Suzhou: Epicenter of the Grand Canal

Preface

I have visited Suzhou countless times since 1999, and lived there for six months from December 2004 to June 2005.  The photos in this posting were taken in 2010.  Unfortunately, the weather was overcast.  The focus of my photos and text is away from the well-known UNESCO gardens and instead on the lesser known historic sites, such as remains of the city wall, temples, Republic of China (Minguo) era architecture, and sights related to the Grand Canal.

Part I:  Suzhou Canals & Bridges

According to Xu Gangyi, Old Suzhou (1999), Suzhou had seven canals running from south to north, and eight from east to west, forming a grid of horizontal and vertical lines intersecting each other.   The total length of the canals reached 82 km. during the Tang and Song dynasties, and hit a peak of 90 km. in the Ming Dynasty, but was reduced to 65 km. towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, 56 km. during the Republic of China (Min Guo), and now amounts to only 35 km. today.

However, Hampden C. Du Bose (1911, p.32) states that there then were “six canals from north to south, and six canals from east to west,” with  a total distance of “about thirty miles of canals within the city.”

Regarding the number of bridges crossing these canals, Xu Gangyi (1999) states that Tang Dynasty Suzhou had 390 bridges made mostly of wood, whereas Song Dynasty Suzhou had 314 bridges made mostly of stone.  There were 300 stone bridges in the Ming Dynasty, 311 in the Qing Dynasty, and 261 during the Republic of China (Min Guo). Today 186 historic bridges survive, 70 of which date from before the Qing Dynasty.   However, Hampden C. Du Bose (1911, p.32) stated that at that time there were “from a hundred-and-fifty to two hundred bridges…”

Today you can take a sightseeing boat cruise along the full circuit of the City Moat (Hu Cheng He) around the old city center.  The rectangular-shaped Hu Cheng He is bordered on the northwest by Chang Xu Lu, on the southwest by Pan Xu Lu and Pan Men Lu, on the southeast by Nan Men Lu, and on the east by Mo Ye Lu.  Outside the city center, the Shan Tang He Canal flows 3.5 kilometers to Tiger Hill (Hu Qiu Shan) in the northwest, while the Shang Tang He Canal flows westward past the site of the West Garden Temple (Xi Yuan Si) all the way to the site of Cold Mountain Temple (Han Shan Si), Maple Bridge (Feng Qia0), and Iron Gate Pass (Tie Ling Guan) at the confluence of the Shan Tang He Canal and the modern day route of the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He).  Both of these two western canals outside the city center are crossed by many historic stone foot bridges.  The Puji Qiao is a notable three-arch stone foot bridge that crosses the Shan Tang He.

Precious Belt Bridge (Bao Dai Qiao)

Precious Belt Bridge (Bao Dai Qiao) is a very long ancient stone foot bridge with many arches that stands at the confluence of two branches of the Grand Canal, the Dan Tai He and the Jing Hang Da Yun He, in Suzhou’s outlying Wuzhong District.

Xu Gangyi, Old Suzhou (1999), states that the Bao Dai Qiao was first built in the year 819 A.D., during the 14th year of the Yuan He reign of the Tang Dynasty.  The cost of building the bridge was supposedly funded by the Prefect Wang Zhongshu, who donated his ceremonial jade belt, hence the bridge’s name.   Some sources say it may have later been rebuilt in 1446 during the Ming Dynasty.  According to Xu Gangyi (1999), the bridge was last renovated by Lin Zixu in 1831, the 11th year of the Dao Guang reign of the Qing Dynasty.

However,  Ronald G. Knapp, Chinese Bridges (1993), claims that British General Charles Gordon caused the bridge to partially collapse in 1863 during his maritime assault on the Taipings, who were then occupying Suzhou, and that the bridge was later repaired in 1872.

G.R.G. Worcester, former River Inspector for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, confirms Knapp’s account in his unpublished manuscript, The History of the Yangtze:  Its Trade and Ships (circa 1947). Describing General Charles Gordon’s military assault on the Taiping defenders of Suzhou using a fleet of three steamships that had sailed up the river and canal system from Shanghai, Worcester writes, “On one occasion when the ‘Hyson’ was sent to the West of Soochow to recconnoitre she was unable to pass under the 53 arch bridge, known as the Precious Girdle Bridge.  The central arch was therefore demolished and she passed safely through.”  [p.241.]

A parallel cement highway bridge was built right beside it during the Republic of China (Min Guo), but was torn down in 1998.  You can still see the supports of this bridge sticking up out of the water.

The Bao Dai Qiao is the longest stone bridge in China, at 361.8 meters in length, and has 53 stone arches.   Nonetheless, an even longer stone bridge once stood in Songling Town, Wujiang County.  The Chui Hong Bridge built in 1048 during the Song Dynasty was 500 meters long and had 72 stone arches, but it was torn down in 1967.

Nowadays the Bao Dai Qiao is very hard to find and many locals will tell you that it it is not open to the public and can’t be visited, when in fact it can be if you know how to find it.  There is only one way to reach it via a dead end road through an industrial area.  The bridge itself connects the shore of the canal with an island in the middle.  The island can only be reached via this stone foot bridge.  Beside the stone bridge are a Buddhist stone column and a modern navigation beacon for the barges that sail right beside it along the modern route of the Grand Canal.  At the end of the bridge on the island stand a second Buddhist stone column and a stone pavilion, as well as a more recently constructed temple hall devoted to Dantai Mieming, aka Ziyu, one of the 72 disciples of Confucius and the Dantai He canal’s namesake.  Only the piers remain of the old cement highway bridge that once ran beside the ancient stone bridge but was removed in 1998.  A police station stands beside the entrance gate to the bridge.

Precious Belt Bridge central arch.

Precious Belt Bridge central arch.

Precious Belt Bridge approaching causeway.

Precious Belt Bridge approaching causeway.

Precious Belt Bridge with two Stone Buddhist Columns & Stone Pavilion on the Island.

Precious Belt Bridge with two Stone Buddhist Columns & Stone Pavilion on the Island.

Piers of an Old Modern Highway Bridge beside the Ancient Precious Belt Bridge.

Piers of an Old Modern Highway Bridge beside the Ancient Precious Belt Bridge.

Precious Belt Bridge causeway and central arch.

Precious Belt Bridge causeway and central arch.

The Gate to Precious Belt Bridge.

The Gate to Precious Belt Bridge.

Chinese language sign detailing the history of Precious Belt Bridge.

Chinese language sign detailing the history of Precious Belt Bridge.

Police station beside the entrance gate to Precious Belt Bridge.

Police station beside the entrance gate to Precious Belt Bridge.

Inscribed stone shi bei tablet at Precious Belt Bridge.

Inscribed stone shi bei tablet at Precious Belt Bridge.

The Precious Belt Bridge as it appears in the Worcester manuscript (circa 1947).

The Precious Belt Bridge as it appears in the Worcester manuscript (circa 1947).

The Precious Belt Bridge as it appears in the Worcester manuscript (circa 1947).

The Precious Belt Bridge as it appears in the Worcester manuscript (circa 1947).

The Precious Belt Bridge as it appears in the Worcester manuscript (circa 1947).

The Precious Belt Bridge as it appears in the Worcester manuscript (circa 1947).

Wu Gate Stone Bridge (Wu Men Qiao)

The Wu Men Qiao crosses the Suzhou city moat (Hu Cheng He) from Pan Men Lu to the site of the Pan Water Gate (Pan Men) fortress.

Wu Men Qiao.

Wu Men Qiao.

Wu Men Qiao inscribed stone tablet.

Wu Men Qiao inscribed stone tablet.

River Village Bridge (Jiang Cun Qiao)

The River Village Bridge (Jiang Cun Qiao) connects Han Shan Si Buddhist Temple with an island in the Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He).  This area is known as Maple Bridge (Feng Qiao) in honor of another historic bridge connecting the Iron Gate Pass (Tie Ling Guan) with the same island.

