Pearl on the crown

Updated: 2013-05-20 07:22

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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Pearl on the crown

 Pearl on the crown

Photos Provided to China Daily and by Zou Hong / China Daily

 Pearl on the crown

Taihu Lake's scenery changes with the seasons, but its beauty is perpetual.

 Pearl on the crown

Paper cutting, tai chi and outing are some of the most popular activities Wuxi residents enjoy.

Wuxi's fame is closely associated with China's second-largest lake, which splits the city, but it is wrong to think the lake is just about beautiful scenery, Raymond Zhou explains.

Taihu Lake, also known as Lake Tai, is like a piece of jewelry embraced by Zhejiang province to the south and Jiangsu to the north. Half a dozen cities glitter along its coast. Yet, Wuxi is the only one so closely associated with it that a simple mention of the lake will conjure it up. If you ask around about the popular song Taihu Lake Is Beautiful, most will tell you that it's about Wuxi. No wonder then that the top attraction of the city, at least for the tradition-minded, is the peninsula that juts out into the lake. Named for its shape, Turtlehead was the preferred location of the local wealthy for their private gardens in the early 20th century. The founding of New China transformed them into a public park. Wuxi's gardens are less meticulous and more rustic than those in Suzhou, and the plants favored by their old owners are still very much in bloom. A special orchid garden has been created to cultivate all varieties of the plant.

When Nie Er visited the place in 1934, some of the roads were still under construction. Nie was composing the score for a film about road building and he was inspired to write two of the songs that later turned into great hits. He also wrote The March of the Volunteers for another movie, which has since been designated as the national anthem of the People's Republic of China. A pavilion and a statue now stand in the park in his memory.

Come springtime, cherry blossoms provide the best excuse to visit Turtlehead Park as waves of faint pink petals create a surreal scene of beauty. The cherry trees were planted by Japanese youths in the mid-1980s when Sino-Japanese relations were much warmer.

There are also bridges and pavilions galore, but a tour is not complete without a walk by the lakeside. As a matter of fact, the turtle does not extend all the way to the big lake. It is a bay on the northern side of the lake.

Called Lake Li, it is in memory of Fan Li, an official from the neighboring Yue Kingdom some 2,500 years ago who selected a stunning beauty named Xishi and sent her to the rival king. Like Helen of Troy, she brought down a kingdom but her life probably ended in misery.

To cater to the public who loves a happy ending, a legend was born that Fan Li fell in love with her on first sight and they escaped to a land of peace after the downfall of the Wu Kingdom. The supposed place of their retirement is Wuxi. Although every celebrity who passed through this town and this park in the past century has left a footprint or some calligraphy, the splashiest vestige in the city's folklore was left by the legendary couple of lovebirds.

On a clear day, you may gaze out southward through Lake Li into the wider lake. But usually you'll only notice half a dozen barges floating to and fro. You may question their aimlessness, and you're right - they are in the water to enrich your photo background. That and the girl across the pond playing pipa and dressed in full costume. Is she impersonating the ancient beauty who purportedly got away from political upheavals?

(China Daily 05/20/2013 page6)