Peace and Prosperity
Anchang water village has to be one of the most untouched and authentic water villages in this part of China. That said, it's not easy to find -- it's a long bus ride from downtown Shaoxing, and on my 2nd trip there, our driver (from Shanghai) spent a long time trying to find it as there were new roads all over the area!
"An" means peace, and "chang" means prosperity. In olden times, Anchang was originally called Changle, which means "always happy". Personally I feel that these names reflects the simple, unsophisticated wish of the ordinary folk who would like to enjoy a stable life away from strife and poverty.
Anchang used to "produce" many private advisors to magistrate officials in ancient China. Now, away from the hustle and bustle of modern cities, it exudes an air of tranquility and simplicity in the quiet ripples of the canal waters, in the slow pace of life, in this place that feels a world rather than a few hours away from Shanghai, one of the biggest and busiest cities of China. There're no noisy, gawking tour groups here led by a flag-toting guide yakking away on a loudhailer.
There was no admission fee involved both times I visited, but not sure if this has changed.
If you want to see a water village which hasn't been "prettified", dolled-up and Disneyfied for the tourist dollar, this might be it. I've been here twice, once in May 2007 and the later in August 2008. The 2nd time round I found a street of new buildings (made to look "old" with traditional Chinese-style architecture) leading up to the entrance of Anchang, that's typical of more tourism-developed water villages such as Zhouzhuang and even Tongli. To me, this is a distressing "development", but perhaps unstoppable and irreversible. Maybe by now these new "old" buildings are already full of shops selling the same tacky, common souvenirs that can be seen at any nondescript tourist-oriented store in mainland China. Hurry to see this simple gem before it's lost to the winds of change.