Below heaven, Suzhou

By Binh Vong, B.A. program student.

Insight from Suzhou, China.

There is a Chinese proverb which states “above is heaven and below is SuHang (Suzhou and Hangzhou).” This proverb implies that the beauty of Suzhou and Hangzhou is comparable to heaven. I can’t agree enough. Suzhou is absolutely gorgeous with amazing gardens that feature classical Chinese architecture and pagodas that rest majestically against the growing number of skyscrapers.

After being in Shanghai for two months, going to Suzhou felt like walking into a different era. Strolling through Tangshan road, I saw normal Chinese citizens going at their everyday lives. They were looking after their children, making food, eating dinner and chatting happily. In several houses were the elderly who sat quietly by themselves. Other than lighting, a few motorcycles here and there, and old television sets in several houses, I barely saw any other trace of technology. Unlike Shanghai, there were no computers, no cellphones, and no tablets. Despite being half an hour train ride from the busy financial center in Shanghai and a twenty minute taxi ride from Suzhou city center, these people seemed ever so distant from the tall skyscrapers and bustling city roads of Shanghai, which makes one wonder if the lives of these individuals are at all affected by China’s economic growth.

At Tangshan road, I met a dainty old man, who was perhaps more educated than most there. He asked where I was from and I told him Hong Kong (which is stretching the truth since though I was born in Hong Kong, I grew up in the States). Afterwards, he immediately told me, “I like Hong Kong, and Shanghai too! People there are much more educated. Look at how uneducated and uncivilized people here are. Look at them yelling at each other and those men with no shirts on baffling back and forth. You won’t see that in Hong Kong or Shanghai. Even though Shanghai is so close to here, people from Shanghai don’t bother to come here. All these tourists, they hail from Nanjing!”

His displeasure stunned me. Here was a city that I thought was absolutely beautiful and yet, here is a local resident who thought very little of it. Perhaps it’s because Suzhou lacked the economic sophistication of Hong Kong, Shanghai and even Beijing. Despite this, I admire this humble and beautiful city for its ability to retain traditional Chinese culture in midst of a rapidly changing China.


Binh Vong is a junior in the International Political Economy track of the Jackson School of International Studies and is also majoring in Political Science and Chinese. She is currently a member of the Jackson School Journal Editorial Board.

This past summer, Binh studied Business Chinese at Shanghai Jiaotong University and interned at China Telecom through a Columbia University administered program.

She authored another blog post about her experiences in China for JSIS Correspondence titled “Getting lost, Shanghai.”