China Suzhou City:
5.71 million (urban population: 1.05 million)
Suzhou is one of China's oldest continuously inhabited towns and is, by Chinese criteria, among the country's most beautiful cities. As is said in an ancient Chinese proverb, "In Heaven there is Paradise. On Earth, Suzhou."
The city's extensive network of canals is still a vital link for local transportation, truly making Suzhou the "Venice of the East."
Suzhou is situated in the south of Jiangsu Province, in the middle of the Yangtze Delta; in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake, bordering on Shanghai in the east, Zhejiang Province in the south , Taihu Lake in the west and the Yangtze River in the north.
In the north edge of subtropical zone, monsoon maritime climate; mild and humid; with enough sunshine
Restaurants do an especially brisk business during the city's numer-ous food festivals, the most popular ones coinciding with changes in season. One of the most esteemed is the crab feast, which takes place in early autumn.
Until 1949, silk was the city's mainstay. There has been considerable industrial diversification in the last 30 years, including metallurgy, chemicals, machine tools, electronics, and precision instruments. The tradition of craftsmanship has been nurtured and advanced under the modern rubric of light industry, which includes jade and wood carving, sandalwood products, lacquerware, velvet, and tapestries.
Historical records indicate that Suzhou was settled over 3,000 years ago. In 518 BC it rose to prominence as the capital of the Kingdom of Wu. At that time the city was said to have "eight gates and eight water gates." It acquired its present name ? "plentiful water" ? in 589 AD, when work began on the Grand Canal. Marco Polo, who visited Suzhou in the 13th century, found a "noble city and great," with "quite six thousand bridges of stone."
More important, it was a busy merchant town, renowned in China for its fine textiles in gold and silk. The silk industry, still famous today, was developed as early as the Tang Dynasty (618?906 AD). From the 15th century on, there are repeated historical references to silk-workers' strikes, often violent. Yet the people of Suzhou are regarded as graceful and subtle, in part because of the mellifluous quality of the local Wu dialect. Accord-ing to a popular saying, "Argument in Suzhou is more pleasing than flattery in Guangzhou."
The city was held briefly by the Taipings in the 19th century. Treated as an adjunct to Shanghai by the Western powers, it was made a japanese concession at the end of that century. Suzhou was occupied by the japanese during World War II, and later held by the Guomindang until 1949.
Suzhou is reachable in no more than a few hours by train from Shanghai, Nanjing, and Wuxi.
It is difficult to dispute the local claim that Suzhou has the most beautiful gardens in all of China. Natural ponds and waterways have been enhanced by more than 150 exquisite gardens that combine traditional elements?pavilions, temples, and rock sculptures?with distinctive ar-rangements of trees and flowers. The aim has been to create as many perspectives as possible within a confined space and to replicate in minia-ture scenes from nature not found locally.
Handicraft fanciers will also enjoy Suzhou, which is known for its em-broidery, sandalwood fans, jade carvings, wrought gems, and, of course, silks. Selections are available at the Friendship Store, across from the "Wonderful Lookout" or at the depart-ment store, located on Ziyuanchang just across the street from the Pleasure Garden. Both are within 4 km. (2.5 mi.) of the above?mentioned hotels.
Other shops of interest include the Antiques Store; the Renmin Market; and the Arts and Crafts Shop.
Suzhou has a well?earned reputation for dining. The city's restaurants?usually small and simply furnished?have traditionally at-tracted patrons from as far away as Nanjing and Shanghai. Regional seafood specialties including cel, fish, shrimp, and crabs.
Local fishermen congregate at a small shallow lake 8 km. (5 mi.) northeast of Suzhou. There, armed with bamboo traps, they snare crabs as they emerge from the crevices where tbey have just laid eggs. The resulting dish is called dazhaxie.
Suzhou is also known for its sweets. The renowned Daoxiangcun Candy and Cake Store and Huangtianyuan Stuffed Dumpling Shop on Guanqian Street features saltwater pumpkinsced candy, pine nut and sesame cakes, and dried and roasted nuts. Indeed, weight?watchers are advised to miss Guanqian Street altogether?or to visit it only at a dead run.
The city has a number of educational institutes, of which the National Embroidery Institute is most notable. The quality of Suzhou embroidery perhaps rivals that of any in the world today. Sukun opera and Pingtan drama both survive as reflections of the area's distinct cultural heritage.
