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Suzhou profits from its sense of history

Updated: 2024-05-16 07:29 ( China Daily )
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Woodblock prints in the nationally recognized Suzhou Taohuawu style are showcased at the Pingjiang cultural center in Suzhou. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Appealing heritage helps establish foundations for future prosperity, Li Yingxue reports.

Imagine the scenario. A time traveler from say 800 years ago is transplanted to Pingjiang Road in Gusu district, Suzhou, Jiangsu province. The initial shock of new buildings and bustling pavements would soon wear off, but the traveler would not feel a total sense of displacement. The layout of the neighborhood remains much like it was in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), with waterways and streets running parallel. The traveler might even see people dressed similarly in the bustling crowd, especially girls in beautiful hanfu taking photos.

The traveler would also find the signs on the old mansion doors interesting — cafes, creative product shops, silk stores, hanfu experience halls, and modern bookstores. It's where modern businesses meet traditional streets.

The Pingjiang historic and cultural block, spanning more than 116 hectares, is Suzhou's oldest and most intact historic and cultural area, boasting a history of over 2,500 years. With its quintessential Jiangnan (lower reach of the Yangtze river) water town charm and traditional architecture with white walls and black tiles, it remains a treasure trove of the city's heritage.

On weekends and holidays, the streets of Pingjiang come alive with a diverse array of visitors. Some wander the ancient alleys dressed in hanfu, while others relax by the water, enjoying traditional music performances. Many also take delight in exploring the hidden gems of historic residences tucked away in the side streets, immersing themselves in the essence of "Suzhou-style living".

During the period from May 1 to 3 alone, the district welcomed 750,000 visitors.

In recent years, Suzhou has focused on the key word "activation" to preserve its cultural heritage. Through urban renewal projects, historic sites blend seamlessly with modern life. Many restored ancient buildings in the old city are now bustling with new vitality.

Pingjiang Road has evolved into a hub for "comprehensive tourism" and "Suzhou-style living". It's not just a destination for backpackers; it's home to 8,000 families enjoying the convenience of city life within a 15-minute radius.

Lu Jianying, an inheritor of Suzhou embroidery, has called the ancient city home for three decades. She's seen the ancient homes remain unchanged on the outside but witnessed residents enjoying modern comforts inside.

"Pingjiang Road is like Suzhou's 'dual-sided embroidery', showing the city's blend of tradition and modernity, old charm with youthful energy. Preserving these cultural districts not only safeguards our heritage but also sparks new opportunities and vitality for economic growth," Lu says.

Known as the "Jiangnan cultural museum without walls", this neighborhood is a collection of cultural heritage sites. In 2005, the Pingjiang historic and cultural block received an Honorable Mention at the UNESCO 2005 Asia-Pacific Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. In 2015, it was designated one of China's first historical and cultural districts.

According to Wang Yongfa, director of the planning and protection department of the Gusu district ancient city protection committee in Suzhou, they've preserved the area's unique layout with parallel waterways and maintained the charming riverside atmosphere with small bridges.

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