As the Chinese saying states, "In heaven there is paradise; on earth are Suzhou and Hangzhou." Chinese people and foreigners alike hear of Suzhou from this perspective. In ancient times, Suzhou was a center of economic prosperity and cultural abundance. Throughout time people have spoken and recounted their experiences in Suzhou.
Suzhou's appeal is not its skyscrapers, expressways or supermarkets. These sights can be seen elsewhere, including its neighboring city, Shanghai. Those who visit Suzhou marvel at its small bridges, murmuring brooks, classic gardens and water towns. While experiencing its prosperity, visitors also witness the exquisiteness and elegance of Suzhou.
In China, gardens fall under two categories: one is the imperial garden, such as the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) and the Garden of Perfect Splendor (Yuanmingyuan) in Beijing, and the Imperial Summer Resort (Bishu Shanzhuang) in Chengde, all of which are magnificent and imposing. The other is the private garden, like those found in Suzhou. A Suzhou garden represents the original idea of an "urban scenery." It is a microcosm of the world in one corner of the bustling city, composed of the basic elements of water, rocks, plants and buildings, arranged in such a way as to reflect the garden's sequential beauty including, the passage of time, contrast between morning and evening, and succeeding seasons.
The classic gardens of Suzhou are a precious heritage within Chinese culture. More than 60 gardens are well preserved, and over a dozen are open to the general public, including the Humble Administrator's Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan), the Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan), the Master-of-Nets Garden (Wangshi Yuan), the Lion Forest Garden (Shizi Lin), and the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty (Huanxiu Shanzhuang).
In December 1997, Suzhou's classic gardens were named World Heritage sites by UNESCO.