Shan Tang He Canal

Part II:  City Walls & Gates

Suzhou is known to have had a city wall since King He Lu, the ruler of the Wu Kingdom, first asked his minister Wu Zixu to build one here in 514 B.C. during the Zhou Dynasty.  The walled city had a square shape and eight land gates.  This design conformed to the traditional urban planning of northern China, but was fairly unique in the Jiangnan region where other walled cities such as Nanjing and Hangzhou had irregular shapes that conformed to the natural topography of their surroundings, or had a round city wall surrounded by a round moat, as did the cities of Jiading, Qingpu, Songjiang, and Shanghai.

Since they were first built, the Suzhou city walls have been destroyed and rebuilt many times.  The most recent reconstruction of the cit walls was in 1662, the first year of the Kangxi reign of the Qing Dynasty according to Xu Gangyi, Old Suzhou (1999); and Peter James Carroll (1998). Carroll states that despite the devastation of the Taiping rebels 1860-1863 occupation of the city, travelers to Suzhou during the Republic of China (Minguo) era reported that the city walls were still largely intact.

The two different maps of Suzhou published in Hampden C. Du Bose (1888 and 1911 editions) both show the city wall then had six land gates:  Zi Men in the north, Liu Men in the northeast, Fu Men in the southeast, Pan Men in the south, Xu Men in the southwest, and Chang Men in the northwest.

The Suzhou map included in Carl Crow (1933) labels seven city gates, including all six mentioned by Hampden C. Du Bose, plus the “new gate” of Ping Men in the north city wall between Zi Men and Chang Men.   He left out the Jin Men which had been built in 1929.  F.R. Nance (1936) said that there were six land gates and five water gates, but this apparently did not include the two newer gates of Ping Men and Jin Men.  According to this count, there were a total of eight city gates in the Suzhou city wall near the end of the Min Guo period in 1936.  In fact, the map of Suzhou included in Nance’s book shows all eight city gates, including Ping Men and Jin Men, neither of which were mentioned in the text of the book.

Du Bose (1911, pp.29-30) describes the Suzhou city wall as having a rectangular shape, four miles in length from north to south, and two-and-a-half to three miles wide from east to west.   He estimated the total length of the city walls as being thirteen or fourteen miles. He said the brick wall was “over 30 feet high,”  and “fifteen feet thick on top.”

However, Peter James Carroll (1998), after consulting a variety of sources, concluded that at the end of the Min Guo era the Suzhou city wall was three miles long from south to north, and two miles wide from east to west,  measured 10 miles in circumference, and ranged from 28-35 feet high and 15-18 feet wide.

Pan Men Water Gate & Fortress

Situated on the city moat beside the Wu Men Qiao stone bridge, Pan Men consists of a water gate and a stone walled fortress enclosure with two land gates.   It used to be the south gate of the walled city.  Although it is undoubtedly the most impressive of Suzhou’s surviving historic defenses, contrary to popular opinion it is not the only genuine surviving city gate.  In fact Suzhou has a total of three surviving historic city gates, the other two being Xu Men (also facing the city moat, albeit in another location), and Jing Men.   There are also an increasing number of fake replica reconstructions of city gates that had previously completely disappeared, such as the recently rebuilt Chang Men city gate.  Even the Pan Men has been through considerable restoration of the historic ruins that had remained intact.  If you look closely you can see stone blocks and bricks of different shades, colors, and textures, indicating their relative ages.  The smoother textures and brighter colors indicate newer building materials, whereas pitted, rough, weathered textures and faded colors indicate the older building materials.

Pan Men water gate and fortress as seen from the top of Wu Men Qiao bridge.

Pan Men water gate and fortress as seen from the top of Wu Men Qiao bridge.

Pan Men Fortress

Pan Men Fortress

Pan Men water gate.

Pan Men water gate.

Pan Men water gate close up.

Pan Men water gate close up.

Pan Men water gate far outer corner.

Pan Men water gate far outer corner.

Outer corner of the Pan Men fortress showing the various textures and colors of the building materials.

Outer corner of the Pan Men fortress showing the various textures and colors of the building materials.

Outer land gate of the Pan Men fortress leading into the walled courtyard.

Outer land gate of the Pan Men fortress leading into the walled courtyard.

The walled courtyard and inner land gate of the Pan Men fortress.

The walled courtyard and inner land gate of the Pan Men fortress.

Pan Men inscribed stone tablet.

Pan Men inscribed stone tablet.

Xu Men City Gate

Xu Men is a lesser known historic city gate that faces the city moat.   It used to be the southwest gate of the walled city.  It was reportedly named after Wu Zixu, King He Lu’s minister who was responsible for building the first Suzhou city wall in 514 B.C.  A city park there is popular with locals but seems to get few foreign tourists.  There is a long section of city wall here in various conditions of repair, with a wide variety of building materials dating from various time periods.   It’s ruinous appearance is somewhat reminiscent of the Ghost Face City (Gui Cheng) along the Qin Huai He in Nanjing.

The inner side of the Xu Men city gate.

The inner side of the Xu Men city gate.

Inner side of Xu Men city gate and stretch of city wall.

Inner side of Xu Men city gate and stretch of city wall.

The outer side of Xu Men facing the city moat.

The outer side of Xu Men facing the city moat.

The outer side of Xu Men city gate.

The outer side of Xu Men city gate.

Outer side of Xu Men city gate and city wall.  Note the various construction materials.

Outer side of Xu Men city gate and city wall. Note the various construction materials.

Outer side of Xu Men city gate.

Outer side of Xu Men city gate.

Stone foot bridge leading to Xu Men.

Stone foot bridge leading to Xu Men.

Xu Men inscribed stone tablet.

Xu Men inscribed stone tablet.

Xu Men Lu street sign.

Xu Men Lu street sign.

Jin Men City Gate

Jin Men City Gate was built in 1929 in a Roman style.  It stands in the west end of the city, just south of the location of Chang Men city gate.  The original Chang Men city gate was torn down in the 1950s but a new replica was recently rebuilt in roughly the same spot.

Iron Gate Pass (Tie Ling Guan)

Iron Gate Pass (Tie Ling Guan) stands in the Maple Bridge (Feng Qiao) area near the famous Han Shan Si Buddhist Temple.  It was built in 1557, the 36th year of the Jiajing reign of the Ming Dynasty, to protect Suzhou against the raids of Japanese pirates (wako), according to Xu Gangyi, Old Suzhou (1999).  Since this area is located at the confluence of the Shang Tang He canal and the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He), it was very vulnerable to the attacks of these Japanese pirates, who could easily sail westward up the Yangzi River from the East China Sea (Dong Hai), then enter the Jiangnan section of the Grand Canal at Zhenjiang and sail southward to Suzhou. It was these Japanese pirates who were responsible for repeatedly stealing the Han Shan Temple bell.

Part III:  Temples

In sharp contrast with cities such as Hangzhou where most of the traditional temples were destroyed by by various man-made calamities of the 20th ccentury, Suzhou has the widest array of historic temples of any city in the Jiangnan region.  Most of these are genuine historic structures and not merely new replicas.  Fang Tingshu, et al (1993) cites the Suzhou Fu Zhi of the Tongzhi reign (1851-1862) as stating that there were then 284 temples in Suzhou.  Similarly, Hampton C. Du Bose (1911, p.42) estimated that there were then “from two hundred to three hundred temples” in the city.  However, F.R. Nance estimated that in 1936 there were 500 ancestral temples alone, so these must not have been included in the previous two estimates.  Du Bose further calculated that in 1911 Suzhou had 2,000 “Taoist priests” and 5,000 Buddhist monks.

