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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald (Newspaper) - February 7, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta The Lethbrickje THIRD SECTION Lethbridge, Alberta, Wednesday, February 7, 1973 Pages 29-36 CHINA'S VENICE? Soochow hasn't changed much from ancient times By JOHN BURNS FP Publications SOOCHOW - The European guidebooks which describe Soochow as the Venice of China doubtlessly mean well, but it is questionable whether the people of this ancient city would find the comparison so flattering. It is true that each of the cities is knit together by a lattice-work of canals - but beyond that comparisons become strained, for Soochow is as completely Chinese as Venice is Italian, and at least 1,000 years older. When Venice was settled in the 5th century A.D., Soochow was already a flourishing town, and by the time the first European traveller arrived - appropriately enough, a Venetian -it had become one of the principal cities of China. NOBLE Marco Polo, writing of his visit to Soochow hi 1276, described it as "a very noble and great city ... so large in circuit that it is 40 miles around . . . with quite 6,000 bridges of stone." Nowadays, the number of bridges in the city is not among the barrage of statistics quoted by an official guide, but a glance along the canals indicates that not many have disappeared since the time of Polo. Celebrated in an ancient proverb as an earthly paradise -"In heaven there is paradise, on earth Soochow and Hang-chow" - the city has probably changed less with the passage of time than any other in China. Canals The canals are still there, much as Polo described them -narrow, crowded with flat- bottomed boats, and overhung by graceful wood-and-stucco houses. So too are the old walls, the tall pagodas, and the classical gardens. Known since ancient times as "the beautiful city," Soochow lies at the southern end of the rich coastal province of Kiang-su, 40 miles south of the Yang-tse and 52 miles west of Shanghai. One of the oldest towns in the fertile Yangtse basin, it is bordered to the west by a soft, green landscape of rolling hills, and to the east by a lush, flat plain, broken here and there by small lakes and sinuous rivers. Beyond the hills, 12 miles west of the city, lies Lake Tai. Over 50 miles long and 40 miles wide, it is the fourth largest lake in China, and has been celebrated for its beauty through centuries of Chinese poetry. water-gates like the heaven of ancient mythology, and being square, as the earth was then conceived to be. Re-built Silk Famed as the centre of the Chinese silk region, the lake is dotted over with mountain-like islands, where the mild, Mediterranean-style climate keeps flowers blooming 10 months of the year. It was these surroundings- described by early European travellers as "the garden of the Orient"-that the founder of Soochow, a prince of the fabled Kingdom of Wu, chose for his capital nearly 2,500 years ago. About 525 B.C., only '250 years after Rome was founded, the prince ordered the construction of "a large and influential city" where his subjects and his treasures could be protected against marauding enemies. To make it fit for bis residence, the prince ordered that the city should "resemble heaven and earth," having eight Leaning Pagoda 1,000 years old, its 12-foot lean has been arrested. The city thus constructed- the outer walls were more than 15 miles around-was destined to be re-built many times hi the next 2,000 years, for Soochow was to suffer more than most Chinese cities from the ravages of banditry and war. Twice, in 591 and 876 A.D., a new inner city had to be built for protection against the bandits and thieves who had infested the old city, and in 1127 the city was almost wholly demolished in war. By the end of the century, the walls, streets and bridges had been repaired, but in 1205 more than half of the new wall collapsed. In 1224 it was re-built again, only to fall into ruin during the rule of the alien Mongols. So it went, with the walls rising and falling, and the city's fortunes with them, until the great Manchu Emperor, Kang Hsi, ordered the city-its walls, streets, bridges and public buildings - restored in 1662. Beautiful This was the last great reworking of the face of the city, so that it remains today, in size and arrangement, much as it was in the reign of Kang Hsi - and not much less beautiful. Maintaining the beauty has been something of an achievement, for Communist rule brought a drive to industrialize the city that could have destroyed its ancient character. While recounting the progress made in recent years, guides are fond of quoting a local saying that the city had "more pagodas than chimneys" in 1949, and contrasting that with the situation today. To the flour mills, match factory and silk-spinning plants operating when they came to power, the communists have added an iron and steel works, a machinery factory, a chemicals plant, and a coal mine. Expanded They havo also expanded and re-organized the city's traditional crafts, establishing a factory for the production of silk and sandalwood fans, an embroidery and weaving research institute, and a plant that turns out traditional-style furniture. From about 