Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

Updated: 2011-05-15 07:50

By Michael Paul Franklin (China Daily)

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Time-tested adages sing praises of Suzhou, and Michael Paul Franklin finds it's not hard to understand why on a recent visit.

Many cities have slogans to entice you to visit and spend your tourist dollars. These are usually written by some tourism office or travel agency, and no matter how clever or well thought out, they often fall on the deaf ears of seasoned travelers or the cynical.

But there are adages that are time-tested - like this one, which roughly translates to: Up in the sky there is heaven, down on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.

That's a pretty bold declaration when you consider the size of China and the many beautiful places to see within its borders. Yet, Suzhou's beauty has won it boasting rights.

Suzhou, built in 514 BC, has a storied past.

Marco Polo spent time there in 1276 while on the Silk Road. Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War in Suzhou when it was the kingdom of Wu.

While famous for its gardens, Suzhou has long been inspirational to artists, musicians and craftsmen. There is far more to Suzhou than its gardens - ancient temples, canals and respect for art, just for starters.

There is a peaceful air that reflects the soul of the area. You can see that it is a city trying to remain very livable and keep its beauty even as it grows. The feeling is intangible, but you know it's there.

Perhaps it's the smiles you see on the streets, or maybe the way they take care of the elderly in the city. Maybe it is the way they promote art and culture as the government provides studio space for artists to work on their traditional skills - or it could be that there are pockets of beauty all over the city.

You don't have to go far to find one of these to escape the honking horns or the electric bikes, and find your own little piece of Heaven on Earth.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

Women in colorful traditional costumes prepare to take part in a parade, part of a fair to promote alcoholic beverages. Photos by Michael Paul Franklin

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

The Ruiguang Pagoda at Panmen Gate stands 43.2 meters tall and is known as the Pagoda of Auspicious Light. It was built during the Three Kingdoms Period.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

Suzhou is famous for the waterways and canals that run through the city. This picturesque example is near the Heng Jie Market.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

It is the hometown for Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China, and Suzhou has no lack of modern beauties, either.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

At Heng Jie Market, locals shop for fresh vegetables, turtles and fish from Taihu Lake. Tourists shop for souvenirs.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

Suzhou is full of smiles, and 80-year-old temple worker Han Chow Yun flashes a brilliant one.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

The skilled hand of calligrapher Yan Lisheng glides in a studio off a street in Suzhou's old city.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

The beautiful gilded statue of Buddha at Ding Hui Temple is a picture of tranquility.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

A lion-head door knocker graces one of the doors of the impressive Xu Gate.

 Suzhou: Heaven on Earth

Wu Zixu was an army chief, strategist and urban planner in ancient Suzhou 2,500 years ago.


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