Suzhou Attractive points:
Twin Bridges (Shuang qiao)
Zhouzhuang is surrounded and divided by lakes and rivers, 14 stone bridges cross the rivers, showing distinctive views of the water-town. Twin Bridges which comprise Shide Bridge and Yongan Bridge are the most famous and is considered the symbol of Zhouzhuang. Built in Wanli era (1573 - 1619) of the Ming Dynasty, Twin Bridges is in the northeast of the town. Shide Bridge is east-west and has a round arch, while Yongan Bridge is north-south and the bridge arch is square. Crossing the two crisscross rivers (Yinzi Creek and Nabeishi River) and connecting at the middle, Twin Bridges look like a Chinese old-style Chinese key. In 1984, 38 canvases of the notable painter, Chen Yifei, were exhibited in a New York gallery of Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corporation. "Memory of Hometown" which depicts Twin Bridges was one of the items on display and has gained the world's attention for Zhouzhuang. The painting was chosen to be the first-day cover of the United Nations' postage stamp in 1985.
Located at the eastern end of Zhongshi Jie, Fuan Bridge was built in 1355 during the Yuan Dynasty. The unique trait of the Fuan is the consummate combination of the single-arch bridge and the bridge towers which have , are used as tearooms, restaurants and stores, and are good places to appreciate the views while taking a rest.
Built in 1742 and located at the southeast side of Fuan Bridge, Shen House was the private property of the descendant of Shen Wansan, the first millionaire of Jiangnan (South of Yangtze River) in the early Qing Dynasty. The whole architectural complex is of the Qing's style and occupies an area of more than 2,000 square meters (half an acre). Over 100 rooms are divided into three sections and each one is connected by arcades and aisles. The first is the water gate and the wharf, where Shen's family moored boats and washed clothes. The middle part includes the gate tower, the tearoom and the main hall. Bricky gate tower carved with lively and ingenious figures which tell the historic stories or show the good wishes, make it a rare artwork. Tea room and main hall are places for serving guests, and the furnishings in here are all very elegant. The last section is the two-storied dwelling which consists of several buildings which are quite different from the main hall, more comfortable and refined in pattern and atmosphere. The painted sculpture of legendary Shen Wansan is in Datang Tower; cultural relics including ancient folk instruments are exhibited in Xiaotang Tower and Back Hall.
Built by Xu's family in the Zhengtong era (1436 - 1449) of the Ming Dynasty and bought by Zhang's family in the early Qing Dynasty. Located to the south of the Twin Bridges, Zhang House has more than 70 rooms and takes up about 1,800 square meters (less than half an acre). With Ruojing River flowing through, Zhang House is a dapper and graceful residential house; has a tranquil courtyard and pond. Deep halls all represent the life of the quondam owner.
Once called the De's Tavern, Milou Tower perches next to Zhenfeng Bridge which is at the southwest corner of Zhouzhuang. It is famous for being a rallying place of the literates in old times. Numerous poets, songs and stories about Milou Tower are wide spread and make it more charming.
Chengxu Taoist Temple
Standing on Zhongshi Street which is opposite to Puqing Bridge, Chengxu Taoist Temple was built during 1086 - 1093 of the Song Dynasty and also known as Sanctity Hall (Shengtang Hall). After several periods of expansion, it is one of the most famous Taoist temples in Wuzhong Region. In an area of 1,500 square meters (1,800 square yards), simple but majestic Shengdi and Doumu halls, Yuhuang, Wenchang and Shengdi pavilions are really elaborate works and masterpieces of Taoist architectures.
Humble Administrator's Garden
China's gardens generally can be divided into two kinds: the royal garden, represent by Summer Palace in Beijing and Mountain Resort of Chengde, and the private garden, represent by private gardens in Suzhou.
Located in the northeastern part of Suzhou city, Humble Administrator's Garden, with a total area of 51,950 square miles, is the largest private garden in Suzhou, as well as one of the four most famous classic gardens in China (the others are: Summer Palace, Mountain Resort of Chengde and Garden for Lingering In in Suzhou). Around 1513, during the Ming Dynasty, the imperial inspector Wang Xianchen, returned to Suzhou after retiring from public life and built his garden. The name Humble Administrator's Garden was inspired by the essay "To cultivate my garden and sell my vegetable crop is the policy of humble man".