400,000 in 1949, the city's population has grown to 550,000 - a modest increase by Chinese standards, and one which supports the notion that growth has been held down to preserve the character of the city. While supervising the integration of the city into the new China, the communists have not neglected to preserve the best of the old, undertaking extensive restoration work among the city's historic buildings and gardens. The most ambitious project undertaken so far was the restoration of the famous leaning pagoda on Tiger Hill, two miles northwest of the town, completed in 1956 at a cost of $70,-000. Pagoda The pagoda was built in 961 A.D. atop the mound where the Wu prince who founded the city is traditionally supposed to have been buried. It stands seven stories and 150 feet high, and leans slightly more than 12 feet off centre to the east. The lean began more than 500 years ago, and was chronic by the 17th century, when there was some re-building of the upper floors. But it was not until after the communist takeover that an attempt was made to arrest the lean once and for all. This was done by the application of tons of concrete, to stiffen the foundations and to strengthen the inner structure of the tower itself. Officials say that only an earthquake will bring the tower down now. Much work has also been done in the gardens, of which the city is justly proud. Of the 140 gardens in existence in 1949, only 6 are now open to the public, but they are among the most famous and beautiful of all. In a society where politics permeates everything, the gardens have their political purpose, too. Visitors are re-minded frequently that they were once the preserve of the idle rich, exploiters of the working people who built the gardens. To be sure, Soochow had more than its share of the idle rich - one 18th century visitor described it as "the richest pleasure-seekers and gentlemen of leisure in China" - but not all the garden-owners were reprobates, by any means. Retired Many of them were built or bought by elderly gentlemen who moved to Scochow in their retirement years, after long and distinguished careers as court officials of the Ming and Manchu dynasties. Walking in the gardens, along pathways that wind around reflecting pools bordered by weeping willow trees, rock gardens and graceful pavilions, it 9 is not hard to imagine, the leisured lives their owners once led. Enveloped by an atmosphere of contrived tranquillity, they would wile away their declining years in scholarly discussions with their wealthy friends, vying with each other in their grasp of the Chinese classics. There would be gentle music, and smooth wines, and beautiful women, for Soochow was famous for the beauty of its women folk, with their delicate features and the pleasing softness of their voices. Haven Perhaps the most famous of these havens is The Garden of the Plain Man's Politics, laid out in the 16th century by a court censor named Wang Xian-chen, who retired to Soochow after amassing an immense fortune. The garden was named after a remark supposedly made by an official of the Chin Dynasty (255-206 B.C.), who is said to , have observed that "to cultivate i ones garden to meet ones daily ' needs, that is. the politics of the plain man." The history of the gardens is as much a testament to the instability of wealth in China as to the gentility of the Mandarins. Many were sold or gambled away by profligate heirs, often as scon as the second generation. Such was the fate of The Garden of the Plain Man's Politics, which Wang's son lost in a gambling game. Over the years it changed hands many times more, finally becoming a public park only in 1962. Visitors to the garden these days are likely to find young men and women sitting in the pavilions, studying The People's Daily or The Works of Mao Tse-tung - and showing an allegiance to the regime which Wang, the censor, would surely have approved. Songwriter gets $15,000 for nothing EDMONTON (CP) - Curtis Mayfield earned $15,000 without moving a muscle when a concert tour of Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver was cancelled. Mayfield was paid a $15,000 deposit in advance by Brik Productions for the three shows with another $15,000 to be paid after the concerts. The tour was cancelled because ticket sales were terrible. The three members of Brik Productions - Edmonton Eskimo football player Dave Walker and Greg Urkins and Vic Devoneau of Salt Lake City, Utah - say they have each lost about $7,000 on the tour that didn't happen. Soo'choufs canals much as Marco Polo described them 700 years ago. 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CHEERLEADER Installed 0 with luxury rubber cushion An exciting new variation - multi-colour nylon yarns in plush texture - 16 colours. We Have Carpets For Everyone! Use Jordans' Convenient Budget Plans - No Down Payment! SATURDAY NIGHT Installed with luxury rubber cushion ... �___ - sq. yd. Jordan's famous Nylon Shag-a happy, carefree carpet for people with young ideas. 12 colours. Installed with luxury rubber cushion The most elegant of all carpets plain velvet - 10 colours. sq. yd. all-wool - lush Out of town residents may phone 32.7-1103 collect for service right in their own home! Downtown at 315 6th Street South ;