Gaoyou (高邮; Gāoyóu) is a city in Jiangsu province. Gaoyou has a long, rich history, beautiful scenery, and 59 historical sites. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the Jiangsu Provincial Government has designated Gaoyou a “Famous Historic and Cultural City”.
Gaoyou City is a historic city of 150,000 on the eastern shore of Gaoyou Lake, in central Jiangsu Province. A rapidly growing city today, Gaoyou’s history stretches back over 7,000 years to the ancient settlement at Longquizhuang. The name “Gaoyou” translates as “high post”, referring to Gaoyou’s important role as part of China’s early Imperial postal system. In celebration of this heritage, a roundabout at the center of town features a large sculpture of the post couriers. The Grand Canal of China, the world’s longest man-made waterway, runs west of the city, and beyond that lies Gaoyou Lake. The Beijing-Shanghai expressway is just east of the city, providing easy access for visitors and goods.
Gaoyou is a suburb of Yangzhou, which is 40 km (25 mi.) to the south, and falls under its political jurisdiction. Gaoyou County has an area of 1963 square kilometers (755 sq. miles) and a population of approximately 830,000. It includes over 20 townships, including the Hui Nationality (Muslim) township of Lingtang, which is home to eastern China’s largest Mosque.
The garment industry plays a major role Gaoyou’s broadly based economy, producing over 30 million pieces of clothing per year. Other manufacturing and industrial businesses in the area include the machinery, textile, mechanical, building materials, and electronics industries. With a location in China’s breadbasket, agriculture also plays an important role in the economy. Fresh produce abounds in the city’s markets, and local specialties include Gaoyou Double Yolk Duck Eggs and Lotus root.
Gaoyou double-yolk duck eggs are one of the region’s most famous exports. The County has been renowned for the eggs since the Song Dynasty, 900 years ago. Qin Shaoyou, a famous poet during the North Song Dynasty, gave Gaoyou eggs as presents to his best friend and teacher, Su Dongpo, who was the governor in Xuzhou at that time. Many writers and poets in Chinese history have written of Gaoyou eggs, and described the eggs delicacy in their works.
Gaoyou is off the beaten path, as far as tourism goes, and the industry isn’t well supported. If you see a Gaoyou souvenir you like even a little, buy it. They are few and far between. Unlike some of the larger cities in China, you will find few people in Gaoyou that speak English. This can make ordering food, and making even minor arrangements with the hotel staff, a challenge. On the other hand, you can walk freely down the streets without vendors selling cheap knock-off goods hounding you.
You may have a hard time cashing traveler’s checks in Gaoyou as the hotel doesn’t take them, nor do they exchange US dollars. There is a bank, one block north of the Hotel (left out the front door) where you can exchange funds. It also has a bank machine out front where you can withdraw cash with a credit card. It is probably best to travel to Gaoyou with all the money you need already exchanged for RMB.
The first record of Gaoyou’s residents resides at the Longqiu archeological site just north of Gaoyou. There, scientists have uncovered a 7,000-year-old village where farmers grew rice near an ancient river. The Chinese Government has recognized the significance of this site and given it national level protection.
Emperor Ying Zheng founded Gaoyou in 221 BC, during the Qin Dynasty, when he had a relay station for the postal courier system built on the site of today’s city. This post gave Gaoyou its name, with Gaoyou meaning “High Post”. In AD 1375, the Ming Dynasty upgraded Gaoyou’s postal services with the building of the Yucheng Post station. Located adjacent to the Grand Canal, the station made it possible for imperial special messengers to not only change horses, but also take boats and ferries, which were always at their disposal.
Gaoyou has two ancient pagodas, the Jingtu and Zhenguosi Pagodas. The 30-meter high Jingtu Pagoda, in central Gaoyou, was constructed in AD 1612 during the Ming Dynasty, and has gone through an extensive renovation. The 25 meter Zhenguosi Pagoda is located on a small island on the western side of the Grand Canal. Although the more than 1,100-year-old Pagoda is in poor repair, the adjoining Buddhist temple has undergone an extensive renovation, and a new bridge now allows access to the island.
In 486 BC, The Grand Canal was constructed through Gaoyou. It finally reached its maximum length in AD 1291 stretching 1794 km from Beijing in the north, to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province in the south. The canal has gone through many cycles of building, use, disrepair, and rebuilding over the centuries and has been a significant factor in the development of China. Today the canal is still a busy waterway used to transport massive quantities of gravel and other bulk goods for China’s bustling economy.
