Suzhou, China with Style
In his poem titled “Carrying Someone To Travel Around Wu Area” Xunhe Du, the well-known poet in the late Tang Dynasty, described Suzhou as “People all live by rivers,” “Little bridges spread over the water city,” “Lotus root and damask are sold from boats at night fairs,” “...staying awake on the moonlit nights,” and “falling into nostalgia with the echoes of fisherman’s songs”. This is a lifestyle people were yearning for a thousand years ago, and yet this is the same lifestyle people have been living in Suzhou for a thousand years!
Today in the city of Suzhou the elegance is real; it can be a gown made of silk, a dish in season, Kunqu Opera shown in gardens or a fresh breeze wafting through the old streets... today this classical Suzhou lifestyle remains alive.
Five thousand years of Chinese agricultural history and three thousand years of Wu Culture, interwoven over time; this is the foundation of Suzhou, once the capital of the Wu Nation in the Spring and Autumn Periods. Today this heritage remains and a rich history continues to survive in the well preserved antiquity of Suzhou’s streets, ever present and visible in the lifestyle and identity of her people.
Suzhou remains a poetic and picturesque city where charm and sentiment blend perfectly with dramatic visuals and scenery.
Designed in Suzhou
Suzhou has often been described as having an innate quality as fine as Suzhou silk with aspects of Suzhou lifestyle being matched to the characteristics of the finest silk. The people of Suzhou have long been considered as the most glamorous when dressing in silk.
While Suzhou is the home of silk in China since the Tang and Song Dynasties, other exquisite materials such as Suzhou brocade and tapestries have earned iconic status in the world of fabrics. In the Ming Dynasty, the majority of silk chosen by the imperial family was Suzhou silk.
The iconic flower design of Song Brocade was recently tailored into suits for global Leaders attending the 2014 APEC summit and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. While the elegance of the fabric can be seen from afar, it’s delicacy is only fully appreciated with a close-up look, touch and feel.
In addition to Suzhou’s iconic silks and brocade, the Tapestry Weavings worn by the imperial family, while mostly unknown to the general public, are indeed unique. Suzhou weaving design and skill was always reputed as the most elegant available; suitable for the imperial family; a royal endorsement of Wu style.
These delicate fabrics, grandly exhibited at the APEC summit, are now museum pieces, yet they are still available in local markets today such as Suzhou’s well known city center Guanqian Jie, shopping area. Although found on display in museums, these fabrics are considered suitable for fashionable daily wear.
The spirit of Suzhou’s excellent craftsmanship, while long rooted in the Wu culture, remains grounded in the presence of everyday Suzhou life. Visits to Suzhou fabric factories continue to impress visitors today where the high standard of craftsmanship remains unchallenged.
All about Time and Place
“Never eat food that is not in season...” is the diet motto Suzhou citizens have lived by for a thousand years!
Traditionally, certain vegetables are only eaten in the Spring whereas others only in Summer. In addition, local people are knowledgeable of good harvests meaning good timing and suitable growing condition. Suzhou people pay special attention to seasonal timings such as when rice matures or when hairy crabs are best in Yangcheng Lake, where the soil is fertile and lake is extremely clear.
The characteristics of Suzhou’s Biluochun tea, an exotic green tea whose name was the creation of Emperor Kangxi, will differ greatly depending on the actual picking time. Biluochun tea is best picked either before or after the Qingming Festival in early April. Although Biluochun tea picked before the rain season, several days after Qingming, has an attractive smell, Suzhou citizens call it ‘Chaoqing’ to differentiate it from the earlier pre-Qingming harvest.
Even for a simple family meal, Suzhou citizens will choose and prepare dishes according to the time of the year. They will focus on fresh ingredients in Spring, with lightly seasoned dishes in Summer, newly harvested ingredients in Autumn, and preferring nutritiously rich dishes in Winter.
There are traditional Suzhou dishes typically ‘best’ at certain times of the year. In the spring, shrimp with Biluochun tea and bamboo shoot soup with fresh pickled streaky pork are preferred. Chicken with watermelon and Stir fried shrimp are popular in Summer, Lotus soup and hairy crabs are strong favorites in Autumn, and Winter is best for chicken with Soya sauce and herring tail.
Suzhou craftsmanship is also found in the local cuisine, reflecting their attentive attitude towards creating the ‘exquisite life’. Suzhou cuisine cooking methods vary from other cuisines with particular care and detail being the hallmarks of local dishes. This will be noticeable in the local fish dishes where the shrimp are served shelled and the presentation of Suzhou’s popular ‘Mandarin’ fish (sweet and sour trout) dish is stunning; this fish dish was created for Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty by local chefs when the emperor visited Suzhou. It is a whole boneless trout presented in dramatic style with opened mouth and raised tail; the fish meat is intricately ‘carved’ to resemble the shape of a squirrel!