The garden is representative of Chinese classical gardens in the Ming Dynasty, which are focused on a central pond with pavilions, terraces, chambers, and towers located nearby. Humble Administrator's Garden is divided into three parts: the eastern, middle and western parts.
The middle part is the cream of the garden with marvelous mountains, clear water, exquisite buildings and exuberant trees and flower reminiscent of the scenery in the south of the lower Yangtze River. Elaborately conceived, the designer of the garden used the architecture technique know as "borrowed view from afar" in the layout of this part, aiming to enlarge eyeshot within a limited space. Seen westward, a pagoda would be seen sitting in western garden, which actually is situated 1km away from the garden.
The buildings in the western part of the garden are properly arranged by the lake, in which the Hall of the Thirty-Six Mandarin Ducks and the Hall of Eighteen Camellias are most important. Both halls are furnished with ancient furniture, paintings and calligraphies hung on the wall, embodying the leisurely life of the master. To the end of west garden lies a bonsai garden, where about 700 bonsais are put on display, which is worthy of visiting.
Humble Administrator's Garden is a typical example of the art of horticulture south of Yangtze River as well as a treasure house containing arts of architecture, calligraphy, carving, painting, and bonsai. It was listed as cultural relics of national importance in 1961.
A famous Song Dynasty poet, Su Shi said, 'It is a lifelong pity if having visited Suzhou you did not visit Tiger Hill.' This epitomises the general opinion of those who have seen this local beauty spot with its many attractions that we shall endeavour to describe for you.
Tiger Hill, known also as Surging Sea Hill, is a large hillock covering some14100 square metres (over three acres) and is 36 metres (118 feet) in height. Climbing the hill, you will find a number of historical sites some of which can be traced back over 2500 years to the founding of Suzhou. Although the hill is relatively small it has rich history. These are just some of the highlights of what is to be found there:
The Tomb of King He Lu
In 496 BC during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC), He Lu, King of the Wu perished during the war fought against the Yue. His son buried him within the hill and three days after the funeral a white tiger came and sat upon the grave as though guarding it. From that time on it has been known as Tiger Hill.
Tiger Hill Pagoda
The pagoda stands on the hill's summit and is the Pagoda of the Yunyan Temple. As the oldest pagoda in the vicinity of Suzhou it has come to be a symbol of the city and has the distinction of being China's Leaning Tower. Built during the Northern Song Dynasty (959-961) it is a seven-storey octahedron after the style of the timber pagodas built during the early Tang period. It is 48 metres high (158 feet) and for the past four hundred years has leant 359' to the northwest.
Sword Testing Stone and Sword Pool: King He Lu was a zealous collector of rare swords and it is said that he tested them upon this stone. The crevice thus made in the rock is the only evidence of the existence of these swords, as it is believed that they were buried beneath the Sword Pool as funerary objects. Another mystery that surrounds the tomb is the whereabouts of the remains of the 1,000 workers who built it and who were put to death upon completion of the task.
Lu Yu Well
Lu Yu was an authority on the art of tea and wrote the first ever book on the subject entitled 'The Treatise of Tea'. As an old man, he lived on Tiger Hill and it was here that he wrote the final part of his book. Lu Yu excavated the well and declared that the water from it was the third best in all China. Consequent upon the research and teaching of Lu Yu tea growing and consumption came to be important factors in the daily life of the citizens of Suzhou.
Verdant Mountain Villa
Built in the tenth year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the villa is a masterpiece of the splendid gardens for which Suzhou is so famous. The Verdant Mountain Villa (Yongcui Shanzhuang) was designed so that it embraced the natural vistas and views from the halls and porches are most pleasing to the eye.
The ancient art of bonsai tree growing originated in China and there are thousands of magnificent specimens on display at this villa. Many of the specimens you can see have been awarded prize palms in prestigious bonsai competitions. The miniature replicas of full sized gardens are sure to amaze you and will give an insight into the skill and artistry of Chinese master gardeners that has been handed down from long ago.
There can be little doubt that Tiger Hill is a wonderful sight with its leaning pagoda, waterfalls and landscaped paths. It is hard to believe that the hill was man made to be the burial place of king but this is yet another part of the wonder that is China, a land that will never cease to amaze and enthral the visitor with its heritage.
