Suzhou (Wu Chinese [sou˥ tseu˨˩ ]), formerly romanized as Soochow, is a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Shanghai. It is a major economic center and focal point of trade and commerce, and the second largest city in the province, after its capital Nanjing. The city is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the shores of Lake Tai and belongs to the Yangtze River Delta region. Administratively, Suzhou is a prefecture-level city with a population of 4.33 million in its city proper, and a total resident population (as of 2013) of 10.58 million in its administrative area. Its urban population grew at an unprecedented rate of 6.5% between 2000 and 2014, which is the highest among cities with more than 5 million people.
Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of history, with an abundant display of relics and sites of historical interest. Around AD 100, during the Eastern Han dynasty, it became one of the ten largest cities in the world mostly due to emigration from Northern China. Since the 10th-century Song dynasty, it has been an important commercial center of China. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, Suzhou was a national economic, cultural, and commercial center, as well as the largest non-capital city in the world, until the 1860 Taiping Rebellion. When Li Hongzhang and Charles George Gordon recaptured the city three years later, Shanghai had already taken its predominant place in the nation. Since major economic reforms began in 1978, Suzhou has become one of the fastest growing major cities in the world, with GDP growth rates of about 14% in the past 35 years. With high life expectancy and per capita incomes, Suzhou’s Human Development Index ratings is roughly comparable to a moderately developed country, making it one of the most highly developed and prosperous cities in China.
The city’s canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. Suzhou is often dubbed the “Venice of the East” or “Venice of China”.