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The Seven Cats of Shantang Street

Hidden among the tumbledown shops and temples of this canalside alley are seven stone sculptures with varying expressions, guarding the bridges that cross the water. They’re known as the “seven bluestone cats of Shantang Jie,” and their existence is due to a classic bit of Mandarin wordplay.

Shantang Jie (Shantang Street) is known for being a length of seven lǐ, the Chinese mile, which looks and sounds similar to another lí that makes part of the name of a breed of cat. Obvious really, if you can navigate the tonal complexities of Chinese pronunciation.

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