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New 'ancient town' rises along the Grand Canal

By Yao Minji  |  (Shanghai Daily)

09:11, December 12, 2012

An overall view of the recreated "ancient town" in Tai'erzhuang of Zaozhuang City, Shandong Province.(Shanghai Daily)

As China prepares its UNESCO world heritage bid for the Grand Canal of China, some canal cities are sprucing up their old waterways, purifying the water, landscaping the banks and recreating "ancient towns." Yao Minji visits one.

Eighty-five-year-old Zhao Qingyou, a retired farmer, poses for pictures wearing his handmade suo yi, a rustic rain cape and wide-brimmed hat made of woven grass and tree bark.

In the old days, most farmers peeled bark from trees and wove it with dried grasses into suo yi to wear for fieldwork.

It's a shaggy cape made with long, trailing grass - scarecrows today still wear suo yi.

The outfit is waterproof, durable and costs nothing, though it's quite heavy.

Some poor families even wore it outdoors as a substitute for unaffordable fabric clothing.

Today Zhao can certainly afford a light-weight modern raincoat, but he has crafted his own suo yi as a labor of love. It's the "uniform" he wears as a fixture and tourist attraction in a new ancient-town theme park along the Tai'erzhuang section of the Grand Canal of China.

Tai'erzhuang, administered by Zaozhuang City, is an hour's bullet-train ride from Ji'nan, capital of Shandong Province.

It's part of the 3,200-kilometer Grand Canal, which dates back 2,500 years. This particular section in Shandong Province represents an awesome feat of hydraulic engineering starting in 1593 that bypassed the ever-flooding, silt-bearing, course-changing Yellow River.

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