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“It contains merchants of great wealth and an incalculable number of people.Indeed, if the men of this city and of the rest of the country had the spirit of soldiers, they would conquer the world; but they are not soldiers at all, only accomplished traders and most skilled craftsmen.” Everywhere you go in Suzhou are humble handmade wonders, from animal-shaped dumplings to embroidered silk, stone bridges, and cultivated gardens.Pingjiang Road is a slightly more modern shopping and arts districts (at just 800 years old) where old meets new: sample tea and flower wines in trendy shops, or head to a traditional Kun Opera performance at the historic Fuxi Tea House to experience the same traditional singing and costumes that developed here during the Ming Dynasty.century and are meticulously maintained UNESCO-designated wonders.Most people go to China for its megacities and its Great Wall, but I went for water towns and dumplings.
But one “Paris of the East” stands out for also laying claim to a certain Chinese proverb: “In heaven there is paradise, on Earth there is Suzhou.” I’ve been to Paris, Rome, and Athens, and for me none of them are heaven.
Start at 1,200-year-old Shangtang Street to peruse the old town’s canals by boat before taking to the artisan stalls of dumpling baskets and rows of restaurants serving piping-hot seafood delicacies.
Eat at famed Song He Lou and order the local special of sweet-and-sour Mandarin fish, served whole yet boneless and deep-fried to the point of looking like a Bloomin’ Onion slathered in orange sauce.
Suzhou’s other signatures include a delicate cuisine of seafood and widely beloved soup dumplings, a futuristic industrial district funded by Singapore, a crooked hilltop pagoda known as the “Leaning Tower of China,” and its long-held status as the largest silk producer in the world. If America’s idea of romance is Paris or Venice, then China’s is Suzhou.
The 2,500-year-old city was the cultural epicenter and largest non-capital city of China’s Ming (1300s to 1600s) and Qing (1600s to 1900s) dynasties.
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Accessible by public transit, Tongli still manages to feel like the flourishing Chinese village of 1,000 years ago, thanks to its location at the center of many convening Grand Canal waterways and its continued use of them today.