Suzhou cuisine leans towards sweet as opposed to the spicy cuisine of other regions. Other local delicacies to look for include Hairy Leg Crabs (especially its roe), Taihu Three Whites (a selection of fish from Taihu Lake), the succulent Tongli Pork, steamed Crawfish (seasonal) and year-round favorites such as small wontons, dumplings and various local snack dishes.
Harmony in the Home
The classical UNESCO listed gardens of Suzhou, widely known for the creation of natural scenic landscape surrounded by pagodas, are uniquely picturesque and designed to reflect a poetic ambience. Although manufactured, the gardens appear as if they are natural. For Suzhou citizens, the gardens are not only scenic places of interest, but are preserved homes representing daily life in old Suzhou.
Suzhou gardens have the reputation as being ‘best of the best’ in Chinese culture. Since the end of the Spring and Autumn Periods (771 to 476 BC), these gardens have been characterized as the most charming places in Suzhou. It is recorded that there were originally over 250 gardens in Suzhou. Today there are 60 completely preserved gardens with 14 open to the public, most of which are located in the Old Town District. To spend time in these gardens offers the visitor a taste of an ancient form of serenity in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city life.
In addition to the creation of natural space, the Suzhou gardens were designed to capture and present the changes of all four seasons. They have also been cleverly created so as to offer an attractive habitat for singing birds which can be heard in all seasons. The garden layout is also carefully arranged so that the visitor feels comfortable in the varying temperature of the typical Suzhou-Jiangnan (south bank of the Yangtze river region) seasons.
The ancient art of garden design in Suzhou is best known for offering splendid views at every turn where you can enjoy tea or wine. All the gardens were designed with a theme such as the Garden of Cultivation, designed for drinking tea in the warm Spring; the Humble Administrator's Garden offering spectacular displays of lotus in the Summer, and the Master of Nets Garden is where the visitor can appreciate Pingtan musical stories during mild Autumn nights.
Venice of the Orient
Canals, a Moat and Water
Suzhou is a water city; titled as ‘Venice of the Orient’ by Marco Polo, with all boat traffic dependent on waterways and even the original city layout, still preserved to this day, was determined by the layout of rivers and canals.
With the most waterways and bridges in China, Suzhou’s lifestyle and energy are largely shaped by the surrounding waterways. Since the completion of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in the Sui Dynasty, people have gathered and settled along these water courses, with a complete moat surrounding the city and three of the major city gates on water. Along the Shantang Canal, you can see what was poetically described in early times as the “top romantic and richest place in the human world”. While you may not see luxurious houses, you will still notice prosperity in the streets.
The Grand Canal, which intersects Suzhou city as it meanders it way south from Beijing to Hangzhou, was formerly the main regional transportation route before the development of highway networks. Because greater Suzhou also includes the mouth of the Yangtze river (in Taicang), early development in Suzhou and the surrounding Wu region was more significant than other areas.
With Suzhou surrounded by major waterways, including Taihu Lake, the fifth largest lakes in China, many aspects of the Wu culture of Suzhou and the surrounding greater Suzhou area are characterized by water. Even the local dialect, characterized by soft ‘sing-song’ sounding tones, is said to be consistent with expansive water themes and the associated warm humid climate.
Suzhou Water Towns
The Energy of Water...
Suzhou’s original town plan layout, historically referred to as the ‘double chessboard’ pattern, is based on a checkerboard pattern of water and land; canals alongside streets. To this extent Suzhou epitomizes the appearance of many Suzhou-Jiangnan water towns, typically characterized by small bridges over canals and streams, whitewashed walls and black tiles.
The original city layout is clearly visible in the Pingjiang Old Town District, a small well preserved historic area near the downtown commercial district where all residents still maintain the old-Suzhou life style. Pingjiang Street is the main North-South thoroughfare in this Old Town District with many of the original homes preserved and offering a warm welcome to visitors. In Shantang Street, another well preserved Old Town District, passing boats glide silently alongside original canal bank houses, as they have done for a thousand years.
Only after several days in Suzhou can one understand and appreciate the depth and breadth of Suzhou’s Wu ‘water’ culture. Some better known water towns that will fulfill an ‘Old Town’ experience include: Zhouzhuang, probably the most visited water town in China; Tongli, a small yet exquisite water town; Luzhi, nicknamed ‘Bridge town’ by many visitors; Mudu, the best garden town in the Suzhou-Jiangnan region; Qiandeng, a highly renowned and historic water town; and Guangfu, known for it’s lake side location and authentic crafts.