A list of the most significant ones includes the following:

1.  The Confucius Temple (Wen Miao) on Renmin Lu.  It was founded during the Song Dynasty in 1035 A.D. by Fan Zhongyan.

2.  The City God Temple (Cheng Huang Miao) at 94 Jingde Lu, near its intersection with Renmin Lu.

Buddhist Temples

1.  Ding Hui Buddhist Temple (Ding Hui Si) on Ding Hui Si Xiang.

2.  Kai Yuan Buddhist Temple (Kai Yuan Si), famous for its Beamless Hall (Wu Liang Dian), on Dong Da Jie.

3.  Protect the Country Buddhist Temple (Bao Guo Si).  Since 1997 it has been used as the  Museum of Buddhism (Fo Jiao Bowuguan).  Located on Chuan Xin Jie near its intersection with Renmin Lu.

4.  Cold Mountain Buddhist Temple (Han Shan Si), located outside the city to the west, near Tie Ling Guan and Maple Bridge (Feng Qiao), at the confluence of the Shang Tang He Canal and the Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He).

5.  The West Garden Buddhist Temple (Xi Yuan Si).  Originally known as Gui Yuan Si, destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s, but later rebuilt in the 1890s.  Located on Xi Yuan Lane (Xi Yuan Long) just off of Liu Yuan Lu, across the street from the Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan).

6.  Bao En Si Buddhist Temple  located near the train station at the intersection of Dong Bei Lu and Renmin Lu.  It is most famous for its enormous North Temple Pagoda (Bei Si Ta).  The temple itself was built by Sun Quan, the King of Wu, in 248 A.D., but the pagoda was not added until later in 1160.

7.  Ling Yan Buddhist Temple (Ling Yan Si) atop Ling Yan Shan hill outside the town of Mudu to the west of Suzhou.  The English name of this temple is sometimes rendered as Divine Rock Temple.  This site was original the location of the summer palace of Fu Chai, King of Wu, and his princess Xi Shi, one of the famous four beauties.  It was also the site of a temporary palace (xing gong) for Qing Dynasty Emperor Qian Long during one of his journeys to the south (nanxun).  The temple was founded in 503 A.D., during the reign of Liang Wu Di, founder of the Liang Dynasty, but did not receive its present name until later in the Tang Dynasty.  Except for the pagoda, all the other temple structures burned down in 1860 during the Taiping Rebellion.   From 1937 to 1940 the temple’s master was Yin Guang, a famous leader of the Pure Land Sect (Jingtu Zong).   At the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 the temple was completely wrecked again.  Finally, in 1980 the most recent period of reconstruction began.  Today the temple complex includes a Heavenly Kings Hall (Tian Wang Dian), Hall of the Great Hero (Da Xiong Bao Dian), Scriptures Storage Hall (Cang Jing Lou), Wisdom Hall (Chan Tang), and Ancestor Hall (Zu Shi Tang) devoted largely to Master Yin Guang.  The Cang Jing Lou reportedly has a copy of the Hua Yan Jing sutra written by two monks using their own blood between 1933 and 1934.

8.  Zhi Ping Si Buddhist Temple on Shang Fang Shan hill to the west of Suzhou.

9.  Stone Buddha Temple (Shi Fo Si) at the foot of Shang Fang Shan hill, near Stone Lake (Shi Hu) west of Suzhou.

Taoist Temples

1.  The Taoist Temple of Mystery (Xuan Miao Guan) on Guan Qian Jie was reportedly founded in 275-276 A.D. at the end of the Western Jin Dynasty.  The main surviving hall, the San Qing Dian, is said to date from 1177 in the Southern Song Dynasty.

2.  The  Taoist Longevity Temple (Wan Shou Guan) on Min Zhi Lu.

Ancestral Temples

F.R. Nance estimated that in 1937 there 500 ancestral temples in Suzhou.  Today only a few remain.

1.  Han Shi Zhong Memorial Temple (Han Shi Zhong Ci) devoted to the Southern Song Dynasty general Han Shi Zhong (1089-1151), stands outside Mudu town at the southwest foot of Ling Yan Shan hill, to the west of Suzhou.  Similar to the more famous general Yue Fei, Han Shi Zhong scored several military victories over the invading Jin, with whom he opposed peace negotiations, and as a result was forced into early retirement.

2.  Fan Zhongyan Memorial Temples at the foot of  Tian Ping Shan west of Suzhou.  There are a large number of these memorial temples devoted to the Song Dynasty scholar official Fan Zhongyan, including the Loyalty and Forthright Temple (Fan Wen Zhen Gong Zhong Li Miao), Lord Fan’s Shrine (Fan Wen Zhen Gong Ci), and Lord Fan’s Memorial Hall (Fan Can Yi Gong Ci).  Fan Zhongyan founded the Suzhou Confucius Temple in 1035 A.D. and was described by F.R. Nance (1936) as “Suzhou’s preeminent scholar and statesman.”

3.  The Ancestor Hall (Zu Shi Tang) of Ling Yan Si atop Ling Yan Shan is devoted primarily to the former Abbot Yin Guang, who lived there in the 1930s.

The Beamless Hall of Kaiyuan Buddhist Temple (Kaiyuan Si)

The Beamless Hall (Wu Liang Dian) of Kaiyuan Buddhist Temple (Kai Yuan Si) is a genuine historic relic dating from the Ming Dynasty.   According to F.R. Nance (1936) this hall was built in 1513.  Hampton C. Du Bose (1911, pp. 42-45) published one of the earliest photos of the Wu Liang Dian, and stated that its ten-foot-thick brick walls had been designed as a fire-proof archive for sacred Buddhist scriptures.  Only this one hall of the former temple survives, but it is an incredibly impressive structure.  Much like the Wu Liang Dian of  Ling Gu Si in Nanjing, this large two-story brick structure was constructed entirely without any wooden beams.  There are brick carvings made to look like wooden roof brackets, many inscriptions that look like inscribed wooden sign boards that are actually brick carvings.  This site is not on normal tourist itineraries and was very difficult for me to find for the first time.  Even local residents had no knowledge of it.  Only after using historic maps of the city and through much trial and error did I discover that it is now hidden inside the walled compound of an apartment complex on Dong Da Jie street.  The uniformed guards at the gate of this compound are reluctant to allow anyone inside who doesn’t actually live there, particularly those who are obviously foreigners, and you have to be able to negotiate with them in Chinese.  The temple hall can not be seen at all from outside the compound, so passersby would normally have no idea it was in there.   Good luck trying to visit it.  It’s well worth the effort.

The front facade of the Wu Liang Dian of Kai Yuan Si.

The front facade of the Wu Liang Dian of Kai Yuan Si.

The front facade of the Beamless Hall of Kai Yuan Si.

The front facade of the Beamless Hall of Kai Yuan Si.

A close up of the front ground floor of the Kai Yuan Si Wu Liang Dian.

A close up of the front ground floor of the Kai Yuan Si Wu Liang Dian.

A close up of the front second floor of the Kai Yuan Si Wu Liang Dian.

A close up of the front second floor of the Kai Yuan Si Wu Liang Dian.

A close up of one of many inscriptions on the building.

A close up of one of many inscriptions on the building.

Brick carvings made to look like wooden roof brackets.

Brick carvings made to look like wooden roof brackets.

More brick carvings made to look like wooden roof brackets.

More brick carvings made to look like wooden roof brackets.

A side view of the Wu Liang Dian of Kai Yuan Si.

A side view of the Wu Liang Dian of Kai Yuan Si.

Kai Yuan Si Wu Liang Dian inscribed stone tablet dated 1956 and 1985, denoting its status as a protected provincial and city relic.

Kai Yuan Si Wu Liang Dian inscribed stone tablet dated 1956 and 1985, denoting its status as a protected provincial and city relic.

