Suzhou Language and Culture Learning Resources

Suzhou icon with text - 75 x 75This page features Mandarin vocabulary terms and cultural information relevant to places and attractions in Suzhou that are featured on our tours. For additional information on learning Chinese, especially while traveling in China, visit our Chinese Language Resources Page. See photos of Suzhou attractions and get information such as tours that feature Suzhou, Suzhou travel tips, and Suzhou-related links on our Suzhou Photo Gallery and Information Page.

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CIT tour participants: For a list of the specific attractions featured on your tour, please refer to the itinerary.

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Click on the pinyin pronunciation key for each word below to hear its pronunciation.

苏州 (Sūzhōu): Suzhou, a city in East-Central China’s Jiangsu Province (江苏省, Jiāngsū Shěng) near Lake Tai, population 6,332,900 (2010)

上有天堂,下有苏杭 (shàng yǒu tiāntáng, xià yǒu Sū Háng): famous expression praising the beauty of the cities Suzhou and Hangzhou (literally, “up above there is heaven; down below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou”)

Hanshan Temple (Cold Mountain Temple)

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寒山寺 (Hánshān Sì): Cold Mountain Temple or Hanshan Temple, an internationally famous Buddhist temple

Suzhou - Hanshan Temple bridge - onion83 - 187 x 140
Maple Bridge and a temple building
(photo by onion83)
  • 南北朝 (Nánběi Cháo)
    Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 CE), period during which the temple is believed to have been founded
  • 寒山 (Hánshān)
    Hanshan (literally “Cold Mountain,” from the place where he is said to have lived while he wrote), a reclusive poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty (唐朝, Táng Cháo, 618-907 CE) and whose work has been translated by many Western poets; the temple is named after him because he is said to have served as its abbott
  • 拾得 (Shídé)
    Shide, a Tang Dynasty Buddhist poet and a friend of Hanshan’s; Hanshan Temple features a statue of them
  • 张继 (Zhāng Jì)
    Zhang Ji or Chang Chi, a Tang Dynasty poet whose poem “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” (枫桥夜泊, Fēng Qiáo Yè Bó, also called “Anchored at Night by Maple Bridge”) made Hanshan Temple internationally famous
  • important buildings and rooms at Hanshan Temple:
    大雄宝殿 (Dàxióng Bǎodiàn): Grand Hall of the Great Sage (literally, “Grand Treasure Hall”)
    庑殿 (Wǔ Diàn): Wu Hall
    藏经楼 (Zàngjīng Lóu, commonly pronounced Cángjīng Lóu): Sutra Library (or “Scripture Tower”)
    碑廊 (Bēi Láng): literally, “Stele Gallery
    钟楼 (Zhōng Lóu): Bell Tower
    枫江楼 (Fēngjiāng Lóu): Number 1 Tower of Fengjiang River (literally, “Maple River Tower”)
The text of Zhang Ji’s “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” (枫桥夜泊, Fēng Qiáo Yè Bó):
月落乌啼霜满天,
Yuè luò wū tí shuāng mǎn tiān,

江枫渔火对愁眠。
Jiāng fēng yú huǒ duì chóu mián.

姑苏城外寒山寺,
Gūsū chéngwài Hánshān Sì,

夜半钟声到客船。
Yèbàn zhōngshēng dào kèchuán.

While I watch the moon go down,
a crow caws through the frost;

Under the maple trees a fisherman’s torch
lulls my sorrows to sleep;

And I hear, from Cold Mountain
Temple beyond the city,

Ringing for me, here in my boat,
the midnight bell.

Source: Wikipedia, based on the translation by Witter Bynner

Temple-Related Words

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寺庙 (sìmiào): temple(s); shrine(s); monastery(-ies)—both characters refer to places of worship and are often used together, esp. in a plural sense

烧香 (shāo xiāng): to burn incense

拜 (bài): to worship (also, to pay one’s respects or visit); often used in combination with other characters

钟 (zhōng): large metal bell

碑 (bēi): stele; upright stone tablet

碑文 (bēiwén): an inscription on a stele, such as the inscription of “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” at Hanshan Temple

楼 (lóu): tower, multi-story building; often used in combination with other characters

殿 (diàn): hall, palace, or temple; often used in combination with other characters

Lingering Garden

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留园 (Liú Yuán): Lingering Garden, one of the most famous classical Chinese gardens of Suzhou and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

