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Suzhou and Her Classical Gardens
Suzhou City in Jiangsu Province is located on the Changjiang (Yangtze) River Delta. It ranks third in China in terms of the number of relics it possesses, the first being Beijing, and the second being Xi'an.

It was in 514 B.C. during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C.-476 B.C.) that King He Lu of the State of Wu sent Wu Zixu, a rebel general of the State of Chu, to build his capital here.

Also known as Gusu because of Gusu Mountain in its southwest, Suzhou is world famous for its classical gardens. According to an old saying, the landscaped gardens in South China are unrivaled throughout the country, and the best ones in South China are in Suzhou. The gardens here are a combination of natural and man-made beauty, which are appealing due to the essence of the architecture, landscapes, flowers, plants, sculptures, calligraphy, and paintings found in them.

Suzhou takes pride in its classical gardens built during the dynasties of the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing (960-1911). Most of the gardens were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911), when the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal was opened to traffic and the emperors enjoyed visiting areas south of the Yangtze River. To please the emperors, salt merchants, and officials, a number of private gardens, featuring strong, local, and cultural characteristics, were built in Suzhou.

The Surging Waves Pavilion was built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It is the oldest garden of the Song Dynasty in China, and features simple as well as natural landscapes.

The Lion Grove Garden was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). It is famous for its secluded caves and imaginative rockeries.

The Humble Administrator's Garden was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). With a lotus pond in the center of all its structures, the garden appears to be floating on water.

Outside the city is the Lingering Garden, which was also built in the Ming Dynasty. It features exquisite designs and a variety of scenic spots.

The Fisherman's Garden is small in size, but beautiful and well proportioned.

Historically, there were more than 200 gardens, 60 of which have been preserved and remain in good condition. They are the essence of the art of gardening in China.

The Humble Administrator's Garden and the Lingering Garden are among China's four famous gardens. In December 1997, they were first included on UNESCO's World Heritage List, together with the Fisherman's Garden and the Huanxiu (Embraced by Beauty) Mountain Villa. On November 30, 2000, five more gardens, including the Surging Waves Pavilion, the Lion Grove Garden, the Spouse Garden, the Garden of Herbs, and the Garden of Seclusion and Meditation, were placed on the World Heritage List.

With nine world-class classical gardens and the Kunqu Opera, which is on the World Intangible Heritage List, Suzhou has the largest number of world heritage sites.

In 1985, the Chinese government joined the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The 25th Meeting of the World Heritage Committee passed the decision to appoint Suzhou as the host of the 27th meeting in June 2003.

The atmosphere of the ancient city stirs the imagination of visitors. A city that is 2,500 years old, the site of Suzhou has never changed. The layout of the city and its major watercourses still retain their original look. So do the city wall, the scope of the city, the buildings, the roads, the imposing land and water gates, and the names of gardens.

The most impressive scene here is the seemingly natural landscape of small bridges, sluggishly trickling waters, and simple houses. Because of the crisscrossing watercourses, houses here were built on the water. These houses were exquisitely constructed, making good use of the water around them. While people walk on the stone-paved streets, boats sail at the back of these houses, painting a picture of tranquil beauty.

People in Suzhou travel up and down the city's well-connected land and water routes. Today, there are 158 bridges on the city's 35-kilometer-long watercourse. The most well-known bridges are the 53-arch Baodai Bridge, the imposing Wumen Bridge, and the Fengqiao Bridge mentioned in a famous Tang poem.

The local government of Suzhou has taken measures to protect its ancient cultural heritage by maintaining the old layout of the city while speeding up its economic development by building a new district in the west of the old city. According to the protection plan, the old look of the classical gardens will be retained. As for the maintenance of these gardens, traditional materials and construction techniques will be used precisely as described in historical records to maintain the original layout and decoration, as well as the original appearance of paths, rockeries and plants.

Adequate measures have been taken to enhance the administrator's and the public's sense of respect and love for ancient, cultural heritage, in order to guarantee that the best of mankind's heritage will be handed down from generation to generation.

According to experts and the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Suzhou has tried its best to preserve its original environment by maintaining its classical gardens as well as its old-fashioned streets.

Its brilliant cultural heritage has given Suzhou a unique, cultural atmosphere that has attracted numerous visitors from China and abroad.

Over the last few years, Suzhou has also seen a rapid development in the economy. In 2002, for example, the city ranked 5th in Mainland China in terms of GDP growth, an increase of 14.5 percent from the previous year. Among the world's top 500 transnational enterprises, 85 have invested in 215 projects in Suzhou, and 30 have established their branches here. Among the Sino-foreign joint ventures in Suzhou, the Suzhou Industrial Garden, jointly run by the city and Singapore, has become a modern production center for hi-tech products.

(China Pictorial May 16, 2003)

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