A stack of Buddhist books left outside the locked front door of the Wu Liang Dian

A stack of Buddhist books left outside the locked front door of the Wu Liang Dian

Ding Hui Buddhist Temple (Ding Hui Si)

Ding Hui Buddhist Temple (Ding Hui Si) was originally built back in 982 A.D., during the 7th year of the Taiping Xing Guo reign of the Northern Song Dynasty (Bei Song).  It once had a Grand Hall (Da Xiong Bao Dian) and an Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian) full of statues of Buddhist saints.  Today an impressive pair of twin pagodas (shuang ta) are all that remains of the original temple, although a newly constructed replacement temple of the same name stands in a separate compound about one block away.  The original temple structures at this site were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion.  Both towers are seven stories high, but the East tower is a bit shorter at 33.3 meters high, whereas the West tower is 33.7 meters high.  In the center of the of walled courtyard is a raised platform on which the stone foundations and pillars of the former temple halls can still be seen.  Along the inside of the perimeter wall the remains of many broken stone statutes and other relics can be found, as well as an engraved drawing of how the site used to look. The walled compound stands on Ding Hui Temple Lane (Ding Hui Si Xiang).

The Twin Pagodas (Shuang Ta).

The Twin Pagodas (Shuang Ta).

The Twin Pagodas (Shuang Ta).

The Twin Pagodas (Shuang Ta).

One of the two Twin Pagodas (Shuang Ta).

Base of one of the twin pagodas.

Base of one of the twin pagodas.

A stone block inside the base of the East Tower has bas relief carvings of Buddhas on all four sides.                 se of one of the twin pagodas.

A stone block inside the base of the East Tower has bas relief carvings of Buddhas on all four sides.

Headless stone arhat statues.

Headless stone arhat statues.

Headless stone arhat statues.

Headless stone arhat statues.

Headless stone arhat statue.

Headless stone arhat statue.

Site of the former temple halls.

Site of the former temple halls.

The Suzhou Confucius Temple (Wen Miao)

The day I visited there were clouds of burning incense filling the air and some enormous ceremony going on involving a horde of school children pledging allegiance to Confucius en masse.  Signs of a revival of Confucianism or at least ne0-Confucian values.  This temple compound dates back to the Song Dynasty.  While there certainly may have been some repairs, restorations, and changes to it since then, there are a number of genuine historic artifacts of various ages.  Certainly this site is much more authentic than the Confucius Temple in downtown Shanghai, which is a 100 percent fake replica built from scratch right in front of my eyes in 1999.  Unlike the Shanghai Wen Miao, which was burnt to the ground during the Cultural Revolution, the Suzhou Confucius Temple never seems to have suffered a total catastrophic destruction.

There are two walled compounds side by side.  The one on the east is that of the Wen Miao itself, with three parallel stone gates leading into a large courtyard, in the center of which stands a newish statue of Confucius, and on the far side of which stands the Da Cheng Dian main hall with a large outdoor terrace surrounded by a stone balustrade.  The three stone gates have obviously been broken up into pieces and then reassembled again.

It’s in this compound that you also find one small room in the southwest corner of the gate house that supposedly houses the three famous ancient stone carved tablets from the Song Dynasty that include a map of Suzhou and several astronomical studies of the stars.  The ten foot high stone astronomical map was supposedly carved in 1247, and the complete Suzhou City Map (Pingjiang Tu) of roughly the same size in 1229.  However, on closer inspection these tablets seem to be new reproductions of the originals.  One of the first foreigners to report seeing the original stone tablets there was Hampden C. Du Bose in 1888 and 1911, whereas F.R. Nance reported that they were still there in 1937, the year the Second Sino-Japanese War started.  If the original stone tablets were still there throughout most of the Min Guo era, then the question is where are they now?  Were they taken away by the Japanese, like the Han Shan Temple bell had been, removed to Taiwan and made part of the Palace Museum collection in exile, destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, or have they been stored for safe keeping elsewhere?  One guard’s full-time job is simply to try to stop visitors from photographing these stone tablets, as if they are afraid of someone discovering that they aren’t real, whereas there are no other restrictions on photography anywhere else within this site.

The compound on the west is that of the former Prefectural Confucian Academy (fu xue or shu yuan) where students studied the classics in preparation for taking the exams required to become a government official.  The main hall here is the Ming Lun Dian, which has been turned into a museum housing exhibits.

According to Peter James Carroll (1998), during the Qing Dynasty Suzhou had the highest number of successful candidates for the imperial civil service examinations (keju) of any city in China.  Between the founding of the Qing Dynasty in 1644 and the abolition of the civil service examinations in 1905, 600 men from Suzhou earned the Jinshi degree, while 2o won the first place Zhuang Yuan award.

The Suzhou Confucius Temple (Wen Miao) and adjoining Prefectural Academy (Fu Xue) were both founded in 1035 A.D. during the second year of the Jingyou reign of the Song Dynasty by local magistrate Fan Zhongyan.  During the Taipings occupation of the city from 1860 to 1863 the temple was severely damaged, but the wooden framework of the Da Cheng Dian survived.  Reconstruction of the temple lasted from 1864 to 1868.  The area covered by the site has shrunk over time from 10 hectares down to 4.5 hectares in 1931 and only 1.5 hectares in 1998.

After the imperial civil service examination system (keju) was abolished in 1905, and the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 overthrew the Qing Dynasty, thus eliminating imperial patronage for temples, the Suzhou Confucius Temple gradually fell into disuse and decline during the Republic of China (Minguo) period.   According to Peter James Carroll (1998) the last recorded traditional ceremonies in honor of Confucius were held here by some aging Jinshi scholars in February and September 1928, although modified ceremonies were briefly revived from 1934 to 1936 as part of the Guomindang’s conservative New Life Movement.   Noted Chinese architectural historian Liang Sicheng visited Suzhou in 1936 and studied the architecture of the Suzhou Confucius Temple, but his work was not published until the 1980s.

Today the Suzhou Confucius Temple stands beside the southern end of People’s Street (Renmin Lu), which used to be known as Sleeping Dragon street (Wo Long Lu).  This has always been the city’s main south-north avenue.  The Confucius Temple at the southern end is considered by locals to be the head of the dragon, whereas the North Temple Pagoda (Bei Si Ta) at the northern end of the street is thought to be the dragon’s tail.

The Da Cheng Dian of the Suzhou Wem Miao with a statue of Confucius in front.

The Da Cheng Dian of the Suzhou Wem Miao with a statue of Confucius in front.

The Da Cheng Dian of the Suzhou Wen Miao.

The Da Cheng Dian of the Suzhou Wen Miao.

The Da Cheng Dian sign board.

The Da Cheng Dian sign board.

The Lingxing Men stone gate leading to the Da Cheng Dian.

The Lingxing Men stone gate leading to the Da Cheng Dian.

One of the three stone gates that stand side by side.

One of the three stone gates that stand side by side.

The famous Song Dynasty Pingjiang Tu stone tablet map of Suzhou housed at the Wen Miao seems to be a new replica.

The famous Song Dynasty Pingjiang Tu stone tablet map of Suzhou housed at the Wen Miao seems to be a new replica.

West Garden Buddhist Temple (Xi Yuan Si)

The relatively small historic compound of this temple includes a Heavenly Kings Hall (Tian Wang Dian), Hall of the Great Hero (Da Xiong Bao Dian), 500 Arhats Hall (Wu Bai Luohan Tang), and Mid-Lake Pavilion (Hu Xing Ting).

The 500 Arhats Hall is one of the most famous in China.  It is quite a large structure filled with expressive statues of the Buddhist saints.  Each of the life-size statues has a unique facial expression.  They were supposedly modeled on the arhat statues at Tian Ning Si in Changzhou.  They were “regilded” in 1986, making them look new.  In addition, there are sculptures representing the four sacred Buddhist mountains, and a giant statue of the goddess Guanyin with 1,000 arms and four bodies facing four directions.  The interior of the hall today bears a remarkable resemblance to the description in F.R. Nance (1937).

According to Fan Tingshu et al, Cultural Galaxy of Suzhou (1993), this was the site of the West Garden (Xi Yuan) of government official Xu Taishi during the Ming Dynasty.  Later it became the Gui Yuan Si Buddhist Temple, which is more commonly known as Xi Yuan Si.   During the Taiping Rebellion, the entire temple was burned down in 1860.   After the recapture of Suzhou from the Taipings in 1863, reconstruction of the temple was a lengthy process that went on for many years.  It was reportedly rebuilt between 1869 and 1903.

