The prefectural city of Suzhou is the second largest city in Jiangsu province after the provincial capital of Nanjing. Suzhou can be reached via high speed rail in approximately 30 minutes from Shanghai and costs under RMB100 if I remember correctly, alternatively if you want a cheaper form of travel you can take the slow train which still only takes around an hour due to the relatively short distance between the two cities. I just popped over to Suzhou for a day trip and found I had enough time to see some of the main sites and have a pretty relaxing day.
The roots of Suzhou run deep through the history and culture of both modern day and ancient China. Around 2,500 years ago during the Shang dynasty, Wu state had a number of Gou Wu tribes settled in the area, these tribes would form the basis for establishing a settlement under lord Taibo, named after Wu state. Many years later Wu would become the modern city of Suzhou.
In terms of land ownership ancient China looked very different to how it looks on a map today, various kingdoms held different sections of the middle kingdom, battles to overthrow states and leadership were common, this was no different for the city we now know as Suzhou. The city was overthrown and renamed numerous times, it was only given the name Suzhou in 589AD during the Sui dynasty.
Suzhou became a very important player in silk production, it was a vital shipping port on the Yangtze river delta. After the construction of the grand canal in Suzhou, a gate was essentially opened allowing Suzhou to develop their commerce capabilities on an international level with their main export being silk – during this time the secrets of silk production were kept under lock and key, only the Chinese knew how to produce this highly sought after and expensive material.
Suzhou had a pretty rocky period during which it was invaded by the Jin army, followed by an invasion of the Mongol army and then the Red Turban Rebellion. In 1367 after a 10-month battle Zhu Yuanzhang and his army overthrew the Red Turban Rebellion, Zhu Yuanzhang declared himself the first emperor of the Ming dynasty.
Eventually the secrets of silk production made it to Korea and from here it spread to the rest of the world relatively quickly, China no longer had a monopoly on producing this most desired material, however, Chinese silk was still renowned as the best and still is to this day. Suzhou produced the silk for many of the garments worn by royalty during the last two dynasties in China, the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Following dynastic rule the Japanese invaded Suzhou and ransacked the city but recovered well, Suzhou was named one of four cities for historic and cultural heritage protection. Due to Suzhou’s network of canals and mostly low rise buildings the city has been dubbed the Venice of the East, the city is home to some of China’s most beautiful and well preserved ancient gardens, some of which are now listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
To this day Suzhou remains one of the main producers of fine quality Chinese silk, although this once small settlement is now a major city in China hosting over 10 million residents in its administrative area.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and get a chance to visit this beautiful city.