Suzhou’s Museums: 2,500 Years of Culture on Display

Suzhou’s Museums: 2,500 Years of Culture on Display
By Bryce Roberts ,

Long a famous destination for viewers of classical Chinese gardens, Suzhou is also home to dozens of specialized museums that try to capture some of the millennia of history that has run through this city. Large and small, each facility seeks to focus on one aspect that has made its contribution to the cultural fabric of Suzhou’s society. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular destinations for tourists, and what they tell us about this amazing city.

The Suzhou Museum苏州博物馆 View In Map
Mention the words “Suzhou” and “museum” together, and the first thought that comes to many locals minds is The Suzhou Museum. Designed by legendary architect and student of Suzhou’s gardens, I.M. Pei, this masterpiece opened in October 2006 to a widespread fanfare. With an architectural style that both mimics and transforms the traditional Suzhou row-house look of white walls and black roofs, many comment that the building itself is as great an artistic feat as the treasures it houses. And treasures it contains indeed: 247 of its 15,000 pieces are rated first class by the central government. The collection spans over two millennia: artifacts from the Warring States period, in which Suzhou was the capital of the Wu Kingdom, as well as Ming Dynasty calligraphy and modern art grace the displays inside. The outdoor courtyard is a tribute to Suzhou’s numerous classical gardens. For visitors with limited time in our fair city, the Suzhou Museum cannot be missed!

Add:204 Dongbei Jie and Lindun Lu, Suzhou
Tel:0512 6757 5666    
Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 09:00-17:00 (no more tickets sold after 16:00)
Getting there: Bus No. 1, 2, 5, 40, 55, 202, 313, 301, 309, 529 and 923
Price: Free

The Suzhou Silk Museum苏州丝绸博物馆 View In Map
The next hotspot is the Suzhou Silk Museum. No craft is as synonymous with Suzhou as silk weaving, and this museum gives visitors a first-hand look at the modern weaving process. Guests are then shown the variety of uses silk threads are employed in, from clothing to comforters to elaborate embroidery pieces. Finally, patrons are set loose in a large shopping area to peruse articles they may purchase as souvenirs or gifts. This is where the silk “museum” ceases to be a true-blue educational facility and shows its true colors as a capitalist enterprise. That’s not to say that it’s isn’t worth the trip; Suzhou’s silk culture is excellently displayed here. Still, be aware of the fact that the products for sale tend to be much more expensive than at stores downtown (however, the quality is guaranteed) and your tour guide most likely gets a kickback for each of your purchases. Keep that in mind before you bestow praise on your guide for their wise decision to take you by this landmark.

Add: 2001 Renmin Lu, Pingjiang District, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市平江区人民路2001号
Tel:0512 6753 6506
Opening hours: 09:00- 17:00 (no more tickets sold after 16:30)
Getting there: Take Bus No. 69,101, 102,112, 522, or 602
Price: Free 

The China Sex Museum中华性文化博物馆 View In Map
The next stop on our tour is the only museum in the greater Suzhou area to elicit giggles from a large percentage of its visitors, The China Sex Museum. Moved from Shanghai to the idyllic “water town” of ancient Tong Li in 2004, the museum serves to display artistic relics depicting sexuality and relationships. Lest the theme scare anyone off, much of the collection is simply made up of anatomically correct art that dates as far back as prehistoric times. Likewise, there are no “interactive” features in the sex museum, despite the draw that would certainly create for visitors! Still, there are plenty of provocative pieces and much to be learned about Chinese sexuality throughout history by visiting this popular tourist destination. On your next trip to Tong Li, which should be near the top of any Suzhou visitor’s list, swing on by the China Sex Museum.

Add:Zhongchuan Lu, Tongli Town in Wujiang City, Suzhou
Tel:0512 6332 2973
Opening hours: 08:00-17:00
Getting there: Take Bus No. 203 from in Wujiang City  
Price: RMB 20/person

The Suzhou Opera Museum苏州戏曲博物馆 View In Map
Suzhou’s Opera Museum draws a great crowd as it features the famous performance arts of classical Suzhou. Kun Opera (Kunqu) as well as pingtan are on display as audiophiles can gather and listen to the musical history of Suzhou and Kunshan. The latter’s unique form of opera, Kunqu, was designated one of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO in 2001. This worldwide acclaim has brought international attention to the cultural strength of Suzhou’s classical music and performance styles. Today, visitors to Pingjiang Road can take a short detour and enjoy performances and explanations of pingtan and Kunqu. Each afternoon there are live performances on museum stage, which is modeled after a classical performance venue. Located just minutes from the Suzhou Museum and the iconic Humble Administrator’s Garden, this destination is a convenient stop on a trek through Suzhou’s most popular tourist area.

Honorable Mention: There are many other museums in Suzhou. A quick online search or a query directed toward your local guide will point you in the right direction. Still, the 4 mentioned above are by far the most popular. The Suzhou Garden Museum is an interesting spot, but wouldn’t you rather spend the same amount of time visiting the actual gardens themselves? In addition to the many museums, Suzhou’s top tourist destinations tend to be the dozens of centuries-old classical garden homes, as well as Tiger Hill and the old Water Gate (Pan Men).

Add:14 Zhangjia Xiang, Quanjin Hall, just off Pingjiang Lu, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市中张家巷14号
Tel:0512 6727 3741
Opening hours: 08:30-16:30
Getting there: Take Bus No. 202 or 204 to the museum
Price: Free

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Keywords: Suzhou Museum Culture display Suzhou Museum Chinese Garden museum Suzhou


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