Suzhou was established as a city in 514 BC by King Helu of Wu, who named it "The Great City of Helu". The city began to prosper during the Sui Dynasty as a result of the construction of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, and it was renamed Suzhou in 589 AD. It has been an important center for the silk trade since the Song Dynasty , and continues to hold a prominent position in this industry today. The city was well documented in the writings of Marco Polo, who noted the large number of scholars and people "skillful in all the arts".

Prosperity and a developed culture attracted imperial attention to Suzhou, which by 1035 (during the Northern Song Dynasty) had become a major port city, and a royal decree granted permission for the establishment of the Temple of Confucius, a venue for imperial examinations. The Jin and Yuan Dynasties, which followed were a difficult time for Suzhou. The city was ransacked several times in the 12th, 13th and14th centuries. By the 14th century, Suzhou had established itself as a leading silk producer, attracting aristocrats, scholars, artists and actors. It was from this time that construction of the city's famous gardens began. Suzhou suffered during the Taiping rebellion in the middle of the 19th century and was occupied by the Japanese during World War 2. Like the proverbial phoenix, Suzhou has burned and re-emerged from the ashes more prosperous and beautiful than before on a number of occasions, and today remains one of China's most beautiful cities, while the economic boom since the opening up of China's economy in the 1980s has made it an attractive target for investment in high-tech industries. With its temples, gardens, history and unique culture, UNESCO listed Suzhou as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.

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