Mid-Lake Pavilion of the West Garden in the city of Suzhou. The city’s private gardens, as well as its canals, have survived over the centuries. PHOTO BY PAUL AND BERNICE NOLL.

Suzhou is located in the eastern province of Jiangsu in the Yangzi (Chang) River delta. It was a center of Wu civilization from the fifth century BCE. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo reportedly called the city the “Venice of the East.” Today it is a tourist destination popular for its architecture, canals, gardens, and nearby Lake Taihu.

Suzhou (sometimes referred to as “Soochow”) is one of China’s most beautiful cities, known for its canals, architecture, arching bridges, and classical gardens. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo (1254–1324), according to legend, called Suzhou the “Venice of the East.” A popular Chinese saying is that “above the earth, there is the heaven, and on earth, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou” ????, ???? to describe these beautiful Chinese cities.

The city’s gardens, along with Lake Taihu west of the city, are popular tourist destinations. Rail and motor traffic between Nanjing and Shanghai pass through Suzhou’s jurisdiction. The city’s economy has grown rapidly during the past ten years, although its agricultural base has decreased as its industrial system has increased.

The city is located in southern Jiangsu Province and was founded in the fifth century BCE. Much of Suzhou is surrounded by the Outer Moat. The Grand Canal (the world’s longest human-made waterway, connecting Beijing and Hangzhou) also passes through the city. After the canal was completed during the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE), Suzhou became an early trade center.

Suzhou was the capital of the kingdom of Emperor Wu (140–86 BCE), although the city wasn’t named “Suzhou” until the Sui dynasty. The city was destroyed during the fourteenth century and again during the Taiping Rebellion of 1851–1864 (the largest rebellion in China’s history). In 1896 Suzhou became a treaty port and was opened to the West. The city was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and taken over by the Chinese Communists in 1949.

Historically silk has been the most famous of Suzhou’s exports, and the city also is known for its embroidery. The city is located in the subtropical zone and has a mild climate and enough rain and sunshine for good rice crops in the surrounding paddies. The economy is diversified with chemicals, paper, cotton textiles, ceramics, metallurgy, machine tools, and electronics. However, rapid economic growth has harmed Lake Taihu. Suzhou was not located in one of Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping’s original four special economic zones (SEZs) established in 1979. Nevertheless, the city’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is twice as high as that of the rest of Jiangsu Province, and Jiangsu is the third-wealthiest province in China (after Guangdong on the south coast and Shandong to the north of Jiangsu).

One of the city’s many economic successes is Suzhou Industrial Park, a China-Singapore joint venture. For the past few years fifty to one hundred of the Fortune 500 U.S. corporations have had a corporate presence in Suzhou.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest of the ten most famous and well-preserved gardens of Suzhou, and the Garden of the Master of the Nets is the smallest. The scholar-officials who constructed the Suzhou gardens during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing dynasties (1644–1912) were weekday Confucians and weekend Daoists. They luxuriated at the end of their work week in the splendor of their nature retreats. To them it was important that the gardens included the five elements of water, specific plants, large and porous rocks, buildings, and calligraphy. In 1997 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named the Classical Gardens of Suzhou to its list of World Heritage Sites.

Further Reading

Keswick, M. (2003). The Chinese garden. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Spence, J. (1990). The search for modern China. New York: W. W. Norton.

Suzhou. (1996). Retrieved November 26, 2008, from

Suzhou China. (2008). Retrieved December 9, 2008, from

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (n.d.). Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from

Yang Xiaoshan. (2003). Metamorphosis of the private sphere. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center.

Young, M. W., & Stetler, S. (Eds.). (1987). Cities of the world: Asia, the Pacific, & the Asiatic Middle East (Vol. 4, 3rd ed.). Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company.

In the sky there is heaven, on earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou.

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shàng y?u ti?n táng xià y?u s? háng

Source: Schroeder, Carole. (2009). Suzhou. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2152–2154. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Grand Canal tour guides wait for customers in Suzhou Province. PHOTO BY PAUL AND BERNICE NOLL.

Suzhou (S?zh?u Shì ???)|S?zh?u Shì ??? (Suzhou)

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