Suzhou is known as the Garden City amongst the Chinese, but to the rest of the world, it’s the Venice of China. A comparison to Venice implies a somewhat modest scale, but Suzhou is a metropolis in its own right with a population of over 10 million. It has all the trappings and conveniences of ultra-connected modern life, but next to the behemoth that is Shanghai—only 60 miles away, and at 27 million-strong a permanent fixture on the global stage—Suzhou is quite peaceful. It has a distinct identity, too, rooted in its longstanding adherence to and value for traditional life. Many ancient Chinese practices, sensibilities, and structures are preserved in Suzhou’s neighborhoods.
Laundry drying at a residence near Pingjiang Road.
A fearsome neighborhood watchdog.
Women in traditional dress (but contemporary footwear) assemble on Pingjiang Road for a photoshoot. The road itself is over 800 years old, as are many of the buildings alongside it.
Fish cures in the sun.
Crossing the Shiziyang River toward Tiger Hill. The city’s most expensive residential and commercial district, Suzhou Industrial Park, is in the far distance.
Entering Tiger Hill. Yellow paint is used only on Buddhist buildings.
Tiger Hill is also the site of Penjing Garden, which is famous for its bonsai trees. In the Suzhou style, bonsai limbs are shaped into cloud forms.
Hundreds of daffodils spruce up a plaza on Tiger Hill.
A rock feature in Tiger Hill’s Penjing Garden. Circles are an omnipresent element in Chinese design because they represent heaven.
Yunyan Pagoda, often called the Pisa of China. Though the tower’s lean looks dramatic, it’s only about 3° from vertical. Legend goes that an ancient king buried a priceless treasure beneath Yunyan’s subterranean support pillars—in order to unearth it, the tower would have to fall.
River housing near Shantang Street, some stretches of which date back to 825 A.D.
A river worker rests.
All-weather gondolas with vibrant roofs line a canal, awaiting customers.
A gondola with perches for fishing hawks.
Inside Nan-Yuan, the oldest tea house in Tongli. It has been in consistent operation for the last 100 years and is the primary source of hot water for the village.
A corner store in Tongli.
Prayer candles at Hanshan Temple. It was founded 1,500 years ago and honors a poet monk who was the temple’s namesake.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest classical garden in Suzhou. Preserved largely intact since 1509, it’s a quintessential example of Chinese landscape design.
A pagoda in the Lingering Garden. All told, it covers almost six acres.