Drama of Suzhou
Opera Pintan and Music
Intrepid visitors who care to wander the streets of Suzhou will find themselves immersed in soft local melodies floating on the night air. Kunqu Opera, which originated in Suzhou’s Kunshan, has a local reputation as ‘the Father of Dramas’. Kunqu opera was listed in the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage (ICH) register in 2001. Beautiful words, sweet tunes and exquisite performances were all given life on Suzhou’s meandering waterways.
In Suzhou one can experience many musical art forms which fully compliment our Kunqu Opera...
The Guqin instrument, one of the most iconic symbols of Chinese music culture, is a Suzhou treasure and the town of Changshu, located in Greater Suzhou, holds the reputation as the ‘town of Guqin’.
The Changshu Yushanqin Music School for Guqin students was founded at the end of the Ming Dynasty. The school has been recognized for over 400 years as playing an important role in Chinese Guqin art history. And for over 300 years this school has produced many of China’s Guqin masters of the Qin style. In 2005 the Changshu Guqin Art Museum was founded, offering exhibition space, music research, performances and training and communication services.
Pingtan is an art form enjoying a long history with timeless popularity in the Suzhou-Jiangnan region. It is a unique art form of talk and singing performed in the local Wu dialect for the telling of historic and epic stories. Although this art form is simple, it is rich in content with a combination of story telling, joke telling, music playing and aria singing. In 2006, Pingtan was listed in China's UNESCO intangible cultural heritage register by the China Ministry of Culture and long been praised as “the beautiful voice of China.”
Kunqu Opera, complimented by melodious Guqin music, has very much shaped the elegant romantic and graceful lifestyle of Suzhou people for centuries.
East Meets West
Ancient Charm Meets Modern Style
In the present day, the ancient traditions of Suzhou have been transformed into a celebration of the city’s rapid development. Ga Shen Xian traditional temple fair is now one of the largest annual celebrations in Suzhou. Visitors from all over the world crowd under a sky of floating red lanterns, inspired by local fairy tales and praying for good luck all year round.
In the Old Town Districts, commemorative activities are held annually in the ancestral temples near the popular Panmen scenic area to memorialize and celebrate the contribution made by city founder Zixu Wu, who established the fundamental structure of Suzhou Old Town District in Spring and Autumn Period.
During the annual Dragon Boat Festival, Suzhou proudly celebrates her two faces; the old and the new...
On Suzhou’s Jinji Lake, near the prosperous SIP business district (Suzhou Industrial Park), the annual Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in a more contemporary manner; race teams consisting of corporate staff from major companies together with the local community. It is considered to be the annual ‘grand party’ of Suzhou with people from across the globe, with different languages and cultures, joining each other during this important celebration.
With unforgettable local tradition being the basis of this festival, it is the current contemporary experience that leaves an indelible mark on both our residents and visitors alike. Both Suzhou locals and visitors combine these two aspects of ‘old’ and ‘new’ as a symbol of today’s Suzhou lifestyle; slow yet vivid, glamorous yet convenient, in harmony with it’s cultural origins.
Meetings Suzhou Style
China with Style
While the beauty of the old city is compelling and enchanting, the lakeside landscape of Suzhou’s prosperous business district provides World Class meeting and incentive travel infrastructure alongside Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). Suzhou embraces the most contemporary and rapidly developing landscape in the Suzhou metropolitan area and is now ‘home’ to a significant and growing stable of ‘best-of-breed’ organizations across the globe.
World class facilities, historical elegance and unique cultural activities to entertain expo and conference attendees
Owing to its world class infrastructure and welcoming environment, Suzhou is now a preferred destination for business meeting events and product exhibitions. Suzhou City has completed a program of travel marketing and promotional activities focused on both the Chinese and overseas markets. This promotional program has realized a fully functional operation for the MICE Industry (Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition Industry); all MICE resources are integrated and uniquely characterised by the ubiquitous theme;
As a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, Suzhou offers the MICE industry a gold-plated proposition; historically rich venues of varying sizes from medium size garden and museum venues up to the large scale hotel and expo centers. Suzhou delivers World Class MICE facilities and VIP meeting resources with significant travel convenience.
Arrange your rendezvous in Suzhou where your meetings and expo experience allows the romance of the past to capture the imagination for the future, with the grace and style of Suzhou.