Popular Chinese legend states
that, "In heaven there is paradise, and on
earth there are Hangzhou and Suzhou". Suzhou
(population 5.7 million), has been praised as a
"paradise on earth" since ancient times.
Being only two hours from Shanghai, Suzhou has enjoyed
great prosperity and recognition over the years
and this is an extraordinarily delicate and elegant
city in parts. However, it is an exaggeration to
refer to this pretty place as "paradise".
Like many other cities in China, the bulldozers
and cranes have moved in. There is still a fair
amount to see and the classical and traditional
Chinese style and designs here make a nice change
from the modernity of Shanghai.
Suzhou is one of the oldest towns
in the Yangtze basin, founded in about 600 BC
but really making it's fame one thousand years
later when the Grand Canal was up and running.
The great location that the city affords helped
Suzhou become a prosperous trading area and the
silk industry especially boomed here. By the 14th
Century, Suzhou had become the leading silk producer
in China and this quaint little retreat became
popular with visitors from the imperial court
at Hangzhou. Artists, scholars and painters all
retreated to this "Venice of the East"
to seek inspiration and to relax.
Suzhou was one of the few city's
in China to escape the ravages of the cultural
revolution and its famous gardens survived almost
intact. It is the gardens here, which are the
most famous attraction in the city. The gardens
embody the harmonious principles of Chinese garden
construction which dictate that gardens should
attempt to create a microcosm of the universe
in a confined space. Amongst the most charming
are the Garden of the Master of the Nets and the
Humble Administrators Garden. The intimate gardens
here are particularly pleasant on a misty day
and Suzhou's narrow streets and lanes can be very
romantic and relaxing.
Suzhou's cultural sites and temples
are also worth a visit. Hanshan Temple's distinctive
atmosphere and construction are unforgettable.
The Temple of Mystery and West Garden Temple are
both excellent examples of Daoist and Buddhist
tradition respectively. Also, Tiger Hill is a
great spot to explore and spend a lazy afternoon
in a historical setting. Suzhou's profound cultural
and historical background as an ancient capital
have helped make this one of China's premier tourism
However, the crowds of tourists
here can get unbearable and Suzhou is a favorite
with Chinese tour groups who are bussed in and
out on day trips. It's most pleasant therefore,
in the early evening when the sun is going down
and the streets are emptying. The canals and quaint
little houses and alleys are charming at this
time. Get there fast though, as things are changing.
Hotels, skyscrapers and highways are going up
and urban renewal is eating away at this little
area of "paradise".
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