In recent years the size of the temple has been expanded with the addition of a massive new area to the south of the historic compound, and this has caused the entrance to be relocated from the previous East Gate (Dong Men) at #18 Xi Yuan Long to a new South Gate (Nan Men) facing the Shang Tang He Canal and the street of Feng Qiao Lu.  In order to enter via the new South Gate (Nan Men) you must park on Feng Qiao Lu and cross a foot bridge over the Shang Tang He Canal.  The earlier East Gate entrance was at the west end of Xi Yuan Long, which becomes Liu Yuan Lu on the east side of  Tong Jing Bei Lu and leads to the Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan).

The Hall of the Great Hero (Da Xiong Bao Dian)

The Hall of the Great Hero (Da Xiong Bao Dian)

Statue of Sakyamuni (Shijiamouni) Buddha flanked by his two main disciples, Ananda and Kasyapa, inside the Da Xiong Bao Dian.

Statue of Sakyamuni (Shijiamouni) Buddha flanked by his two main disciples, Ananda and Kasyapa, inside the Da Xiong Bao Dian.

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian)

Statue of Ji Gong, the "crazy monk," inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian).

Statue of Ji Gong, the "crazy monk," inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian).

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian).

Inside the Arhat Hall (Luohan Dian).

The Mid-Lake Pavilion (Hu Xing Ting) in the Animal Releasing Pond (Fang Sheng Chi).

The Mid-Lake Pavilion (Hu Xing Ting) in the Animal Releasing Pond (Fang Sheng Chi).

The Old Entrance Gate

The Old Entrance Gate

Address of the Old Entrance Gate on Xi Yuan Long.

Address of the Old Entrance Gate on Xi Yuan Long.

The Road Leading to the Old Entrance Gate.

The Road Leading to the Old Entrance Gate.

Buddhist Monk of Xi Yuan Si.

Buddhist Monk of Xi Yuan Si.

Buddhist Monk of Xi Yuan Si.

Buddhist Monk of Xi Yuan Si.

Buddhist Monk of Xi Yuan Si.

Buddhist Monk of Xi Yuan Si.

The Taoist Temple of Mystery (Xuan Miao Guan)

Xuan Miao Guan was first built in 276 A.D. during the Western Jin Dynasty.  It was previously named Kai Yuan Gong and Tian Qing Guan.  During the Yuan Dynasty it received its present name.  In the Qing Dynasty it had more than 30 halls, and even in 1911 Hampden C. Du Bose reported that it had 15 halls.  He considered it so central to Suzhou citizens’ daily life that he called it “The City Temple,” although this nomenclature poses the danger of confusing it with the separate City God Temple (Cheng Huang Miao). Nonetheless, today there are really only two surviving historic structures left, both reportedly dating from 1177 in the Southern Song Dynasty.

This temple stands in a large courtyard off of the pedestrian shopping street (bu xing jie) known as Guan Qian Jie (which means street in front of the Taoist temple), at its intersection with Gong Xiang street.  The remaining historic halls include a small entrance gate hall and the main Pure Trinity Hall (San Qing Dian). The San Qing Dian is considered to be the largest ancient wooden structure in China south of the Yangzi River.  A third temple hall known as the Mi Luo Bao Ge was a three story pavilion that formerly stood behind the San Qing Dian, but burned down in a fire in April 1912.  After that  it was replaced by the existing Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (Zhongshan Tang) in 1933-34. There also used to be a Song Dynasty spirit wall in front of the temple, which was torn down between 1930 and 1931 in order to widen Guan Qian Street.  Despite this, the San Qing Dian is still an impressive structure by itself. However, due to the many shops and street vendors this is not at all a peaceful nor spiritual place.

The front of the San Qing Dian of Xuan Miao Guan.

The front of the San Qing Dian of Xuan Miao Guan.

Front corner side view of the San Qing Dian just as the sun is going down.

Front corner side view of the San Qing Dian just as the sun is going down.

Back side of the San Qing Dian as seen from the Zhongshan Tang.

Back side of the San Qing Dian as seen from the Zhongshan Tang.

The San Qing Dians enormous size makes it difficult to get the whole building in one shot..

The San Qing Dian's enormous size makes it difficult to get the whole building in one shot..

The San Qing Dians enormous size makes it difficult to get the whole building in one shot..

Statue on the roof of the San Qing Dian.

Statue on the roof of the San Qing Dian.

Trident on the roof of the San Qing Dian.

Trident on the roof of the San Qing Dian.

Wooden sign board on the San Qing Dian.

Wooden sign board on the San Qing Dian.

Guan Qian Jie street sign.

Guan Qian Jie street sign.

Cold Mountain Buddhist Temple (Han Shan Si) 

Cold Mountain Buddhist Temple (Han Shan Si)  is located outside the city to the west, near Iron Gate Pass (Tie Ling Guan) and Maple Bridge (Feng Qiao), at the confluence of the Shang Tang He Canal and the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He). The temple was reportedly first established in the 6th Century during the reign of Liang Wu Di (502-549), a patron of Buddhism and founder of the Liang Dynasty (502-557), one of the four Southern Dynasties (Nan Chao) based in Nanjing.  Later in the Tang Dynasty the temple was visited by two wandering monks, Han Shan and Shi De, who had come from Mount Tiantai in Zhejiang.  After that the temple was renamed as Han Shan Si.  The temple halls have burned down five times during its long history, with the oldest existing structures now dating only from the late Qing Dynasty.

It was home to the famous bronze bell that was eulogized by the Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Ji in 742 A.D. , Ming Dynasty painter Tang Yin, and later Qing Dynasty scholar Kang Youwei.  The original Tang Dynasty bell disappeared, while a Ming Dynasty replacement bell was stolen by the Japanese and taken to Japan during the Wanli reign (1572-1620).  In 1905 the Japanese offered a new Tang-style bell as a gift, claiming that they had lost the Ming bronze bell that they had previously stolen. Although this bell was grudgingly accepted, it caused enough embarrassment to prompt the casting of a new Chinese bell by local officials in 1906.  Later this Chinese bronze bell was again stolen by the Japanese and taken back to Japan during the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese War, although it was returned after the war was over.  The custom of ringing the bell 108 times on New Year’s Eve resumed in 1981 after having been abolished at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

In 1995 a new five-story, four-sided, 42 meter high, Tang Dynasty-style pagoda known as the Pu Ming Ta was erected within a newly expanded section of the Han Shan Temple compound at its east end.

Today both the 1906 Chinese bell and the 1905 Japanese bell are on display in the temple.  The 1906 Chinese bronze bell is hung in a modest tw0-story Bell Tower (Zhong Lou) which requires the purchase of a separate ticket to enter.  Once inside each visitor is allowed to ring the bell three times by hitting it with a swinging wooden beam that hangs from a rope.  The bell is in remarkably good condition, with the inscriptions covering all sides of it still clearly legible.  The four largest characters say “Gu Han Shan Si,” meaning ancient Han Shan Buddhist Temple.  Other inscriptions include the date that the bell was cast. Surprisingly, not that many visitors enter the Bell Tower to see this famous bell.  Most of the hordes of tour groups wearing matching hats are led by megaphone wielding guides into the faux Tang Dynasty compound added to the east end of the site in 1995. Meanwhile, the 1905 Japanese bronze bell is displayed prominently inside the temple’s main building, the Hall of the Great Hero (Da Xiong Bao Dian). where thousands of visitors pass through every day, although there is no sign or plaque identifying it.  In a final twist of irony, probably more visitors to Han Shan Si see the 1905 Japanese bell than see the 1906 Chinese bell.  Since it is China’s equivalent of the Liberty Bell it is surprising that more visitors don’t enter the Bell Tower to see it.

