Tianjin is a charming city in China that is often overlooked by tourists in favor of more famous destinations such as Suzhou or Xi’an. However, the city’s unique history and architecture make it a must-see destination for anyone visiting China.
To truly appreciate Tianjin’s charm, one must first understand its history. Tianjin has served as a vital trade port in China for centuries, thanks to its proximity to landlocked Beijing. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Tianjin became a key Western trading port, and many Western buildings and neighborhoods were erected in the city to house the armies and delegates of the European Eight-Nation Alliance.
This history of multicultural influence and interference has left Tianjin with a dynamic dichotomy of culture and architecture throughout the city. The city is also extremely walkable and convenient to explore, which is perfect for those on a tight schedule.
One of the best places to start exploring Tianjin is the Ancient Cultural Street. Built in 1986, the street is a beautiful replica of classical Qing Dynasty architecture. Visitors can marvel at the intricate paintings that adorn the windows and doors of its shops, depicting famous scenes from classical Chinese stories, such as Dream of the Red Chamber and Journey to the West.
While exploring the Ancient Cultural Street, visitors may also stumble upon a xiangsheng comedy theater. Xiangsheng is a comedic style of theater that relies heavily on wordplay, imitation, and teasing. Tianjin is one of the three major sources of this lively and rhythmic style of comedy. Due to its deep reliance on wordplay, cross talk is quite difficult to translate into other languages, without losing much of its comedic value. However, even for foreign visitors who don’t understand the jokes, watching a performance is still a fun and unique experience.
Another must-visit destination in Tianjin is the Italian Street. To reach it, visitors must first cross the Haihe River that cuts through the center of the city and travels all the way to Beijing. Upon reaching the other side, visitors will immediately feel like they have crossed a bridge from China to Europe. The district was first occupied by the Italian concession in 1902 and has been impressively preserved ever since. Visitors can enjoy Western architecture, music, and food while strolling through the area.
One of the most inspiring aspects of Tianjin is its resilience in the face of foreign intrusion and occupation. Despite facing hardships imposed on them by various foreign forces, the people of Tianjin have found a way to thrive off the remnants of them. It is particularly poignant to see old European mansions that used to house foreign diplomats attempting to rob China of its riches, now housing restaurants owned by Chinese business owners selling the food of those nations for the enrichment of the local Tianjin economy.
Overall, Tianjin is a true treasure of China that is well worth a visit. Whether visitors are interested in history, culture, or just good food and entertainment, Tianjin has something to offer everyone.