Gaoyou Lake and the Grand Canal are suspended above the surrounding plains by an extensive system of dikes. Over the centuries, breaks in the dikes have lead to massive floods, including a flood in 1931 that killed as many as 3.7 million people. On the grounds of Wenyou Tai, a historic site on the north side of the city, there is a museum dedicated to remembrance of the 1931 floods featuring aerial photos of a flooded Gaoyou taken by Charles & Anna Lindbergh.
Several notable figures in Chinese culture and history are associated with Gaoyou. Among them are Qin Shaoyou, a well-known poet of the Song Dynasty; Wang Nian Sun and Wang Yin Zhi (father and son), celebrated classics interpreters during the Qing Dynasty; Sun Yunzhu, the modern paleontologist; and Wang Chenqi, the contemporary writer.
Gaoyou does not have an airport or train station, so your best option to get there is via personal guide and driver out of Nanjing.
Walking tour: South Loop — pagodas and old town
Gaoyou is a small city that lends itself well to walking around. This tour starts from the Runyangcun Holiday Hotel on the SW corner of Wenyouzhong Lu and Haichao Lu (street signs in Gaoyou are written in characters and pinyin). Wenyouzhong Lu is the primary north-south arterial through Gaoyou, and Haichao Lu runs through the center of the city from east to west. This makes a great starting point for walks to the north and south.
This 2½-mile loop will take you past both of Gaoyou’s historic pagodas, as well as the old city wall and Old Town. The Yucheng Post is also included, but it is probably best to visit it with a guide to get the most out of the exhibits. Make sure and carry some drinking water. From the hotel, start by walking south on Wenyouzhong Lu. Being a major thoroughfare, the street is often busy with cars, trucks, and bicycles. The sidewalks are wide though, and all the streets are level.
Continue south to the next major cross street, Pipa Lu and turn left (east). Through a couple of alleys on the left, there are views of the 600 year-old Jingtu Pagoda. In November 2006, the pagoda was being readied for visitors but the facilities weren’t complete.
Continue west on Pipa Lu for another block and the Kuixing Pavilion, perched on a remnant of the Gaoyou city wall, will come into view. To view the pavilion closer, circle around through the large plaza to the north east of the Pavilion. The plaza is popular for exercising, and contains a small children’s carnival.
Continuing west along Pipa Lu the street will start a gradual incline and pass over another street. From this overpass, you can look south, through a large arch, down into Old Town Gaoyou. A walk through Old Town is short but rewarding. Tour guides tell visitors that the buildings here are up to 600 years old, but this is hard to verify. This is about the only place in Gaoyou to find “antiques” and other curios. There are only a handful of shops, with limited selection, but you can some treasures, and bargaining is welcome.
At the south end of Old Town there is another arch, through it the Drum Tower of the Yucheng Post is visible. Opening hours for the museum vary, so it would be best for to have a guide arrange your visit. The museum includes a monument commemorating Marco Polo’s visit to Gaoyou. There is a small gift shop at the museum but it has a very limited selection (sorry, no Yucheng Post t-shirts).
As you exit the Museum, return to Old town and climb the stairs to the small pavilion on the dike. The pavilion houses a large tablet commemorating the post Museum with an ancient version of the Gaoyou name on one side.
From this point on the dike, you may look out on a “marina” of houseboats moored in the Grand Canal. Proceeding north on the dike you can leisurely take in all the activity on the Grand Canal, and on the other side of the dike, look down onto the homes of Gaoyou. From the dike, you can easily see how the canal is above the city, and imagine how disastrous past dike failures must have been. You can also see the Zhenguosi Pagoda and Temple on the far side of the canal.
Approximately ½ mile north of Old Town there is a wide set of stairs leading off the dike, through a ornate gate, and down onto a major street, Fuqian Jie. A roughly ¾-mile walk down Fuqian Jie will take you past the Post Riders Sculpture and back to the hotel.
Walking tour: North Loop — Gaoyou CWI and Renmin Park
This walk is roughly 2½ to 3 miles in length and, like the first one virtually, flat. It passes through Gaoyou’s shopping districts, outdoor markets, by the Gaoyou CWI and through Renmin Park.
To get started, take a left out the front door of the Runyangcun Holiday Hotel, and walk across the parking lot to Haicho Lu, turn left again and continue west down the broad avenue. If you are out walking in the morning, you may notice a side street where local vendors have set up an impromptu market. It is worth a walk through this market as you may see interesting sights you won’t soon forget.