According to a map of the temple grounds found in the Han Shan Si Zhi (2002), as well as a wall map displayed at is entrance during my most recent visit in May 2012, its walled compound has a strangely irregular shape, with many small structures scattered about and the main halls imperfectly aligned on a west to east axis.  The main entrance gate is on the west side of the compound.  Visitors first enter the Heavenly Kings Hall (Tian Wang Dian).  Straight ahead is the Hall of the Great Hero (Da Xiong Bao Dian), followed by the Scripture Pavilion (Cang Jing Lou), behind which stands the faux Tang Dynasty style compound housing the All Bright Pagoda (Pu Ming Ba0 Ta).   The small tw0-story Bell Tower (Zhong Lou) housing the 1906 Chinese bronze bell stands on the south side of the compound near the Cang Jing Lou. The 1905 Japanese bell is kept separately in the Da Xiong Bao Dian building.  South of the Da Xiong Bao Dian is a Hall of Great Mercy (Da Bei Dian).  Hidden behind the Da Bei Dian is a carved stone column which appears to be a genuine historic relic and looks like the Tang Tuo Luo Ni Jing Zhuang columns found in the Guyi Yuan in Nanxiang and in Songjiang.  North of the Heavenly Kings Hall (Tian Wang Dian) is a long Arhats Hall (Luohan Tang).

On the north side of the compound, hidden behind the long Luohan Tang, is private area where the resident monks actually live and eat.  Exploring their dormitories, kitchen, and dining hall gives a greater insight into actual monastic life.  Outside the dining hall hangs the wooden fish and bronze gong which are struck to signal communal meal times.  It’s in this closed area that you also find the small Ancestor Hall (Zu Tang) hidden in a corner, where photos of three former temple abbots are displayed on an altar.  However, in stark contrast with the Ancestor Hall at Lin Yan Shan Si, it is not very impressive.

Despite its significance in Chinese literature and history, this site is usually so crowded with rowdy mobs of tourists that its spiritual atmosphere is almost completely ruined.  Don’t go here for peace of mind.  When you do go, try to arrive before 8:00 a.m. when the busloads of visitors start piling up.


Part IV:  Pagodas & Towers

Suzhou has many historic pagodas and towers.  Hampden C. Du Bose (1911, p.35) counted only “seven pagodas in and around the city,” whereas my own count adds up to ten historic pagodas and towers.  Here is a list of the most significant ones:

1.  The Twin Pagodas (Shuang Ta) of Ding Hui Buddhist Temple (Ding Hui Si) are located on the lane known as Ding Hui Si Xiang and were built in 982 A.D., during the Northern Song Dynasty.  Westerners used to call these the Pen Pagodas.

2.  The North Buddhist Temple Pagoda (Bei Si Ta) is located at 1918 Renmin Lu, near the train station.  The octagonal, nine story Bei Si Ta was built in 1160 during the Southern Song Dynasty.   Hampden C. Du Bose (1911, p.39) described it as being 250 feet high, and 60 feet in diameter at the base, but only 45 feet in diameter at the top. He thought it was “the highest in China.”  A double set of inner and outer walls are both 10 feet thick.  In between these walls 18 flights of steps lead all the way up to the top.   Each of the nine stories has eight doors leading out to a veranda and letting in sunlight.  The more recent source Shen Wenjuan gives the pagoda’s height as being 76 meters, and confirms that it is “the tallest brick-and-wood pagoda” in China.

According to F.R. Nance (1936) and Fan Tingshu et al (1993) the Buddhist temple at the foot of the pagoda is known as Bao En Si.  It was first built in 248 A.D. by Sun Quan, the King of Wu during the Three Kingdoms (San Guo) period, in honor of his mother.

3.  The Cloud Rock Buddhist Temple Pagoda (Yun Yan Si Ta) stands atop Tiger Hill (Hu Qiu Shan).   It is a massive, octagonal, brick structure that looks like a rocket about to be launched. The Yun Yan Si Ta was built between 959 and 961 A.D., a period that straddled the end of the Five Dynasties period and start of the Northern Song Dynasty. It stands 47.7 meters high and leans at a 3.49 degree angle to the northeast.  The pagoda once belonged to a Buddhist temple that no longer exists.  Tiger Hill was the burial place of King He Lu of the Wu Kingdom.  It’s the site of the famous Sword Pool and many other historic relics.

4.  The Yong Zuo Ta pagoda of the Divine Rock Buddhist Temple (Ling Yan Shan Si) stands atop Ling Yan Shan west of Mudu town.  Its English name is sometimes given as the Divine Rock Pagoda of the Divine Rock Temple.  This pagoda was originally built in the year 503 A.D., during the Southern Liang Dynasty.  It was later rebuilt in 977, and again from 1142 t0 1147, during the Shaoxing reign of the Southern Song Dynasty.   In 1600 it was struck by lightning, which started a fire that burned off all its wooden exterior, leaving only the bare brick core standing for several hundred years.  It was repaired in 1977  and fully renovated in 1989.   It’s a seven-story, octagonal structure with yellow walls, roof eaves at each level, a domed roof, and a high metal ding on top.  Embedded in the walls are some tablets inscribed by Master Yin Guang.

5.  The Jia Chen Xiang Brick Pagoda, an octagonal brick structure south of Gan Jiang Dong Lu on the lane known as Jia Chen Xiang.

6.  The Auspicious Light Pagoda (Rui Guang Ta) near Pan Men was built by Sun Quan, King of the Wu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms (San Guo) period, between 245 and 248 A.D. in honor of his mother.  Hampden C. Du Bose (1911) considered it to be the oldest one in the city, or the “Methuselah” as he put it.  The more recent source Shen Wenjuan confirms that it is the oldest one, and states that it measures 53.6 meters high.

7.  The Leng Jia Ta Pagoda atop Shang Fang Shan hill to the west of Suzhou was built in 608 A.D. during the 4th year of the Da Ye reign of the Sui Dynasty.   Later it was rebuilt in 978 A.D. during the Song Dynasty, and repaired in 1640, during the late Ming Dynasty.   It has an octagonal shape, stands 23 meters high, and has seven stories.

8.  The All Bright Pagoda (Pu Ming Bao Ta) of Han Shan Si Buddhist Temple is a Tang Dynasty-style structure erected in 1995.  It has five stories, four sides, and stands 42 meters high.  It is supposedly a reconstruction of an earlier pagoda destroyed at the end of the Yuan Dynasty.  Han Shan Si is in the Maple Bridge (Feng Qiao) area at the confluence of the Shang Tang He canal and Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He) to the west of Suzhou.  The temple was originally founded in the Liang Dynasty.

9.  The Literary God Tower (Wen Chang Ta), also known as the Bell Tower (Zhong Lou) or Square Tower (Fang Ta), stands at the eastern end of Shi Zi Lu on the grounds of Suzhou University.  According to F.R. Nance (1937) it was built in 1600 in honor of the God of Literature (Wen Chang), with the hopes that it would increase the number of local students who would pass the imperial civil service examinations (Keju).  In contrast to the so-called Pen Pagodas, westerners often called this one the Ink Pagoda.

Part V:  The Western Hills

In the rural area to the west of the Suzhou city center is a chain of forested hills, many of which are topped by a pagoda and decorated with historic temples.  These include the four most famous hills of Shang Fang Shan, with Stone Lake (Shi Hu) at its foot; Ling Yan Shan just west of Mudu town;  Tian Ping Shan; and Tiger Hill (Hu Qiu Shan).

Tian Ping Shan has an elevation of 221 meters and is located 14 kilometers west of the Suzhou city center.  It is home to many memorial temples and gates dedicated to the Song Dynasty scholar official Fan Zhongyan.

Ling Yan Shan has a height of 182 meters and is located just outside of Mudu Town (Mudu Zhen).   The mountain was named after the glossy lingzhi rocks found here since ancient times.  Fu Chai, King of the Wu Kingdom, once had his Guan Wa summer palace on the summit, and it was there that he kept his mistress Xi Shi, considered one of the “four beauties” of ancient China.  Later in the Liang Dynasty the Ling Yan Shan Si Buddhist Temple was constructed on its summit in the same place as the palace had once stood.  During the Qing Dynasty both emperors Kangxi and Qianlong visited this site.

