China - Suzhou

Suzhou (Chinese: ; pinyin: Sūzhōu), also transliterated as Soochow, is a major city in the southeast of Jiangsu Province in Eastern China, adjacent to Shanghai Municipality. The city is on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake and is a part of the Yangtze River Delta region. Administratively, Suzhou is a prefecture-level city with an urban population of over 4 million in its core districts expanding to over 10 million in the administrative area. It is considered one of the richest major cities in China.

Originally founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of rich history, and relics of the past are abundant to this day. During the East Han Dynasty (100 AD), it became one of the ten largest cities in the world due to immigration. Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it has been an important commercial center of China. During the Ming and Qing Dynasty, Suzhou was the nation's economic, cultural and commercial center, as well as the largest noncapital city in the world, until the 1860 Taiping Rebellion. When Li Hongzhang and Charles George Gordon recaptured the city three years later, Shanghai had already taken its predominant place in the nation.

The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. Suzhou is often dubbed the "Venice of the East" or "Venice of China".


Suzhou, the cradle of Wu culture is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. 2500 years ago in the late Zhou Dynasty, local tribes who named themselves Gou Wu (t 勾吳, s 勾吴) lived in the area which would become the modern city of Suzhou. These tribes formed villages on the edges of hills above the wetlands around Lake Tai.

Traditional Chinese history credits the Zhou lord Taibo with establishing the state of Wu during the 11th century BC, civilizing the local people and improving their agriculture and mastery of irrigation. The capital of Wu was within modern Suzhou and was known as Gusu (t 姑蘇, s 姑苏) or Wu (t , s ). In 514 BC, during the Spring and Autumn Period, King Helü of Wu established his new capital nearby at Helü City (t 闔閭城, s 阖闾城); this site grew into present-day Suzhou. In 496 BC, King Helü was buried at Tiger Hill. In 473 BC, Wu was defeated by Yue, a kingdom to its southeast which was in turn annexed by Chu in 306 BC. Remnants of this culture include remainders of a 2,500 year old city wall and the gate through it at Pan Gate.

By the time of the Qin Dynasty, the city was known as Wuxian (t 吳縣, s 吴县) or Wujun and was the capital of the Kuaiji Commandery (t c會稽郡, s 会稽郡). Xiang Yu staged his 209 BC uprising there, contributing to the overthrow of Qin.

When the Grand Canal was completed, Suzhou found itself strategically located on a major trade route. In the course of the history of China, it has been a metropolis of industry and commerce on the southeastern coast of China. During the Tang Dynasty, the great poet Bai Juyi constructed the Shantang Canal (called "Shantang Street", 山塘街) to connect the city with Tiger Hill for tourists. In AD 1035, the temple of Confucius was founded by famed poet and writer Fan Zhongyan. It became a venue for imperial civil examinations. It developed into the modern Suzhou High School in 1910s.

In February 1130, the advancing Jin army from the north ransacked the city. This was followed by the Mongol invasion in 1275. In 1356, Suzhou became the capital of Zhang Shicheng, one of the leaders of the Red Turban Rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty and the self-proclaimed King of Wu. In 1367, Zhang's Nanjing-based rival Zhu Yuanzhang took the city after a 10-month siege. Zhu – who was soon to proclaim himself the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty – demolished the royal city in the center of Suzhou's walled city and imposed crushing taxes on the city and prefecture's powerful families. Despite the heavy taxation and the resettlement of some of Suzhou's prominent citizens' to the area of Hongwu's capital at Nanjing, Suzhou was soon prosperous again.

When the shipwrecked Korean official Choe Bu had a chance to see much of Eastern China from Zhejiang to Liaoning on his way home in 1488, he described Suzhou in his travel report as exceeding every other city. Many of the famous private gardens were constructed by the gentry of the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, the city was to see another disaster in 1860 when Taiping soldiers captured the city. In November 1863, the Ever-Victorious Army of Charles Gordon recaptured the city from the Taiping forces.

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