Wu Culture

Classical Suzhou Garden
Classical Suzhou Garden
Suzhou is the birthplace of the flourishing Wu Culture which has had immense influence in the regions embracing Taihu Lake, west of Shanghai, southeast of Nanjing, northwest of Zhejiang and south of Yangzhou and Huaiyin. As one vital part of the Chinese traditional civilization, the Wu Culture has a long history which may be traced back to 10,000 years ago. However, just about 2,000 years ago, this culture had a surge of development. At first, the Wu Culture mainly adopted the essence of the central Chinese civilization. Until the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), more and more overseas civilizations were absorbed by the Wu Culture, and then introduced into central China. Coming after the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Suzhou City was one of the most prosperous Chinese cities, both in agricultural production and domestic and foreign trade. Therefore, it is no wonder that Suzhou is one of the cities where the earliest bud of capitalism in China appeared.

The historic Wu Culture has left Suzhou City with a series of attractive heritages, including the classical gardens and water townships, the melodic rhythm of Kun Opera and Ping Tan (Suzhou ballad), the Wumen Fine Arts School, the Suzhou handcrafts and the Jiangsu Cuisine. Each of them can reflect the locals' essential character-exquisite, mild and smart.

 

Kun Opera and Ping Tan

Water Town in Suzhou
Water Town in Suzhou
Kun Opera (Kunqu or Kunqiang) is the mother of all Chinese operas, which has a history of over 600 years. It originated in the Kunshan area of Suzhou City in the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and developed to be a musical system in the Ming Dynasty, and came into its golden age in the period of the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. In 2001, the UNESCO awarded it as the Human Beings' Verbal and Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative Work. Kun Opera sounds graceful and haunting and is good at controlling the voice and rhythm as well as every word and sentence. These performance skills are vividly displayed in the 'shuimoqiang' (floating water mill tune) which embodies the distinctive character of the Kun Opera. When performed, the opera is accompanied by various kinds of instruments, such as flute, Sheng, Xiao (pipe), Sanxian (trichord) and lute. When you are in Suzhou, it will be an interesting experience to enjoy a noted Kun Opera, for example, the Peony Pavilion, A Story of the Screaming Phoenix, the Peach Blossom Fan or the Palace of Eternity.

Pintan is an ancient performing art of storytelling and ballad singing in Suzhou dialect, being the general name for Pinghua and Tanci. Pinghua, also called Dashu, is performed by a single narrator with a gavel and a fan, relating a historical romance, court case, martial arts story or heroic epic. The Tanci, which is also called Xiaoshu, is mainly put on by two people, regarding the stories of daily life and love. The instruments used include the Sanxian and lute. This art originally appeared in the Qing Dynasty and was favored by successive monarchs and locals. Its distinctive performing skill consists of storytelling, loud laughter, music-playing and singing. The well-known stories are Love of Weal and Woe, Yang Naiwu and Xiao Baicai, Meng Lijun, Qin Xiangliang, Wusong and Lin Chong.
 
 

Wumen Fine Arts School


The advantageous climate and heavy atmosphere of literature in Suzhou attracted a great number of literati from the Yuan Dynasty. Among them, there were many artists who formed the famous Wumen Fine Arts School over time during the Ming Dynasty. The representative artists include Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yan and Qiu Ying. Their great achievement of mountains-and-waters painting deeply influenced the artists of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Especially after the middle of the Qing Dynasty, Wumen paintings were in vogue among the upper classes. It is worth mentioning that these Wumen artists also emphasized the combining of poems, calligraphy and art. This kind of innovative idea encouraged the literati to perfect their painting style.

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