Tiger Hill (Hu Qiu Shan)

Shang Fang Shan

Part VI:  Republic of China (Minguo) Architecture

The Former Japanese Consulate

The former Japanese Consulate is a Republic of China (Mingu0) structure hidden in the back of the Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory compound at 94 Nan Men Lu.  Although busloads of tourists visit this old silk factory every day, very few people seem to be aware that this other historic structure is located there.  This area became part of the Japanese Concession established in 1896 as a result of China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895.  The neighboring silk factory was established in 1926.  The massive, three-story high, red brick consulate building is an amazingly unique piece of art-dec0 architecture.  The east end has an impressive stone block carport with three stone arches and Greco-Roman stone columns protecting a side entrance to the house.  Art-Deco stone decorations surround the windows of the house.  On the south side of the house is a two-story, oval veranda and patio with stone columns. When I visited it the building was still in its original condition, unchanged since the 1930s, but was on the verge of being restored.  I was able to go inside and walk around undisturbed.  The interior featured some unique doors with rounded tops and round windows.

Soochow University (Suzhou Daxue)

Soochow University (Suzhou Daxue) was established in the southeast corner of the walled city just inside the Fu Men city gate by Christian Methodist missionaries from America in 1900 and began holding classes in March 1901. It was formed through the merger of several earlier missionary educational institutions, including the Buffington Institute and the Angl0-Chinese College.  It was one of the 13 Protestant Christian colleges in China up until 1949 and operated with “a charter under the laws of the state of Tennessee incorporating the institution…”  Although known in English as Soochow University, the Chinese name was actually Dong Wu Da Xue.

The three story Main Hall housing the library, auditorium, chapel, and offices was the first major structure built. Construction started in December 1901 and was completed in 1905 according to official university publications, although its clock tower bears the date 1903 .  According to the “Soochow University Catalogue” for 1909, the building “was partly occupied in the spring of 1903 but it was not fully completed till January 1905.”  Later this Main Hall was renamed Allen Hall in honor of Young J. Allen, president of the Anglo-Chinese College from 1882 to 1895, who died in 1907. It is notable not only for its clock tower but also for a round stained glass window that lets sunlight into the former chapel.

The university’s first president, David L. Anderson, served from 1900 to 1911.  During the university’s first decade of operation under Anderson’s leadership, Allen Hall, the dining hall, dormitories, and nine faculty residences had been completed.  Four dormitories capable of holding 218 students were completed in 1907, along with the dining hall.  It was also in 1907 that the school’s first Bachelor of Arts graduated.   By 1909 the university library contained 1,016 volumes in English and 8,456 volumes in Chinese.

Anderson was replaced as president by John W. Cline, who served from 1911 to 1922.  During the next decade the school continued to expand.  In March 1911 construction began on the school’s second large building, Anderson Hall, named after the university’s first president.  A law school was established in 1915, and received its own separate facility in Shanghai in 1923.  As implied by the school’s motto, “Unto a Fullgrown Man,” the university originally only had male students, but in the fall of 1920 it became co-educational when it began to admit female students as well.  The library was expanded from 1922 to 1925.  A new science building constructed from 1922 to 1924 to  house the laboratories for the science program was named Cline Hall in honor of the university’s second president, who had resigned that position in 1922 but continued to be Vice-President of the Board of Trustees through 1934.

Cline was replaced as president of the university by Walter B. Nance, husband of F. R. Nance, who was author of a 1936 travel guide for Suzhou that still remains possibly the best book ever written about the city.   Nance’s tenure as president was cut short after only five years by the Chinese nationalists successful Northern Expedition (Bei Fa) to reunify the country and subsequent educational rights recovery movement of 1927, which ultimately succeeded in getting all but one of the 13 Christian missionary colleges in China placed under the national authority of the new Guomindang central government in Nanjing and the local management of Chinese administrators.    Due to its location within the safety of the foreign concessions, St. John’s University of Shanghai was the only one to maintain foreign management under the continuing leadership of its long-time president Hawks Pott.  As a result of these national politics, Nance was forcibly replaced as president by Y. C. Yang (Yang Yongqing) in December 1927, and was thereafter relegated to the much diminished position of “Western Adviser.”   Yang was a graduate of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. who had served in the Chinese diplomatic corps with postings in Washington D.C. and London, as well as the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing, from 1916 t0 1927.  He was still president in 1951 when the university was taken over by the new Communist government and died in 1956.

In 1934 the campus included Allen Hall, Cline Hall, Anderson Hall, Tsao Hall, Lee Hall, Smart Natatorium, 16 faculty residences. five dormitories, a gymnasium, two dining halls, a greenhouse, athletic fields, and the Jernigan Fountain.    Future plans called for the erection of the Smart Memorial Gymnasium and construction of a new library building.

By that time the university’s administration, faculty, and board of trustees had all largely been localized. The Chinese now had a large majority that included the university president and the board of trustees president, with only a few foreign faculty and board members remaining.  Only four out of the eleven board members were foreigners, and just two of the five board officers.  This was in stark contrast with the name lists published in the university “Catalogue” for 1909, which showed that there was not a single Chinese person on the board of trustees, and the only Chinese faculty members were those teaching Chinese language and literature.

According to the official “Ground Plan of Soochow University” published in the 1934 “Soochow University Bulletin,” contrary to the traditional Chinese concept that the entrance to any important site should always face south, the campus was aligned on a north-south axis and was entered from the main gate facing north.  Upon entering this main north gate from Suzhou Road, a visitor first encountered an east-west row of seven houses built as faculty residences.  Walking south, straight ahead was Allen Hall, the main administration building with its clock tower, built between 1903 and 1905.  Behind the south side of Allen Hall was the large Recreation Ground, lined on its east and west sides by rows of school buildings.  On the west side (your right if walking south) were first Anderson Hall, designed to look like a European castle, with three towers; and then further south came the Lee Dormitory Hall.  On the east side of the Recreation Ground was first Cline Hall, south of it Tsao Dormitory Hall, and in the far southeast corner was the Gymnasium.  Removed  a ways further to the east was the Smart Natatorium.  South of the Recreation Ground were two dining halls and some more faculty residences and student dormitories.

During the 1937-1945 Second Sino-Japanese War the campus was evacuated by students and faculty, most of whom fled to the safety of Chengdu.  In their absence the campus buildings were occupied and heavily damaged by the Japanese military.  From 1946 to 1949 the campus was rehabilitated with funding from American Christian missionary donors; dormitories and other facilities were re-equipped with equipment and furniture; the Pavilion of Benevolent Longevity was erected in 1947 in honor of the 80th birthday of W. B. Nance, and the main entrance gate at the north end of campus was rebuilt in 1948.  All this work was for nought when the Communists occupied the city in 1949 and the new government took over control of the school in early 1951.

Today the original campus is still largely intact and being put to its original use, although the buildings’ original English names have been changed to new Chinese ones, and they have been numbered with blue metal plaques. Since 2002 the university has erected a number of memorials acknowledging its Western missionary heritage.  For example, the Smart Memorial Gymnasium (Tiyuguan) has been turned into the Soochow University Museum (Suzhou Daxue Bowuguan), which includes exhibits on its missionary past, although they are almost entirely in Chinese.  This is in sharp contrast with the University of Nanjing, which completely denies having any connection with its pre-Liberation institutional predecessor and has created an entirely falsified history of itself.   Suzhou University goes so far as to still use the missionary school’s original logo and motto, “Unto a Full Grown Man.”

You can enter the campus from the new North Gate on Gan Jiang Dong Lu, but this means a very long walk through the new northern campus of modern buildings, although you do get to see the historic Literary God Tower.  The closest access to the historic original campus is via the West Gate (Xi Men) from Shizi Jie.

