Located in the south of Jiangsu Province, Suzhou is about 50 miles west of Shanghai. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “In heaven there is paradise; on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.” There is great rivalry between the two cities. Suzhou is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze basin…founded in the 5th century B.C. It has been relatively undisturbed by industrial development, leaving large areas just as they were centuries ago. The city is a perfect place to explore on foot, but if you’re on a tour, this may not be possible. The town is threaded by canals and the roadways are linked by old humpbacked bridges. All of these canals eventually join the famous local waterway known as the Grand Canal. You may have a cruise on the Grand Canal at Suzhou.
LIU GARDEN (LINGERING GARDENS/CLASSICAL GARDENS): These gardens cover about 10 acres, and were originally laid out during the Ming Dynasty. They were carefully restored in 1954. Here you will find a series of small lakes linked by bridges and numerous buildings or pavilions. The most interesting is called the HALL OF THE MANDARIN DUCKS. Other buildings have picture windows, which open on or frame beautiful views of the landscape. The artificial rock formations are delightful. There is a section planted with fruit trees, and a portion devoted to the cultivation of bonzai trees…which originated in China, and not in Japan. Next door to the garden is the XI YUAN SI (West Garden Temple).
WANG SHI YUAN (GARDEN OF THE MASTER OF THE NETS): Originally created in the 12th century, this is a small garden where large parts are occupied by various types of structures. The main entrance has a high stone step outside which indicates that the owner was a high official. Sections of his residence remain (one grand room, beautifully furnished with elaborately carved pieces where the men met, and another room equally furnished, where the women met). The garden itself is rather small and contains a number of walks alongside and through the buildings. Also featured are window openings framing the landscape, and mirrors, which extend the concept of space. Walls are used to divide the area into smaller sections and in doing so, create a feeling of spaciousness.
FACTORIES: Suzhou may be your designated city in which to visit factories. They are interesting and do not take much time. At the end of each factory tour, you will stop at a shop where the products can be purchased. Even though the Chinese obviously want you to purchase, they give you very little time to do so. Among the factories here: THE JADE FACTORY…where you’ll see all aspects of jade carving…simply go into a room and look over the shoulders of the apprentices. THE EMBROIDERY FACTORY…where you’ll be amazed at the delicate work done by ladies depicting an image on BOTH sides of a fine nylon backing.
It is so tricky that an image on one side can be totally different on the other side. THE SILK PRINTING FACTORY…where you’ll see yards of silk rolled out on long tables with men silk-screening the patterns, section by section/color by color.
COLD MOUNTAIN TEMPLE: Located on the outskirts of town on a small canal. Many poets have been inspired by the scenery here. Enter through a door set into a saffron-colored wall and pass through a pavilion into a courtyard. Here you’ll find a tall incense burner in front of a small temple housing a statue of Buddha and two Guardians. To the right is a bell tower. This temple was founded A.D. 503-557, but was rebuilt in the late Qing period.
TIGER HILL: This is supposedly the burial place of the King of Wu, who founded Suzhou in the 6th century B.C. On arrival, you cross a small bridge and pass through the gate into the grounds. A path leads to the top of the hill. As you walk up the hill you will see the STONE WHERE SWORDS ARE TRIED, which is a thick stone apparently cut into two parts. Farther up on your left, you’ll see the PILLOW STONE, said to have been used as a pillow by an early monk. You’ll also pass the TOMB OF THE GOOD WIFE, which was erected, by the town in honor of a noble lady who committed suicide following the death of her husband, rather than become a concubine. Later you’ll come to a ravine, which descends into a deep pool, which is said to be the burial place of the King of Wu. Finally, the path leads to the TIGER HILL PAGODA, which was completed in A.D. 961. Objects and caskets were found in the inner wall of the pagoda… scrolls of Buddhist texts, pieces of pottery, coins, mirrors, and two tools used in building the pagoda. The pagoda has a distinct lean towards the southeast…is octagonal in shape…about 150 high…and one of the oldest in China. It is constructed entirely of brick and stone, which probably accounts for its long life. This pagoda is a national monument.
OTHER PAGODAS: The most conspicuous are the TWO PAGODA TEMPLE. On the outskirts of town is the PAGODA OF THE TEMPLE OF GOOD OMEN LIGHT, which is a 7-story brick pagoda. The other pagoda is the PAGODA OF THE TEMPLE OF GRAFITUDE which is a 9-story pagoda thought to date from the 12th century.
WEST GARDEN TEMPLE (XI XUAN SI): This temple dates from the Ming Dynasty. The central pavilion houses statues of Buddha and the Guardians. Also see the HALL OF FIVE HUNDRED ADHERENTS where there are hundreds of statues of the faithful.
TEMPLE OF MYSTERY (XUAN MIAO GUAN): Originally founded in the 3rd century. Enter through a pavilion containing statues of 4 Guardians, pass through a courtyard with the HALL OF THE THREE QING. It’s a large double-roofed building with upturned eaves at the corners.
HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN…from 16th century…many lakes.
GARDEN OF HARMONY: Artificial hills…caves…lakes…pavilions.
GARDEN OF THE FOREST OF LIONS: Dates from 1350…4 lakes…hills/rocks/bridges.
GARDEN OF THE PAVILLION OF WAVES: Pavilions…bridges…ponds.