As been noted often both here and elsewhere, Changzhou is more of a modern Chinese city. There is not to say that there isn’t a rich history here, it’s just hard to find relics of it still standing around after thousands of years. You can in Nanjing and other places, but sadly in Changzhou most of those attractions just do not exist anymore. There is, however, a move to recreate more places that have an antiquated feel. Qianbeian is one of those places.
It’s not that far from Wenhuagong — where Changzhou’s downtown subway station is being excavated and built. A Starbucks is also nearby, and one of Changzhou’s antique markets sits behind it. When I first came to Changzhou in 2014, the place was empty. Weeds were growing through cracks in the walkway, and the windows were dirty and unwashed. Walking through here, back then, felt like walking trough a forlorn, white-washed labyrinth.
It’s a classic trope in this city. Parts of it looked like a ghost town, but over the years, things have slowly filled in. Qianbeian is a like Qingguo Alley — which can also be found in the city center. Even though it’s either reconstructed or currently under reconstruction, real Changzhou history did happen there. For instance, the great Chinese poet Su Dongpo, once had an academy here, and recently it has been turned into a small gallery for calligraphers and brush-and-ink artists. There is also a tiny display place dedicated to him. There is also a small museum dedicated to local history, and a lot more.
There are essentially three Changzhous, if you are not considering districts: developed, developing, and undeveloped. The greater Wanda area of Xinbei could be considered developed; the same could be said for the city center. Parts of Wujin are developing rapidly, as construction continues nearly around the clock. And then, there are parts of the city that would look alien to most foreigners familiar with Changzhou. These would be the villages and townships far away from the cosmopolitan centers.
Daming North Road 大明北路，is one of those far flung destinations. There really is no reason to go there, unless you are like me and have an unending bit of curiosity and an ebike. It’s in Wujin’s eastern arm. In short, it’s far from Hutang and closer to Xinbei and Jiangyin — one of Wuxi’s satellite cites.
The road is mainly comprised of rough slabs of concrete that is badly broken up in some places. I went there on a day where I had nothing to do, and my classes were largely at night. Getting there, I passed a Buddhist temple, but not the type tourists would frequent. The door was locked, I also passed something interesting, but couldn’t figure out what it was. So, I posted a picture on Wechat, and my Chinese friends pointed out that it was a mausoleum.
In my time cruising around Changzhou, this fits a certain pattern. Places associated with death are often located in out of the way locales. The cultural attitudes regarding cemeteries are quite different. In America, taking a cemetery walk is quite normal. When I asked a Chinese colleague about this, the response was a bit puzzled. People would think its weird and would ask why you were there if you didn’t know anybody interred there.
Another thing I saw quite often were open spaces filled with concrete tables set in rows. This, I really couldn’t figure out. Part of me thought it was maybe for roadside markets. Or giving the agriculture of the area, a place to process crops after harvesting. If not for farming, then it would be definitely some sort of work site.