Discover Suzhou: Suzhou’s Specialties

Suzhou Silk and Silk Embroidery

Suzhou is not only a famous cultural city and a city of gardens, but also the silk capital of China.

During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, it was the silk producing centre; in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties most of the high-grade silk produced for the royal families was made by Suzhou silk weavers.

Suzhou_silk

Authentic Suzhou silk is produced from the cocoons of silkworms. Silkworms are actually not worms, but caterpillars. Silkworms feed on mulberry leaves until they are one mouth old. Then the worms build a cocoon to protect themselves until they change into a moth.

cocoons

Once the cocoons are finished workers will collect the cocoons and place them in hot water. This kills the worms and melts the natural glue that holds the cocoons together. Once the natural glue has been melted each cocoon can yield over 2,000 feet of silk thread. Once the silk thread has been unspun, it is hung outside to dry in the sun and then woven on looms. It is an extremely labor intensive process, but only this will guarantee silk of the finest quality.

Suzhou artisans are also masters of silk embroidery. Beddings, clothes, wall art, and many other objects can carry stitched works of the local Suzhou style, one of China’s Four Traditional Embroidery Styles. Large wall arts, equivalent of laborious paintings can take years to complete, carefully choosing the perfect threads by color and thickness.

Silk Embroidery

Through highly skilled motions and unparalleled dedication, artists create unbelievable realism. Suzhou specializes in double-sided embroidery, where one single piece of cloth can display different images on either side.

If you are interested in admiring these works, you can visit these places below:

Suzhou Silk Museum

Suzhou Silk Museum is multi-functional, and combines exhibits with demonstrations of silk weaving. Exhibits on display in its various exhibition halls reflect the origin, evolution and development of silk production, from primitive times to the Shang, Zhou, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties right through to present day.

Address: No.2001 Renmin Road

Entrance Fee: 15RMB

Opening hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm

Suzhou Institute of Embroidery

The institute is a worldwide name, with over 100 professional technical personnel, including some masters of Chinese arts and crafts. The silk and brocade works of art produced by the institute won gold prizes at the international fairs and golden cup awards at the national quality competitions time and again.

Address: 272 Jingde Road

Entrance Fee: Free of charge

Opening hours: 8:30am-4:45pm

Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory

For over 80 years, Suzhou No.1 Silk Factory has been a leader in local silk production. A complete silk manufacturing facility, the No. 1 Silk Factory handles every facet of production from raising silkworms and cocoon boiling to reeling and packing. Visits to the silk factory include a tour of the facility, a lecture about silk production, a workshop on making silk goods and a visit to the factory’s showroom.

Address: No.94 Nanmen Road

Entrance Fee: Free of charge

Opening hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm

Chinese Embroidery Art Gallery

Chinese Embroidery Art Gallery is the largest professional embroidery exhibition gallery in China. The whole gallery was built with the classic garden concept in mind. The gallery shows various embroidery art works from all over the country. It is a multi-functional gallery with embroidery for sale, embroidery art research and development, embroidery art communication and so on.

Address: Zhenhu Street, New & High-tech District

Entrance Fee: 10RMB

Opening hours: 9:00am-4:00pm

Suzhou Performing Arts

Kunqu

Kunqu

Kunqu (昆曲, Kun Qu), also called Kun Opera, is one of the oldest forms of Chinese Operas, also considered to be one of its Four Great Characteristic Melodies.

Born in the Wu Kingdom, today’s Kunshan area of Suzhou, it grew and thrived. However, during the Cultural Revolution, opera performances were suppressed. Despite this and against all odds, Kunqu gained in popularity and significance, leading to its current position of importance and appreciation.

Another aspect of Kunqu that is still unknown to many is that it has influenced many other styles of Opera, especially its better known cousin, the Peking Opera. It is even said that the appearance of Kunqu was the key reason for the rise in popularity and success of Chinese theater and drama.

Where can you watch Kun Opera shows?

Suzhou Opera Museum

In the museum, you can discover the great achievements made by groups of artists since the liberation and their successful performances in and out of the country. Their journey will leave you with a deep respect for the art.

Address: 14 Zhangjia Lane in the middle of Pingjiang Road

Entrance Fee: Free of charge

Opening hours: 8:30am-4:30pm

Pingtan

Pingtan

Pingtan (评弹, Ping Tan) must also be noted as yet another exquisite performance art of Suzhou, after all, it is probably the most local form of performing art.

Essentially, Pingtan is a story telling art where together, two artists/storytellers, one male and one female, retell traditional tales. Stories can take hours, even days to be told and so, traditionally, these performances take place in peaceful teahouses.

The name Pingtan comes from the unison of two Suzhou words: pinghua and tanci, storytelling and ballad singing. And so, true to its origins, Pingtan uses Wu Kingdom Chinese or Suzhou dialect, in addition to traditional Chinese instruments. Normally, the woman plays the Pipa, while the man plays a three stringed instrument. Together the melodies are sweet and support the story being told.

Here is a list about where you can enjoy the show:

Plum and Bamboo Storytelling Garden

Address: No. 30 Taipingfang, Stone Road

Opening hours: 1:30pm-3:30pm

Price: 4 RMB per person (including tea)

Guangyu Storytelling Hall

Address: No. 8 Diyi Tianmen, Guanqian Street

Opening hours: 1:30pm-3:30Pm

Price: 4 RMB per person (including tea)

Pinfang Teahouse

Address: No. 24-25 Xijiaomen, Guanqian Street

Opening hours: 1:30pm-3:30pm

Price: 3.5 RMB per person (including tea)

Food & Drink

Bluish Green Spring

BiLuoChun

Bi Luo Chun (碧螺春) is a famous green tea originally grown in the Dongting Hill near the Tai Hu Lake. It is renowned for its delicate appearance, fruity taste, floral aroma, showy white hairs and early cropping.

Chinese tea experts regard it very highly. Zhen Jun (1857 – 1918), the author of famous tea encyclopedia Cha Shuo, ranked it first among Chinese green tea.

Bi Luo Chun from East Hill is considered the best. Every March and April is considered the right to pick the tea. Due to the different picking period and quality, Bi Luo Chun is divided into many grades and it is said the Supreme grade cost about 6000RMB per kilogram!

Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab

DaZhaCrab

Yangcheng Lake hairy crab (阳澄湖大闸蟹, Yang Cheng Hu Da Zha Xie) is a kind of Chinese Mitten Crab. White bottom, golden hairy and a pair of big pincers, those are distinguishing features of the crab. Every late autumn when every crab’s weight gains more than 150 gram, then it’s the time to enjoy the cate.

Just steaming is the best way to cook the crab, dipped in the sauce just made from vinegar, sugar and tiny baby ginger slices so that you can taste the natural flavor.

Vocabulary

sī chóu

丝 绸                                       Silk                   n.

cán

蚕                                        Silkworm              n.

cì xiù

刺绣                                 Embroidery            n.

jiǎn

茧                                         Cocoon                n.

áo

螯                                          pincers               n.






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