In Chinese, Jiangnan means "south of the Yangtze River." Many small rivers flow through this region. The soil is fertile, and the weather gentle. In ancient times, the rivers were an important means of transport. The Jiangnan regions were therefore developed very early. Canals were built to facilitate movement between places. The region and its many watertowns enjoyed prosperity for a long period of time.
In modern China, wars, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) as well as rapid economic development around Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang contributed to the destruction of a countless number of ancient towns and cultural relics around the Jiangnan region.
Thankfully, the watertown culture has not been completely destroyed. Today, there are six well-preserved watertowns that still remain in Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces. They are remarkably rich in culture, and much effort and money have been spent by local governments to preserve these cultural relics. In these watertowns, there remains architecture that dates back more than 1,000 years. More important, there exists a culture and a lifestyle that is glaringly absent in modern busy Chinese cities today.
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