About ½ mile west of the hotel, on Haichao Lu, is the large roundabout that is the town center, or square. In the island at the center of the roundabout is famous sculpture of two men on horses, along with a third rider-less horse. The monument, a Gaoyou icon, represents the hard riding ancient postal carriers. On the far side of the monument is a grocery store where you can pick up snacks and bottled water.
As you continue west from the roundabout, Haichao Lu becomes Fuqian Jie. Continue along Fuqian Jie for another ½ mile or so, then take a right on Zhongshang Lu. The first street on the left is Gaogongqiao Lu, where you’ll find the Gaoyou CWI about a hundred meters down this street on the north side, and the Gaoyou Gymnasium across the street, a little farther to the west.
Following Gaogongqiao Lu to the end will take you up on the Grand Canal dike for views of the canal. From here, you’ll also see, just to the north, the “Second Bridge over the Grand Canal at Gaoyou”. A short walk over the bridge will give you views along the canal and of Gaoyou Lake just on the other side.
As you head east back across the bridge you will be looking down another major Gaoyou street, Tonghu Lu. Loop under the bridge and proceed east on this street. The first intersection you come across will be Zhongshang Lu again.
If it is still in the morning, and you have time, you can take a left on Zhongshang Lu and walk the short distance to the Beimen Market. The market is empty in the afternoon, but in the morning is full of vendors These farmers’s type markets are a great insight into the lives of Gaoyou residents.
After backtracking to Tonghu Lu, continue east a short distance, watching for the entrance to Renmin Park. A gate, set back from the street a little ways, on the left (south) side, marks the entrance. The park is a nice place to duck for a break from the chaos and noise of the city. If you like jade, check out the jewelry store next to the gate, it has a large selection.
Back on Tonghu Lu, continue on until you see the KFC (the only American place in Gaoyou). This street is Yucheng Lu, a very busy shopping area with lots of small shops selling clothes and shoes. This is a great place to buy shoes for the kids at US$3-5 a pair. There is also a bakery with great baked goods.
Continuing south on Yucheng Lu takes you back to the Post Rider Monument, where you can bear left, and follow Haicho Lu back to the hotel.
- For souvenirs, try the China Post office. It is kitty-corner across the intersection of Wenyouzhong Lu and Haichao Lu from the RunYang Cun Hotel. During a visit to Gaoyou in 2005 it was a great (and about the only) place to find souvenirs. There were find nice postcard books (¥15 ea.), Gaoyou commemorative coin sets (¥80-120), and Gaoyou Stamp/History books (¥138-380), among other items. A return visit in 2006 found that they were no longer selling Gaoyou related souvenirs, but it’s worth checking in to see if they are again. Of course, you can also mail home your postcards from there to get that priceless Gaoyou postmark.
- If jade jewelry is your thing, there is a jewelry store at the North Gate of Renmin Park. It has an excellent selection of jade jewelry at reasonable prices. It is a great place for a keepsake, or gift, from Gaoyou. Make sure to bring along your guide or interpreter, as they don’t speak English.
- Take an early morning walk. Gaoyou can get quite loud and busy during the day. The morning is a refreshing time to walk around the quiet streets, and observe the residents starting their day. You will find dumpling vendors stuffing a day’s worth of dumplings and many people out exercising among other sights.
- Take a walk through Old Town. It’s short but very interesting. If you want to buy antiques or other items with a local flavor, this is the place. The shops seemed to keep 07:00—16:00 business hours during the summer. In the winter, many didn’t open until much later, if at all.
- Stop at one of the open-air food markets. They offer a fascinating look into the local culture. You will see large piles of produce and meat of all types spread out on tables for purchase. There are two established markets, the Beimen Market north of the CWI (see map), the Zongshikou Market near the Renmin Hospital. There are also several markets that appear on the streets every morning. In the morning, you can follow the crowds to the larger markets. The markets are busiest early in the morning.
- Hire a pedi-cab. If you’re feeling tired from walking around, take a pedi-cab, they’re everywhere. Bring along a card from the hotel to show the driver, who will get you back to the Hotel for only about ¥5. Car Taxis don’t cost much more.
The RunYangCun Holiday Hotel (formerly the Hongsheng (弘盛) Hotel) a nice, modern, four-star hotel with spacious rooms. It is centrally located, and a great base from which to explore the city.