Once inside the West Gate Shizi Jie’s name changes to Suzhou Lu.  Following Suzhou Road to the east leads to a bridge over the City Moat (Hu Cheng He).  Along Suzhou Road are found the historic buildings of the former Laura Haygood Memorial School for girls (Jing Hai Nuzi Shifan Xuexiao).  The main building of the Haygood school still bears its original inscription with the date 1903 over its entrance.  It is now building #65 of Suzhou University known as the Red Mansions Conference Hall (Hong Lou Huiyi Zhongxin).   A stone tablet erected in 2005 marks it as the site of the former girls school.

The three-portal arched gateway to the historic original campus of Soochow University is on the south side of Suzhou Road.  Standing just outside the gate on the north side of Suzhou Road is the Pavilion of Benevolent Longevity erected in 1947 in honor of the 80th birthdays of J. W. Cline and W. B. Nance.  Immediately inside the gate is a stone tablet erected in 2002 marking it as the former site of “Dong Wu Da Xue,” aka Soochow University.  Tower Building Road (Zhong Lou Lu) leads from the gate to Allen Hal, now known simply as the Clock Building (Zhong Lou)l.  Tower Building West Road (Zhong Lou Xi Lu) leads around Allen Hall to Anderson Hall and Lee Hall boys dormitory.  Anderson Hall is now designated as building #26.   Tower Building East Road (Zhong Lou Dong Lu) leads to Cline Science Hall, Marshall Hall boys dormitory, and the Smart Memorial Gymnasium (Tiyuguan), which is now the University Museum (Bowuguan).

Outer side of the main north gate.  Inscription on the gate reads from right to left, "Dong Wu Da Xue."

Outer side of the main north gate. Inscription on the gate reads from right to left, "Dong Wu Da Xue."

Inscription reads from right to left, "Dong Wu Da Xue."

Inscription reads from right to left, "Dong Wu Da Xue."

Inscription reads, "Min Guo San Shi Qi Nian...Chong Jian," meaning it was rebuilt in the 37th year of Minguo (1948).  The previous gate was destroyed during the 1937-1945 Japanese occupation of the campus.

Inscription reads, "Min Guo San Shi Qi Nian...Chong Jian," meaning it was rebuilt in the 37th year of Minguo (1948). The previous gate was destroyed during the 1937-1945 Japanese occupation of the campus.

The inner side of the North Main Gate rebuilt in 1948 after being destroyed during the 1937-1945 Japanese occupation of the campus. The two side side inscriptions are original, but the top center inscription is a new one that replaces the original English motto of the school, "Unto a Full Grown Man."

Laura Haygood left San Francisco for China in 1884. After her arrival she taught English at the Anglo-Chinese College in Shanghai, which was then under the presidency of Young J. Allen, later one of the founders of Suzhou University. In 1893 Laura Haygood founded the McTyeire School for girls in Shanghai, which she ran for seven years until her death. A Laura Haygood School was established in Suzhou in 1901.

Anderson Hall

Anderson Hall

Allen Hall completed in 1905 housed the library, auditorium, chapel, and offices.

Allen Hall. Photos from 1909 show that the clock tower once had a conical spire on top that is missing now, and four chimneys that once emerged from the roof have been removed as well.

The clock tower of Allen Hall.

The date at the top of the clock tower of Allen Hall clearly reads "1903," but official university records say the building was not finished until 1905.

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (Zhongshan Tang)

The Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (Zhongshan Tang) is a Min Guo structure built in 1933-1934 in memory of China’s first president.  For years it sat hidden behind a surrounding wall of shops that completely obscured its view.  In March 2005 it was finally restored and reopened to the public.  It stands on the central axis of the Taoist Temple of Mystery (Xuan Miao Guan) on Guan Qian Jie, right behind the temple’s main San Qing Dian hall.  In fact, prior to the Zhongshan Tang’s construction a temple hall known as the Mi Luo Bao Ge stood here.

Zhongshan Tang

Zhongshan Tang

Zhongshan Tang

Zhongshan Tang

Zhongshan Tang

Zhongshan Tang

Plaque commemorating the Zhongshan Tang's restoration in 2005.

Plaque commemorating the Zhongshan Tangs restoration in 2005.

West Central City Street (Xi Zhong Shi)

Xi Zhong Shi Street leads westward from the city center towards the site of the old Chang Men city gate.   On the Suzhou city map published in Hampden C. Du Bose (1911) this street is labeled as Chang Men Great Street (Chang Men Da Jie), but on the map in Hampden C. Du Bose (1888) it is called Shi Zhong Da Jie.  This was the western entrance/exit of the walled city.  Immediately outside Chang Men the Suzhou City Moat (Hu Cheng He) intersects with the northwest canal known as the Shan Tang He leading to Tiger Hill (Hu Qiu Shan) and the western canal known as the Shang Tang He which connects with the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal (Jing Hang Da Yun He).

During the Republic of China (Min Guo) this street was one of the main business districts.  Amazingly, it is still lined on both sides with many well preserved examples of commercial buildings designed in Art-Deco architectural style dating from the Min Guo era.

Up until about the year 2000, Nanjing’s downtown city center used to be full of similar types of low-scale, Art-Deco commercial buildings dating from the Min Guo era, but unfortunately they were all razed in a wholesale destruction of the city center as part of the local government’s urban development plan, and partly replaced with the entirely fake reproduction known as “Nanjing 1912.”  Even the original spirit wall protecting the front gate of the former Presidential Palace (Tushuo Zongtong Fu) was demolished in this frenzied orgy of intentional destruction.   Likewise, Hangzhou’s downtown city center has almost no genuine structures dating from before 1949.

As a result, of the poor urban planning of the other cities in the Jiangnan region, this street in Suzhou is one of the last places where you can see genuine Art-Deco buildings from the 1920s and 1930s.  Of all the cities in the Jiangnan region, Suzhou has done by far the best job at balancing historic preservation with economic development.  They’ve done this by concentrating industries in the Suzhou New District in the western suburbs and the Suzhou Singapore Industrial Park in the eastern suburbs, while largely preserving the historic atmosphere of the original urban area within the city moat.  Meanwhile, the neighboring cities of Nanjing, Changzhou, and Wuxi have become anonymous, generic collections of black box, steel and glass skyscrapers lacking any local flavor.

Chang Men Hotel (Chang Men Fan Dian)

The large compound of the Chang Men Hotel (Chang Men Fan Dian) located at the end of Chang Men Heng Jie contains many historic structures and villas dating from the Min Guo era.  The main Spanish-style villa was built in 1936 as the Xie Jia Yuan.  After 1949 it became a state guest house for government officials.  It is now open to the public.


Suzhou Hotel (Suzhou Fan Dian)

The large compound of the former Suzhou Hotel (Suzhou Fan Dian), which was located on the south side of Shi Quan Jie for many years until it was  torn down in May 2012,  contains several hidden historic former residential villas dating from the Min Guo era.

Suzhou Academy of Fine Arts (Suzhou Meishu Yuan)

The Suzhou Academy of Fine Arts (Suzhou Meishu Yuan) is a Minguo era structure built in classical Greco-Roman style.  It stands on an island beside the famous Cang Lang Ting garden.  It was constructed in 1933 as the Suzhou Academy of Fine Arts, which had until then been based in the next door Cang Lang Ting Garden since its establishment in 1922.  Today it serves as the Yan Wenliang Memorial Hall (Yan Wenliang Jinian Guan).  Yan Wenliang was a famous Chinese painter who had in 1929 restored the Cang Lang Ting classical garden, and who supervised the construction of this building while serving as the first Dean of the Suzhou Academy of Fine Arts.

About YangziMan

I'm a U.S. citizen who has spent the last 14 years living, working, and traveling in China continuously without a break. I have written five books about China for overseas publishers, and a host of scholarly articles for academic journals such as the Royal Asiatic Society and China Heritage Quarterly. Visit My Amazon.com Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/ericdanielson
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