Canglang Pavilion (Blue Wave Pavilion)
Canglang Pavilion, located south of Suzhou city, is the oldest garden among the existing classical gardens of Suzhou. It is also one of the four most famous gardens in the city - the others being: "Lion Grove", "Humble Administrator's Garden" and "Garden for Lingering In." The area used to be the private garden of a Prince of the Five Dynasties (907-960). During the Northern Song Dynasty, the scholar Su Zimei built a pavilion in this garden and named it Canglang Pavilion. The garden has been rebuilt many times but most of the present garden buildings, simple and plain, date from the Qing Dynasty.
Covering an area of 10,656 square meters, the garden, connected by a long roofed walkway, features a range of man-made mountains on the inside and waterscapes on the outside. To enter the garden, one must proceed past an expanse of water over a zigzag bridge of stone and through the entrance. It is at this point that one catches sight of a man-made mountain covered with age-old trees and bamboo.
Canglang Pavilion, in the shape of a square, stands at the top of the mountain. A parallel couplet on its stone pillars reads: "The refreshing breeze and the bright moon are priceless, the nearby water and the distant mountains strike a sentimental note." A double- corridor built by the canal lies to the north of the garden, unifying the waterscapes outside with the garden and "mountain scenery" inside.
Enlightened Way Hall (Mingdao Hall), located to the south of the mountains, is the major building of the garden. It was said to have been a site for lectures during the Ming Dynasty. Surrounded by verdant trees, it appears simple but dignified.
In addition to its mountains and water, the garden is also famous for its unique latticed windows. There're about 108 kinds of latticed windows with impressive designs, possessing extremely high artistic value. They are uniquely designed and elaborately made, and enjoy a high reputation among all the gardens in Suzhou.
Covering an area of 23,310 square meters, the Lingering Garden is the best garden in Suzhou as well as being one of the four most famous gardens in China. (The others are: the Summer Palace in Beijing, the Mountain Resort of Chengde, and the Humble Administrator's Garden in Suzhou). It is renowned for the artistic way in which the spaces between various kinds of architectural forms are dealt with.
Situated outside the Cang Gate of Suzhou city, the garden was built in the 21st year of the reign of Wanli (1583 A.D.) by Xu Taishi, a bureaucrat, as his private garden-residence and named East Garden. According to the famous writer Yuan Hongdao (1568 - 1610) in his "A Record of Gardens", the East Garden at that time "has magnificent multi-storey houses in the front and halls in the rear, and a range of awe-inspiring stone mountains built by the well-known master Zhou Bingzhong, resembling a long scroll of landscape painting."
Later the garden belonged to the Liu family in the 59th year of the reign of Qianlong (1794 A.D.) and was expanded, repaired, and renamed "the Hanbi Villa", while popularly known as "Liu Garden". In the 12th year of the reign of Tongzhi (1873 A.D.), it was purchased, expanded and repaired by the Shengs, who gave it a new name "Lingering Garden ", since "lingering" in Chinese sounds similar to "Liu", the surname of the former owner.
Today the garden is separated into the eastern, central, northern and western parts. The central part features a man-made mountain and lakeside scene, resembling a long scroll of traditional Chinese painting. The eastern part is noted for its joyous groupings of garden courts and elegant buildings, the western part for the enchantment of woody hills, and the northern part for cottages with bamboo fences and idyllic scenes.
An artificial hill made from Taihu rock is always the main component of Suzhou gardens. The 6.5-meter-high Cloud-Capped Peak in this garden, as the highest limestone in classical gardens of Suzhou, is believed to have been left behind by the imperial collector of the Northern Song Dynasty. Weighing about 5 tons, the limestone is supposed to have been carried from Taihu Lake, 40kms away.
The number of stelea in the Lingering Garden has never been surpassed by any other garden in Suzhou. Masterfully inscribed with the works of over 100 calligraphers in the Jin, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, these priceless stelea illustrate the evolutionary course of Chinese calligraphy during the past 1,000 years.
Lingering Garden is characteristic of the classical gardens in the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze region and in 1961 it was listed as a cultural relic of national importance.
Garden of the Master of the Nets
Sometimes the smallest package can contain the most magnificent gift. The Garden of the Master of the Nets is a clear example of this. It is the smallest of the Suzhou residential gardens, yet it is the most impressive because of its use of space which creates the illusion of an area that is much greater than its actual size. Even more than the architectural achievement is the mood of tranquillity and harmony that this humble garden embodies.
