Qibao (七宝镇 – Qībǎo Zhèn) is a small town in one of the many districts of spawling Shanghai that can satisfy your urge (if any) to get out of the crazy crowded metropolis of central Shanghai. If you are interested in taking a stroll along an old watertown steeped in rich history and culture away from the modern skyscrapers you do not have to go very far. Or you may if you wish (I read that some of the others are nicer) but I only had just enough time for Qibao this trip. It takes around 20 minutes to get to Qibao as compared to other possibly more popular and bigger watertowns such as Zhuzhajiao – 50 mins, Wuzhen – 120 mins, Zhouzhuang – 60 mins or Tongli – 90 mins. I thought Qibao was a quaint little ancient water town which sufficed (no entry fee required unlike some of the above mentioned towns – Wuzhen, Zhouzhuang and Tongli) and I had a pretty good morning there!
One of the stone bridges across the Puhui river
I was thoroughly amazed by how well preserved the buildings were (given some refurbishments here and there) inspite of this town being built during the Song Dynasty (960-1160 AD), it still managed to retain quite a fair bit of its character and the chinese heritage (give and take the tacky modern items sold in the stores) through the old buildings and their attempt to retain certain old time attractions there .
Getting to Qibao was relatively easy from central shanghai. You can choose to take the bus (92, 763, 513, 753) from around central Shanghai to Qibao or take the subway (Line 9) and journey to Qibao Station. Take exit 2 and follow the crowds out of the station taking the first right after a 2 – 3 minute walk and then walking some more. You will see a row of shophouses after you pass this long pedestrian stretch. Walk to the end and take a left. The entrance to Qibao Town will look like the first picture after this paragraph this on your right. My journey from the Pudong area took at most 40 minutes with walking time and it was a rather pleasant journey on the subway.
Things to do in Qibao
Spend some time to wander around the old and tiny alleyways of this little town. Its not very big (only 2 kilometers in size) so it did not take too long to wander every tiny little street and alleyway in the old town. It was a delight to find traditional candy being made and sold, to see the trade of traditional bucket making still in existence and miniature wood carvers still working their craft. Ignoring all things modern, I think it is possible to imagine what life would be like a thousand over years ago.
There are 9 official attractions to visit in Qibao consisting of tiny museums such as (1) Cricket House, (2) Shadowgraph Museum, (3) Cotton Textile Mill, (4) Zhou’s Miniature Carving House, (5) Qibao Calligraphy Arts Room, (6) the Old Trades House, (7) The Memorial Hall of Artist Zhang Chongren, (8) The Clock Tower and (9) The Pawn Shop. Admission into each attraction is around 5RMB or 10 RMB and 45 RMB for a ticket covering 9 sites. I did not visit all 9 so shall briefly talk about the few I had the chance of going to.
Qibao Cricket House
Qibao is apparently famous for its fighting crickets, and a small cricket museum can be found along one of the cobbled narrow streets in the pedestrian area. Entry is a mere 5 Yuan however, if you are not into bugs and if there are no cricket fighting performances for you to look at, you’d most probably find the tiny museum (if you can call it one) place most boring. I would actually rather have spent the money on a street side snack however, for those interested, I was told that the cricket-fighting performances occur each day only during the golden weeks of May 1-7 and Oct 1-7.
Qibao Shadograph Museum and Theatre
Shadow Puppet plays is considered to some of the locals to be a lost art where there are very few who understand and appreciate the art of these plays and even fewer able to stage these performances these days. The art form dates back to about 120 years ago and is known to be part of Shanghai’s culture and heritage. The museum gives one a brief overview of how the art of shadow puppets began and it shows the evolution of the shadow puppets created and the types of stories told over the years. There are currently shadow puppet shows staged every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon at 1pm to 3pm (it can start anytime depending on the puppet master). It is interesting to watch these shadow plays to visualise how people in the past sought entertainment. The play was performed in a suburban shanghainese dialect that is rarely heard of these days and it had live music in the form of traditional opera instruments being used as accompaniment throughout the play. Although I had no idea what was being said, it was still rather interesting to watch the entire play.
Cotton Textile Mill
Entry into this museum details the process of traditional cotton production methods. Strangely it also houses a traditional Wedding Hall which contains more traditional rosewood furniture than Wedding attires (which would have been more appropriate) that was kind of strange but perhaps they ran out of exhibit ideas and with the extra space, they decided to build a wedding hall instead! In general, I thought the museum (if you can call it one) was good for the purposes of learning about the old traditional chinese method of producing cotton but left me very underwhelmed by the entire visit there.
Zhou’s Miniature Museum
Zhou was an artist well known for his miniature carvings and I was utterly blown away by how intricate his works were. Its not very big but I spent quite a fair bit of time staring at each miniature porcelain plate till a bunch of screaming chinese kids came in and pushed me around and I couldn’t for the life of me bear another minute with them in such close quarters. It was in this little house that I suddenly wished I had a doll house when I was younger filled with all these amazing little trinkets. I would recommend visiting this Museum.
It is impossible to go hungry in Qibao. The streets are practically lined with food! You would surely find yourself a wider selection of food than there are attractions to visit in this little water town. It would be amazing to be able to try and be able to eat everything that was sold on the street but unfortunately my usually pretty large appetite vanished with the sweltering heat of Qibao and I was more interesting in quenching my thirst with cup after cup of ice old ridiculously sweet bubble tea. What a pity. I leave you with more visuals and hope you leave this page hungry for more.
1. Wander around and try the amazing street food
I’m not sure if it is truly that clean but if you have a rather strong stomach, assuming the food sold is legit meat and all, I found the food in Qibao to be quite tasty.
2. Plan your attractions
Decide if you will be visiting all 9 or some. With each attraction costing 5 RMB or 10RMB per entry, it does not make sense for you to pay 45 RMB for entry into perhaps only 4 of the 9. Also, plan your route so that you do not end up walking from one end to another and then the other end again because these attractions are spread out around Qibao.
3. Try to avoid the weekends and public holidays
If you are not able to do so, try to arrive early in the morning. That being said, if you arrive too early, the shops may not be open for business and if you would like to watch the shadow puppets, it may be quite a long wait till 1pm.