched bridges and dangling vines.

"Starting from the beginning of 2023, some tourists would visit my store and asked if they could take a zanhua photo," said Zhang Feng, a photographer who has been managing a pop-and-mom studio in Qibao Ancient Town for 21 years. "Though the tradition originates from the Xunbu Village, the appeal of a zanhua headband and its symbolic meaning for vitality and hope go well with the antique and reserved allure of Qibao Ancient Town. Then at the year end, we started to prepare new hairstyles, settings and costumes."

After the Spring Festival this year the new zanhua photography service gained popularity.

"About 50 percent of our daily customers who pose for a hanfu photo will choose a flower headband as a decoration, and the majority of them are young women of the Generation Z," Zhang added.

"We use plastic flower headbands, while some customers also prefer a headband made of fresh flowers. Then we tour around the ancient streets and choose a setting that suits the most."

Pinning flowers into hairstyles has long been a tradition in China.

Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) painter Zhou Fang painted court ladies with vibrant colored lotus flowers on their heads in his masterpiece "Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers."

In 2023, well-known Chinese actress Zanilia Zhao released a set of photos of her wearing a zanhua headband online, which went viral and brought zanhua back to the recognition of the public.

Zanhua bears the hopes of daughters, wives, and mothers of fishermen to wish their sea-bound fathers, husbands and sons a safe journey.

They tie their hair in the form of a spiral conch, fix it with a chopstick-like hairpin, then attach fresh flowers or plastic flowers around it as a zanhua headband.

Venue: Xipu Photo

Address: 15 the west section of

Nanxijie St


Memorial hall reopens

This year marks the 95th anniversary since the Belgium cartoon "The Adventures of Tintin" was first published on January 10, 1929.

The cartoon is a classic worldwide and the volume "The Blue Lotus" is the result of a international friendship between Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907-1983), better known by his pen name Hergé, and Chinese sculptor Zhang Chongren (1907-1998), who was a native of Qibao Ancient Town.

Through cooperating in creating "The Blue Lotus," Zhang hoped that the real China could be introduced to the Western world as, at that time, stereotypes of Chinese men wearing pigtails and women enduring foot-binding still persisted.

Zhang's memorial hall along the Qibao ancient street has undergone slight renovations and readjustments, and reopened to the public this year.

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Jiangnan-style architecture is noted for its elegant horse-head firewalls and zoumalou, a unique south China residential building style which has corridors horses can pass through.

The memorial hall is divided into six exhibition sectors which showcase more than 20 of Zhang's sculpture pieces and traces of the life of the artist when he started his practice, honed his skills, and recruited and taught disciples in his studio. They also show the ups and downs Zhang experienced in life while practicing art, approaching his final years and the great legacy he left behind.

Zhang died aged 91 on October 8, 1998, in Paris, and was buried in the city's Nogent cemetery.

Venue: Zhang Chongren Memorial Hall

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday,


Tickets: Free

Address: 75 Puxi Square


Many reasons to visit ancient town of Qibao
Yang Keyuan / Ti Gong

A lighting project to decorate Qibao Ancient Town has been completed, causing excitement among residents.

Night walk in rejuvenated town

A lighting project to decorate Qibao Ancient Town was completed at the beginning of 2024, causing excitement among residents who reminded friends old and new through WeChat messaging to pay visits to the rejuvenated town.

Yang Keyuan, a retired teacher and a descendant of the founder of the local patriotic education institute Mingqiang Public School, the prototype of the district's flagship education institutes Qibao High School and Mingqiang Primary School, recommends a night-tour route of the ancient town.

The stylish Shanghai male would normally get off at the Fuqiang Street bus station, and to fully appreciate the night scenery of the town, recommends a ring route first from the outer to the inner circle. It is a brief summary but the walking route would take about two hours.

Beishankou, or the Beidajie Street gate, welcomes visitors like a concierge of the ancient town, bearing inscriptions "Qibao Old Street" from famous calligraphers.

Red lanterns of different sizes are a highlight of the night scenery of the ancient town. Tourists can find calligraphy featuring the seven treasures of Qibao. Legend has it that Qibao, or the seven treasures, were a Buddha statue from heaven, a floating bell, a jade hatchet, a rooster-shaped mound, jade chopsticks, a magic catalpa tree and a golden lotus sutra.

Catering businesses are always a necessity to provide taste delights among the town's hustle and bustle, offering food such as glutinous rice balls, zongzi (sticky rice dumplings), pan-fried buns, green rice balls and scallion pancakes.

Time-honored restaurant brands, including Baofeng Restaurant, Qibao Restaurant and Tianxianglou Restaurant, vie for attention from foodlovers in the center of the ancient town.

A hallmark of the lighting project is its bridge lighting decoration. Both the Puhuitang, Kangle and Anping bridges and the architecture on both sides have been decorated with ambient lighting.

Puhuitang Bridge has a water curtain projection set up at night that displays local cultural elements.

According to insiders, a "Seven Treasures Hunting" program especially designed for boat touring will be available to tourists, in which randomly-placed visual images of the "seven treasures" and their audio explanation will pop up when a boat approaches the location.

Yang said he ended his night trip with a meal at the Tianxianglou Restaurant. Though the food is a little expensive, he found it satisfying as it reminded him of his younger days when he frequented the restaurant often.

How to get there: Get off at Qibao Metro Station, Metro Line 9

Other scenic spots worth a visit

Cotton Textile Mill

The museum pays tribute to Huang Daopo (1245-1330), a local pioneer in China's early textile industry. Regions around Qibao and especially its female residents benefited much from Huang's contributions. In addition to weaving and spinning machines, an object which might cause confusion at first glance among the exhibited items is a wedding hall mimicking ancient wedding arrangements. It actually tells of the higher social and economic status enjoyed by local women thanks to their mastering of the skills of cotton textiles.

Hours: Daily, 9am-5pm

Tickets: 5 yuan

Address: 43 Beidajie St


Shadow Puppet Art Museum

The museum exhibits, manufactures, collects and undertakes research on shadow puppetry, while also staging shadow puppet performances. Visitors can gain insights on the haipai, or Shanghai-style, puppetry art.

Hours: Daily, 9am-4pm

Tickets: 5 yuan

Address: 95 Beixijie St


Cricket Museum

The museum exhibits items related to cricket fighting and all kinds of insect tools and cricket specimens. The architecture itself dates back more than 100 years.

Hours: Daily, 9am-6pm

Tickets: Free

Address: 37 Fuqiang St


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