An Introduction to Lishui
Lishui meaning “beautiful water” gained its commendatory name during the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) when the riches of the South, specifically the Jiangnan region (Yangtze River Basin) were increasingly being harvest to sustain the imperial mandate of China’s cosmopolitan empire: the Great Tang.
Today Lishui is a prefecture level city in southwest Zhejiang Province that has spent the past decade cultivating a reputation as an idyllic locale to enjoy a scenic retreat. Lishui has duly become particularly popular with weekenders from large cities in the Jiangnan region including mighty Shanghai just 314 kilometres away. Comprising nine verdant counties – some home to the rare She minority people – Lishui boasts some of the best air quality in non-coastal China. Indeed, heavy industry is decidedly absent these days as Lishui orientates itself increasingly towards tourism. A trip to one of Lishui’s many scenic zones – the Qingyuan Baishazu National Nature Conservation Area or Xiandu National Park for instance – affords visitors a rare and necessary respite from the humdrum of urban life along China’s crowded East Coast.
The city district is compact, and easy to negotiate on foot or by bicycle. Rickshaws still operate here too, while taxis are inexpensive and easy to flag down. The old centre of Lishui is evocative of a China fast fading from view elsewhere. Ancestral halls, temples and mottled old buildings offer a serene journey down history’s lane. Near the River Ou the Southern Gate of the old city walls remains intact while the Northern-Song Dynasty Yan Yu Lou, or Misty Rain Building, is also a popular historic attraction. In fact it was deemed so beautiful that it inspired Song scribes to wax lyrical in verses ode to Lishui a thousand years ago.
But Lishui is not just banking on its long history and natural bounty to lure visitors alone. In fact contemporary culture is alive and well here too, as you will notice as you take in the many photography-themed sculptures and wall murals scattered about town.
In part because of Lishui’s fine natural environment, the city nurtured some pioneering Chinese landscape photographers back in the 1980s, namely Chu Xiaoqing and Wu Pinhe. In 1999 Lishui capitalised on its photographic heritage when it hosted the China International Photography Festival. In 2004, the Lishui Municipal Government independently held the first Lishui International Photography Festival. That same year, an agreement was reached with the Chinese Photographers Association. The China International Photography Exhibition officially became known as the China Lishui International Photography Festival – and has been held here every two years since.
In 2013 artists from more than 30 countries exhibited as many as 6000 works.
In 2015 there were over 330 exhibitions in various sites with contributing artists from over 50 countries, a clear sign of the continuing growth of the festival. Sites include the Lishui Photography Museum, the Lishui Art Museum and some evocative, abandoned Mao-era factories in the hilly suburbs of the city. As well as photographic exhibitions, organisers simultaneously hold seminars, workshops, films and associated creative events throughout the city during the festival period in November. The scale and scope of the initiative has earned Lishui the official moniker “China’s City of Photography.”