Situated alongside the Grand Canal, a feat of ancient engineering that rivals the Great Wall of China for sheer size but easily beats it for successfully fulfilling its intended purpose, Wuzhen's long history has been dominated by trade, fishing, rice cultivation and silk production.
The town of Wuzhen went on the official records in 872 AD, though the archeological evidence unearthed at Tanjiawan show that the area has been settled for an estimated 7,000 years. Enjoying a relatively unbroken history of cultural and economic development, Wuzhen's stock of predominantly 19th century buildings and classical stone bridges remain much as they have for generations, providing visitors with a rare chance to see this part of China—the Nanjiang region south of the Yangtze River—in its traditional state.
The town's most famous native son, the author Mao Dun, grew up here and commemorated life in the Yangzi in his famous tale "The Lin's Shop" before documenting the changes wrought by modernization in epic novels like Midnight. Mao was part of a movement of revolutionary artists and writers who helped usher in China's transformation from Qing Dynasty imperial feudalism to the fitfully modernizing People's Republic, and his family home and a museum built in his honor are popular Wuzhen attractions. Mao Dun became the PRC's first Minister of Culture after the 1949 communist victory.
In 1991, Wuzhen was declared a historical preservation zone and much of its present prosperity derives from tourism.