Discovering China: Suzhou – Canals, Gardens, and the Silk Road

discovering china欢迎 (Huānyíng) !  I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the eighth of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes.  Suzhou is a city of gardens, canals, and silk. Come along and I’ll share a few of our trip highlights.

The new high-speed rail system linking Shanghai to Suzhou now makes the trip to Suzhou so doable it’s now a day trip. At just under an hour, we arrived in the early morning and had the whole day to explore and still get back to Shanghai by dinner time. Suzhou is one of China’s most famous tourist destinations for domestic and foreign visitors alike.

This post contains affiliate links. 

suzhou gardens

While visiting Suzhou’s UNESCO-listed gardens may not at first seem like a fun kids’ activity, especially if your kids are as active as Buddy, there’s one garden you won’t want to miss, the Humble Administrator’s Garden. While adults can enjoy the aspects of a pristine classical Chinese garden, kids can explore, climb and play. The rockeries are especially fun for kids. They can climb up and through them – many are cave-like or have steps up to the top. You’ll have plenty of time to take the photos you want and you’ll probably end up having to drag your kids away!  We did. :)

The Silk Road

For me, our excursion to Suzhou was one of the highlights of our holiday in China.  This is because I have been fascinated with insects my entire life – I had even considered minoring in entomology when I was at the university.  The silk factory in Suzhou took us away from the usual tourist areas and we even began to wonder how far we’d have to travel (we went by taxi and the driver, in retrospect, seemed to meander all over the city).  The factory tour, however, was very interesting and there was no pressure to purchase anything.  I’m kicking myself for not bringing home a silk blanket, however.  Next time!

suzhou silk

Silk fabric was first developed in ancient China; legend gives credit for developing silk to a Chinese empress, Leizu, who discovered silkworms while having a midday tea, and a cocoon fell in her tea. Upon her discovery, she persuaded her husband to give her a grove of mulberry trees, where she could domesticate the worms that made these cocoons. Leizu is also attributed with inventing the silk reel, which joins fine filaments into a thread strong enough for weaving and with inventing the first silk loom.

Silks were originally reserved for the Emperors of China for their own use and gifts to others, but spread gradually through Chinese culture and trade both geographically and socially, and then to many regions of Asia. The first evidence of the silk trade is the finding of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy of the 21st dynasty, c.1070 BC. The silk trade reached as far as the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. This trade was so extensive that the major set of trade routes between Europe and Asia came to be known as the Silk Road.

~ ~ ~

To learn more about the Silk Road, you may be interested in the following books for children:

Bonnie Christensen’s book,  A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road, is a delightful story of a little girl in 19th century China who sends a small jade pebble to travel with her father along the Silk Road. The pebble passes from his hand all the way to the Venice, the end of the Silk Road, where a boy cherishes it and sees the value of this gift from a girl at the end of the road.

Each page of The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History by John S. Major, reflects a different culture with different customs, architectural styles, and ethnicities, moving from China east to Constantinople. The illustrations are well-drawn and offer a lot of information in their own right; the text is a wonderful look at cultural communication and long-distance travel.

In her historical activity book, Marco Polo for KidsJanis Herbert chronicles the famous explorer’s travels along the “Silk Road” to the palace of the Kublai Khan and incorporates activities and projects for the various cultures that he experienced.

~ ~ ~

entomology previewTo learn more about insects, check out my Introductory Entomology unit study I developed earlier this year. It is full of engaging, hands-on activities and collaborative projects for the budding entomologist.   There are over 20 printable notebooking pages and handouts, links to exclusive video lessons, and illustrated instructions for constructing your own collection equipment.

~ ~ ~

We’re off to Yangshou tomorrow – certainly a highlight of our holiday for all of us.  Growing up in a rural area, it is no wonder that the dramatic scenery of the Karst Mountains and the confluence of the rivers here captivated our hearts.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Geek Projects: Narnia, Middle Earth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Beyond.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!