Enjoy a festival of reeds at Xixi Wetland

The wild, tranquil wetlands offer an experience a world away from the bustling and busy West Lake area.

The Xixi Wetland Park, 6 kilometers from downtown Hangzhou, is one of the city’s three “Xi treasures,” along with West Lake (Xihu) and the Xiling Seal Engravers’ Society.

It is a rare urban wetland and the first national wetland park in China incorporating farming, leisure activities and cultural preservation.

In AD 988, Xixi Town was established during the reign of the second emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960-1127).

The wetlands originally covered 60 square kilometers around the Xixi River, where it runs through what are now the Liuxia and Gudang sub-districts.

But with urban expansion, the wetlands have gradually shrunk to only one sixth of their original size. In 2003, the local government launched a protection project to recover its ecological value by relocating local pig farming and building a wetland park instead.

The present park is divided into three functional areas. The central part is mainly for tourism, the eastern section is primarily for birds and other animals and the western part has been restored as a watertown.

There are many ways to appreciate the beauty of the Xixi  Wetland — walk, cruise on the river, or take a bike. The park also organizes themed festivals all year round, such as the flower festival in spring and the persimmon festival in early autumn.

The month-long Reed Flowers Festival opened this month and runs until December 17. Shanghai Daily takes you through some of the highlights.

Chen Yan

The reed marsh in Xixi Wetland Park

The reed marsh

One of the Ten Scenes of Xixi Wetland is “Flying Snowflakes in Late Autumn” — snowflakes referring to the reed flowers that look white in the late autumn sun.

There are about 24 hectares of reed marsh near the Qiuxue Nunnery, which is built on an isolated island surrounded by water and reed flowers. From the buildings in the convent, you can see the white reeds shimmering in the wind against a mountain backdrop.

To approach the reed flowers by boat is even better. The watercourse is flanked by the soaring reeds growing above the water. Sitting in a traditional sculling boat, you can only hear the sound of the oars paddling through the water.

It’s a totally different experience than the bustling West Lake area.

During the festival, you will also be able to see birds fishing. Chinese fishermen have a long history of using cormorants. Usually, a snare is tied around the bird’s throat, which allows them to swallow only small fish and return big ones to the keeper.

Li Zhong

A fish pond cleaning contest is held in Xixi Wetland Park.

Fish pond cleaning

Seventy percent of the wetland is covered by water, with an average depth of 1.15 meters. Affected and changed by human activity over 1,000 years, the wetland we see today is not a native wetland ecosystem but comprises mainly fish ponds, watercourses and small islands.

The park stages an event called “fish pond cleaning” during the festival. It is actually a tradition in the area for locals to empty water of the pond, clean the mud and harvest aquatic food each year before winter settles in.

And it is said to help ensure the fish grow even bigger in the coming year.

This year, the event kicked off on November 12. Twenty families joined in a contest to compete with each other for who would catch the most. The winning team obtained 135 kilograms of fish.

Anyone who comes to the wetlands during the weekends, can rent a working kit for 30 yuan (US$4.5) to learn how to get not only fish, but shrimp and fresh water mussels as well.

If you don’t want to get muddy, you can also join a cruise on river and learn from fishermen on how to use nets. All aquatic food is able to be bought at market prices and can be cooked for free in the park’s restaurant.

Dai Xiaoli

A musician plays ruan, a traditional Chinese plucked instrument, on a boat.

Folk performances

On weekends, visitors also have the chance to see local folk performances.

Xixi has a rich culture of Yueju Opera — the first recorded performance by the northern school of Yueju Opera took place here. In 1906, one of the founders of Yueju Opera made his debut in Jiangcun Village in Xixi, and the area has since seen the form take shape and become one of the most popular opera styles in China.

Xixi Yueju Opera performances are staged in a traditional courtyard theater at Deep Pool Mouth Dock. It is also the place where the local dragon boat contest is held during the Dragon Boat Festival in May each year.

On the waters from Zhoujiacun Village to the Xialong mudflats, visitors traveling by boat are able to enjoy performances by musicians playing the ruan, a traditional plucked instrument with a history of over 2,000 years.

Jiang’s ancestral hall and a museum exhibiting historic dragon boats produced in the area are also worth a look.

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