Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Main Waterways

Surrounded by numerous mountains, Wenzhou had long been isolated from the prosperous regions in the Lower Yangtze. Yet, it was also connected with other places through rivers and seas, especially the three major rivers that flow in an easterly direction to the ocean: the Ou River, Feiyun River, and Ao River.

The largest river—the Ou River—flows along the top of this region. Its beautiful name, “Bowl River,” originated because “Ou” was used to refer to the clay pot made by its ancient people. It is also called the “Wenzhou River” since “Ou” has commonly been used as an interchangeable term for Wenzhou. The river stretches across a vast region of northern Wenzhou. It connects the city with neighboring city Lishui, through Daxi Brook. Its major branch, the Nanxi River, merges into the main waterway around the intersection of several prosperous regions as well as the cultural-political centers of Wenzhou Prefecture and Yongjia County.

The second largest river—the Feiyun River—passes through the southern part of the city. This river flows by the major regions of Rui'an and Pingyang. The ferry across this river also connects Wenzhou with the southern provinces, especially Fujian.

Down in the south is the Ao River, which connects the towns in Pingyang and Cangnan. Merchants from the south usually took land routes to come to these counties, and then travelled the water routes to the northern regions.

All these rivers are critically important to Wenzhou's transportation. Goods were shipped through the rivers and the sea. People also relied heavily on water routes to connect them with the outside world, including some nearby cities such as Lishui, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. While these rivers had largely monopolized the connection between the city and the ocean, they also played an important role in terms of maritime defense. Armies and communities had built their defense facilities along the rivers, as invading forces usually took these routes to control strategic ports and regions.

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