Area: 8,488 square kilometers
Population: 5.51 million
in the southern part of the Yangtze River Delta and built as early as
514 B.C., Suzhou is known primarily as the Venice of the East and the
City of Gardens. It has remains of the city wall (including land and water
gates), old-style houses (with tile roofs and white-washed walls) lining
the canals, as well as temples, pagodas, and gardens of special historical
interest. There is the manmade magnificence of the Grand Canal flowing
by the city in addition to the natural beauty of places such as Lake Tai,
the East Hill, Yu Hill, Sky-Flat Hill, and Divine Rock Hill. Suzhou is
also celebrated for its paintings, calligraphic art, silk embroidery,
sandalwood fans, jade carvings, lacquer ware, and other crafts.
When the Grand Canal was completed during the
Sui Dynasty (589-618), Suzhou found itself placed strategically on a major
trading route. Commerce flourished, and Chinese aristocrats along with
famed scholars and painters set about building elegant villas and gardens.
Suzhou's garden art has developed dramatically since the Pi Jing Garden
of the Eastern Jing Dynasty. There were once over 200 gardens in the city;
69 of them are still well preserved. Beyond the city limits, in regions
south of the Yangtze, many more private gardens have been built in imitation
of Suzhou's classical garden archetype.
The Suzhou garden originated from the desire
to retire from the stress and strife of officialdom--in other words, to
shun worldly affairs. In the cultivation of the garden, one seeks a return
to nature and a refinement of human temperament, much in line with Taoist
philosophy. Hills and ponds; flowers and trees; and pavilions, terraces,
towers, and halls constitute the basic garden elements, while the predominant
tone is expressed in the dark color of roof tiles, the gray of bricks,
and the chestnut brown of wooden pillars.
The unfolding of garden vistas is something
like the opening of a landscape scroll. While enjoying tea, reading poetry,
admiring flower arrangements, or playing a musical instrument in the garden,
one is often surprised by the seeds of a most natural inspiration--an
insight that has inspired the phrase, "There is heaven above, Suzhou and
Hangzhou below." For many tourists desiring to understand China as fully
as possible, Suzhou gardens offer one of the best museums.