On talking about the classic literature or classic city, Chinese people always refer to old saying: "Paradise in Heaven, Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth." Absolutely, Hanghzou and Suzhou are the irreplaceable cities representing the traditional classic cities both in local lifestyle and city tradition. Both cities symbolize the elegance and classics in China. Suzhou on behalf of the local Wu Culture is the fantastic destination in Jiangnan area for its strong humanistic feature. Its tasteful lifestyle and culture all the time attract many well-educated people for generations. Suzhou is the cradle of Kunqu Opera boasting the Forefather of Chinese Operas, Classical Gardens written into UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as well as a mass of talented historical figures and romantic folklores concerned.
Suzhou Classical Gardens exactly mean the urban garden-style traditional architecture. Mainly belonged to the private gardens, the construction of Suzhou Classical Gardens begun at the period of Spring and Autumn(770 BC - 476 BC) when Suzhou, anciently named Gusu(姑苏) was under the administration of Wu State (514 BC). It formed in Five Dynasties, matured in Northern Song Dynasty, flourished in Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and popularized in Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). Up to the late period of Qing Dynasty, there are more than 170 classical gardens in Suzhou. Currently, there are more than 60 well-preserved classical gardens.
The prospering city and its outskirts were dotted with these exquisite private gardens such as Zhuozheng (Humble Administrator's) Garden, Liuyuan (Lingering) Garden, Wangshi (Master of Nets) Garden and Huanxiu (Embracing Beauty) Mountain Villa. All of these classical gardens are still well preserved today.
Imperial gardens and private gardens each developed their own distinctive features over many years. The imperial gardens of Beijing are considered the finest examples of that style. They are noted for their expansive size, grandeur and stateliness. The gardens of Suzhou are the epitome of landscaping art for the private garden, with their delicacy, intimacy, and simplicity. The designers of private gardens, not bound by the rigid conventions of the imperial court, had greater freedom of expression in their art. The ancient gardens of Suzhou were designed to be lived in as much as were the houses to which they were attached. Paths invited residents and their guests to wander, offering a new view at every bend; pavilions, gazebos or simple seats offered comfortable spots in which to relax, chat, and perhaps to take some refreshments or pen a poem. This type of landscaping was often used in the densely populated cities, where residents recalled the countryside with nostalgia and yearned to commune with nature. Zhuozheng (Humble Administrator's) Garden, Liuyuan (Lingering) Garden, Wangshi (Master of Nets) Garden and Huanxiu (Embracing Beauty) Mountain Villa of Suzhou are representative of the Ming-Qing-dynasty landscape architecture in areas south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. In fact, it was the perfection of the designs and workmanship of these gardens that influenced landscaping throughout the region.
In recent years, the influence of the Suzhou gardens' designs has even traveled across oceans. Ming Hall Garden, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is a copy of a section of the Master of Nets Garden. The design of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver, Canada, was based on the Ming Dynasty Suzhou garden style. In 1997, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added to its prestigious list of world cultural heritage sites Suzhou's Zhuozheng (Humble Administrator's) Garden, Wangshi (Master of Nets) Garden, Liuyuan (Lingering) Garden, Canglang (Surging Waves) Pavilion, Yipu Garden (Garden of Cultivation), Huanxiu (Embracing Beauty) Mountain Villa, Ouyuan (Couple's Garden Retreat) Garden, Shizilin (Lion Forest) Garden and Tuisiyuan (Retreat and Reflection) Garden.
Suzhou Folklore is closely connected with its local tradition, custom and history. Suzhou is not short of stories, especially the romantic love stories themed with beauties and talents. Maybe it is another love heaven in China except its twin city Hangzhou. Suzhou is a poetic and humanistic city with many stories in all aspects. Suzhou Stories can be seen or heard in opera performance and local folk songs or local dialects. Suzhou stories are humanized with the characteristics and history of Suzhou thoroughly. Suzhou stories are an important part of Suzhou literature and culture. Suzhou is partially famous for its historical relics and heritage, and these relics and heritages are closely linked with it stories and history. Visitors may not understand these great attractions if they do not know the stories concerned. People understand the classical gardens except their stories and aesthetics. People see Huqiu but lack of the understanding of its history and touching stories. People see many bridges which are similar to others in other cities but never learn about their stories. If like this, Suzhou will be a misunderstood classical painting that lookers just say it is beautiful but never see its deep history and culture.
Kunqu operas are prominent in Chinese opera history. Suzhou is the hometown and cradle of Kunqu opera, Suju opera as well as Suzhou Pingtan. Kunqu opera boasts the gem of Chinese operas. Rising in Kunshan country, which currently is called Kunshan city, a county-level city under the administration of Suzhou municipal government and one of the most important economic engines of China, Kunqu opera dramatically spread in towns and villages after upgrading. Kunqu opera in Chinese literature history is authoritatively considered as a cultural learner's opera because its content，actor's lines and dialogue are mostly much too elegant and bookish to be understood by commoners. But people still addicted themselves into the opera. They by themselves organized the opera performance team and held the performance festivals. Historically, the annual opera performance meeting in Huqiu was so attractive that tens of thousands of audiences gathered just for a short-time enjoying. Centered on Suzhou, the influence of Kunqu opera reached all the corners of China and led Chinese operas for more than 200 years. A large batch of excellent actors or performers and playwrights like Liang Chenyu as well as many famous playbooks were recorded in history.
Currently, Kunqu Opera also becomes fashionable after youth feel tired of the so-called popular stars and movie stars. A newly-edited opera named Mudanting or Peony Pavilion, directed by Bai Xianyong in accordance with classical playbook wrote by Tang Xianzu in Ming Dynasty with the title of Chinese Shakespeare, was widely welcomed and unprecedentedly accepted after its first performance in Mainland China. If you interested or feel curious, just go for trying.
Suzhou talents are comprised of many aspects such as painting masters, poetry masters, calligraphists, Buddhist masters, Confucians, philosophers, playwrights, literary masters, musical masters and multi-skilled masters. Both in official history and folk-stories, the most prominent and outstanding representatives are Four Talents in Jiangnan area. Exactly they were four well-educated and all-round scholars lived in Suzhou of Ming Dynasty. Generally they were Tang Bohu(唐伯虎), Zhu Zhishan(祝枝山), Wen Zhengming(文徵明) and Xu Zhenqing(徐祯卿). Chinese historically painting school named Wu Men is also connected closely with these talent figures. They are respectively Shen Zhou(沈周), Wen Zhengming(文徵明), Tang Bohu(唐伯虎) and Qiu Ying(仇英)