History of Suzhou

Suzhou, the cradle of Wu culture,is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. 2500 years ago in the late Shang Dynasty, local tribes who named themselves Gou Wu lived in the area which would become the modern city of Suzhou. These tribes formed villages on the edges of hills above the wetlands around Lake Tai, their territorial range was centered on Wuxi.

In 514 BC, during the Spring and Autumn Period, King Helu of Wu established "Great City of Helu", the ancient name for Suzhou, as his capital. In 496 BC, Helu was buried in Huqiu (Tiger Hill).

In 473 BC Wu was defeated by Yue, a kingdom to the east which was soon annexed by the Chu in 306 BC. The golden era of Suzhou ended with this conquest. Remnants of this culture include remainders of a 2,500 year old city wall and the gate through it at Pan Gate.

By the time of the Qin Dynasty, the city was known as Wu County. Xiang Yu staged his historical uprising here in 209 BC, which contributed to the overthrow of Qin.During the Sui Dynasty - in 589 AD - the city was renamed Suzhou.

When the Grand Canal was completed, Suzhou found itself strategically located on a major trade route. In the course of the history of China, it has been a metropolis of industry and commerce on the south-eastern coast of China.

During the Tang Dynasty (825 AD), the great poet Bai Juyi constructed the Shantang Canal (called "Shantang Street") to connect the city with Huqiu for tourists. In 1035 AD, the temple of Confucius was founded by famed poet and writer Fan Zhongyan. It became the venue for imperial civil examinations.

In February 1130, the advancing Jin army from the north ransacked and massacred the city. This was followed by the Mongol invasion (1275).

In 1356, Suzhou became of the capital of Zhang Shicheng, one of the leaders of the Red Turban Rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty and the self-proclaimed King of Wu. In 1367 Zhang's main rival, Nanjing-based Zhu Yuanzhang took the city after a 10-month siege. Zhu - who was soon to proclaim himself as the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty-demolished the royal city (in the centre of Suzhou's walled city), and imposed crushing taxes on the city's and prefecture's powerful families.

Despite the heavy taxation and the resettlement of some of Suzhou's prominent citizens' to the area of Hongwu's capital, Nanjing, Suzhou soon was prosperous again. When in 1488 the shipwrecked Korean official Choe Bu had a chance to see much of Eastern China-from Zhejiang to Liaoning - on his way home, he described Suzhou in his travel report as exceeding every other city in China he had seen. Many of the famous private gardens were constructed by the gentry of the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, the city was to see another disaster in 1860 when Taiping soldiers advanced on and captured the city. In November 1863 the Ever Victorious Army of Charles Gordon recaptured the city from the Taiping forces.

The next crisis that met the city was the Japanese invasion in 1937. Many gardens were devastated by the end of the war. In the early 1950s, restoration was done on gardens such as Zhuo-Zheng Yuan (Humble Administrator's Garden) and Liu Yuan (Lingering Garden) to bring them back to life.

In 1981, this ancient city was listed by the State Council, the PRC government, as one of four cities (the other three being Beijing, Hangzhou and Guilin) where the protection of historical and cultural heritage as well as natural scenery should ideally be treated with utmost care.

The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000.