This exquisite garden was first designed during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) as part of a residence that was used until the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860's. It was later restored and became the residence of a government official from whom the garden gets its name. It is said that in a moment of frustration with bureaucracy he declared that he would rather be a fisherman than a bureaucrat.
The garden is divided into three sections: a residential section, the central main garden and an inner garden. The main garden has a large pond that is surrounded by pathways and a variety of buildings such as the Ribbon Washing Pavillion, and the Pavillion for the advent of the Moon and Wind. There are many more buildings that are situated so that there is never a sense of crowding, but always of spaciousness. As is common in Suzhou gardens, the pond has a small pavilion in it. Here the pavilion is accessible by a bridge that is less than one foot wide.
As you walk about the gardens and along the walkways, there are often views through windows onto beautiful flowers or plants framing them from a distance and drawing you to a single sight, a moment of peaceful natural beauty. As you walk through the buildings, it is easy to imagine the life that the original residents lived in a feudal society where these gardens were solely for their pleasure and the pleasure of their guests. The various buildings are constructed so that you can always access the main garden from any room. The rooms themselves are quite impressive in design and ornamentation and well represent the style of the Song Dynasty.
The inner garden which is only about 660 square feet, has the distinction of being used as the model for the Ming Hall Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and also completely miniaturized for an exhibit in the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1982. This garden is reputed to be the most well-preserved garden in Suzhou and should not be missed. It is small in size, but is like a beautifully cut diamond whose beauty is of never ending fascination and pleasure.
Hanshan Temple (Cold Mountain Temple)
Moon sets, crows cry and frost fills all the sky; By maples and boat lights, I sleepless lie. Outside Suzhou Hanshan Temple is in sight; Its ringing bells reach my boat at midnight.
Hanshan Temple is located in Maple Bridge town in the west outskirts of Suzhou, only 1 kilometer west of the Lingering Garden. It was first built in the Tianjian period of the Liang Dynasty (502-557) with the name of Miaolita Yuan (Miaolita Temple). During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a famous monk named Hanshan was said to have lived and was the temple's care-taker. The temple's name was later renamed after Hanshan.
The temple used to be one of the ten most famous temples in China. The poem of "A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge" by Zhang Ji, a famous poet of the Tang dynasty, is so oft-quoted and widely loved that the poetic rhyme and the bell-tolling sounds have made the Hanshan Temple celebrated at home and abroad.
Destroyed and rebuilt for many times, the present complex mainly dates from the Qing dynasty at the time of Emperors Guangxu and Xuantong. Covering an area of 45 hectares, the main architectural structures in this temple include the main hall, the hall with a circular gallery, the sutra library, the bell tower, a pavilion tower known as Maple River Tower, and many more.
The Bell Tower is an important component of the Hanshan Temple. The bell mentioned in Zhangji's poem has long been lost and the present one was made in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty. When the bell is tolling, the deep strokes that echo in the halls mix with the deep-toned chants of the monks evoking both a solemn and reverent feelings for all worshippers in the temple.
According to Buddhist legend, each layman has 108 kinds of annoyance per year and each bell tolling can help people dispel a kin of annoyance. Hence, listening to the bell tolls of the Hanshan Temple on New Year's Eve has been an exceptionally grand occasion since 1979. During New Year's Eve, thousands of visitors at home and abroad gather inside and outside of the temple to listen to the one hundred and eight bell tolls at the same time praying for luck and happiness in the New Year.
There are cultural relics including a stone tablet inscribed with the poem "A Night Mooring at Maple Bridge" by Zhang Ji, stone carvings and a large number of steles inside the Hanshan Temple.
The Grand Canal, located immediately west of the city, is the longest man?made waterway in the world. Originally constructed to bear tribute rice from the Yangt:se Plain to the imperial government in Beijing, portions of the canal remain economically vital until?the present day. The segment adjacent to Suzhou is heavily traversed by long lines of cargo barges carrying agricultural products and raw materials from commune fields to urban processing plants or warehouses. The canal's embankments have masonry towpaths which are still in use. The width 9 the canal averages 30.5 m. (100 ft.) but narrows to about 9 m. (30 ft.) at the numerous picturesque stone bridges that arch gracefully above it. Depths average 2~3 m. (7?10 ft.), adequate for small river craft.