Popular Chinese legend
states that, "In heaven there is paradise,
and on earth there are Hangzhou and Suzhou".
Suzhou, with a population of about 6 million,
has been praised as paradise on earth since ancient
times. Being only two hours by train from Shanghai,
Suzhou has enjoyed great prosperity and recognition
over the years and this is an extraordinarily
delicate and elegant city in parts. However, it
is an exaggeration to refer to this pretty place
as "paradise". Like in many other cities
of China, bulldozers and cranes here have been
busy everywhere. There is still a fir amount to
see and traditional Chinese houses and gardens
here make a nice change from the modernity of
Suzhou was founded in about 600 B.C.
and gained a good fame one thousand years later
when the Grand Canal was opened up. The great
location of the city had been great contribution
to its prosperity. By the 14th century, Suzhou
had become the leading silk producer in China
and this quaint little retreat become popular
with visitors from the imperial court at Hangzhou.
Artists, scolars and painters all retreated to
this "Venice of the East" for inspiration
Suzhou was one of the few cities in
China to escape the ravages of the Cultural Revolution,
and its famous gardens survived without being
damaged. The gardens embody the harmonious principles
of Chinese garden construction which dictate that
gardens should attempt to create a microcosm of
the universe in a confined space. The best of
all are the Fishing Net Master's Garden and the
Humble Administrators Garden. The fine gardens
here are particularly pleasant on a misty day
and Suzhou's narrow streets and lanes can be very
romantic and relaxing.
However, Suzhou can be packed with
Chinese tour groups who are bussed in and out
on day trips. It's most pleasant therefore, in
the early evening when the sun is going down and
the streets are emptying, to go out and enjoy
the canals and the quaint small houses and alleys.
Get there fast though, as things are changing.
Hotels, skyscrapers and highways are going up
and urban renewal is eating away at this little
area of "paradise".