Wanjiang started as a village during the Ming Dynasty in 1464. It was initially named Wan Jia Zhou, which means “a delta with 10 thousand houses.” Not until 1797 did the name Wanjiang, or 10 Thousand Rivers, take over because the place was crossed by many rivers. Like any other of China’s river-fertile areas, the people in Wanjiang have made their dwellings mostly along the riverside, fishing and planting crops. At that time, locals commuted by boats, and gradually they became fond of swimming and rowing in the rivers. That might help explain why Wanjiang is also called the Dragon Boat village.
Wanjiang remains one of Dongguan’s four township-level districts, the others being Guancheng, Nancheng and Dongcheng. Wanjiang is not far from downtown. It is adjacent to Nancheng to its southeast, and separated from Guancheng by only a river. It’s also where Dongguan Bus Station is located. You won’t see Wanjiang appear on the “richest towns in Dongguan” list in terms of GDP estimates; it’s not as heavily invested in as other economically powerful towns. However, thanks to its rivers and a peaceful countryside lifestyle, Wanjiang has been developing a unique leisure industry. Early this year, Wanjiang attracted nationwide attention by renovating an old and shabby village named Batou into a cultural mini-haven with dozens of culturally decorated galleries, music pubs and coffee houses.
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Jin’ao Tower is the best place to go if you want to get a sense of history. The tower, built in 1597, stands 50 meters tall above the river and can be seen perfectly from Wanjiang Bridge. In the old times, locals believed that building a tall tower by the river could suppress monsters from the river, bring in good Feng Shui and a promising year. Under the tower there is a small museum displaying pictures and artifacts from Wanjiang’s history and customs. A few hundred meters away from the tower, you can find a giant golden turtle statue on a square, which also was a Feng Shui symbol at its time.
Today the tower serves another purpose. In the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, there are dragon boat races held at different times in a few different riverside towns. Wanjiang holds its race on the first day of the month. As the starter, it is considered to be the most magnificent in Dongguan. It usually starts at Quhai Bridge and finishes at the Wanjiang Bridge with the tower acting as the finishing line. Dozens of dragon boats equipped with rowers and drummers compete in the river with thousands hooraying along the banks. This year the government canceled the races, keeping only the dragon boat parades. For the sake of the district’s budget, official races will now take place every three years.
If you want to get a feel of Wanjiang’s leisure industry, Xiaba fang, located in Batou village, really represents the trend. It is a block of cafes, snack bars, Western restaurants, bars clubs and shops. The place is a cluster of culture, art and leisure. Many people compare it to Yunnan’s Lijiang or Xiamen’s Gulangsu Island. The place is very beautiful at night. It’s nice to have a little walk and visit some shops there. It has become one of the hottest places in Dongguan.
New South China Mall, on the other hand, represents Wanjiang’s economic ambition. It’s the biggest in the world based on gross leasable area. However since its opening in 2005, many of its store fronts remained infamously vacant. Since last year, however, the mall has gone through a remodeling phase with new management adding some momentum and new businesses. The mall hosts palm-trees, cafés, canals and leisure facilities. Highlights include Go Karting and an IMAX cinema. The mall is also near the Dongguan Bus Station and across from Metro Supermarket in its location.
There are many buses that can take you to Wanjiang. As it’s not far from downtown Dongguan, it’s recommended you take a taxi. It takes about 15 minutes from downtown.
Location: Northwest Dongguan
Area: 48.5 sq.kilometers
Journey Time: 20 minutes
Local Attractions: Jin’ao Tower, Dragon Boat Racing, Xiaba fang, South China Mall