Spending National Day in Suzhou
Suzhou is a city still crisscrossed by creeks and canals, including the famous Grand Canal.
During the imperial period this was a major conduit for the transportation of goods and food from the rich south to the northern capital.
The presence of the Grand Canal in one’s city meant that riches flowed through it, both in terms of material goods and also in the presence of the many people drawn to the bright lights.
This included European merchants and missionaries, and it was an important place to meet with influential patrons. The famous Chinese bishop Gong Pinmei also served here as bishop.
The natural advantages of a pleasant climate, abundant water sources and fertile fields (the city was also known as the place "of fish and rice"), combined with families of successful scholar-bureaucrats, meant that the city was long a centre that supported traditional culture, having the people and the means to do so.
This long-standing support can be seen in examples of high cultural pursuits like elaborate garden construction as well as in the still thriving artisanal crafts like silk production, fan making and fine clothing. Early Jesuit missionaries were struck by the intricacies of the gardens they saw and their writings back to Europe created great interest in this aspect of Chinese culture. The city prided itself as being not only a preserve of rich Chinese scholarship but also of the latest fashions, and this brought many tourists to its door, in and out of season.
Today Suzhou has many of its treasures recognized by UNESCO and it continues to be a magnet for both Chinese and overseas travellers. It is an excellent place to pause after the busyness of Shanghai, and before a tilt at Beijing, as its combination of contemplative gardens and thriving laneways and canals make it a restful and enriching destination.
Our pilgrims from St Ignatius Adelaide, St Ignatius Drysdale, Xavier College Ballina, Xavier College Melbourne, Loyola College Watsonia and St Aloysius College Sydney have all enjoyed travelling here and spending China’s National Day in the presence of the many Chinese tourists who likewise love this city.