A Jiangnan-style garden and pagoda in Suzhou
Jiangnan-style garden in Suzhou
(photo by Kao Shiyang)
  • 东园 (Dōng Yuán)
    East Garden, the original name of the garden when it was commissioned by Xu Taishi (徐泰时, Xú Tàishí) and designed by Zhou Shichen (周时臣, Zhōu Shíchén) during the Ming Dynasty (明朝, Míng Cháo, 1368-1644)
  • 刘恕 (Liú Shù)
    Liu Shu, a Qing Dynasty (清朝, Qīng Cháo, 1644-1911 CE) official who rebuilt the existing garden and added to it; the garden later took its official name partly in tribute to his surname (留 and 刘 are homophones)
  • important buildings and sights in Lingering Garden:
    明瑟楼 (Míngsè Lóu): Pellucid Tower
    涵碧山房 (Hánbìshān Fáng): Hanbi Mountain Villa; literally, “House of the Green Jade-Bearing Mountain”
    可亭 (Kě Tíng): The Passable Pavilion; a pun on “可停” (kě tíng, literally “can stop”), suggesting a good place to stop and rest
    远翠阁 (Yuǎncuì Gé): Distant Green Tower
    清风池馆 (Qīngfēng Chí Guǎn): Refreshing Breeze Pavilion by the Lake
    五峰仙馆 (Wǔ Fēng Xiān Guǎn): Celestial Hall of Five Peaks
    林泉耆硕之馆 (Lín Quán Qí Shuò Zhī Guǎn): Old Hermit Scholar’s House
    冠云峰 (Guànyún Fēng): Cloud-Capped Peak, an especially long 供石 (gòngshí; see definition in “Garden- and Lake-Related Words”) positioned vertically, like a mountain peak
  • 评弹 (píngtán)
    pingtan, a folk art form popular in Suzhou and performed in Lingering Garden that dates back to the Song Dynasty (宋朝, Sòng Cháo, 960-1279 CE); it involves singing, instrument-playing, story-telling, acting, and joke-telling
  • 古琴 (gǔqín)
    guqin, a plucked seven-string instrument played in classical Chinese music; 古琴 music is also performed in Lingering Garden
Garden- and Lake-Related Words

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园林 (yuánlín): traditional landscaped garden containing trees, plants, ponds, pavilions, Chinese scholars’ rocks, etc.

亭 (tíng): pavilion; often 亭子(tíngzi), or in combination with other characters

廊 (láng): covered walkway (also, porch or veranda); such walkways in a 园林 are usually open on both sides; often 廊子, (lángzi), or in combination with other characters

山水 (shānshuǐ): literally, “mountain and water”; natural scenery imitated in Chinese gardens with features like 供石, 池沼, and 假山

假山 (jiǎshān): literally, “false mountain”; piles or arrangements of rocks in a Chinese garden intended to look like mountain scenery

供石 (gòngshí): Chinese scholars’ rocks, naturally formed limestone rocks in unusual shapes that are often used to decorate traditional Chinese gardens (the more general term 奇石, qíshí, can also be used to refer to 供石)

池沼 (chízhǎo): pond, as in a 园林

莲花 (liánhuā) or 荷花 (héhuā): lotus, water-lily; a common feature of Chinese gardens, ponds, and lakes

金鱼 (jīnyú) and 鲤鱼 (lǐyú): goldfish and carp, often raised in garden ponds

泛舟 (fàn zhōu): to go boating (on a lake)

珍珠 (zhēnzhū): pearls; cultured pearls are grown in some lakes in China

Guanqian Street

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Suzhou - canal and bridge - Stephen Hanafin - 120 x 150
A Suzhou canal
(photo by S. Hanafin)

观前街 (Guànqián Jiē): Guanqian Street, a Qing Dynasty-style commercial street
Note: “观” is usually pronounced guān, but it is pronounced guàn when it means “temple.”

  • 清朝 (Qīng Cháo)
    Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), China’s last dynasty and the period during which some of the shops and buildings  on Guanqian Street were established
  • 玄妙观 (Xuánmiào Guàn)
    Xuanmiao Temple, ancient Taoist temple dating back to 276 CE from which Guanqian Street takes its name, meaning “street in front of a temple”
  • 虎丘 (Hǔ Qiū) or 虎丘山 (Hǔqiū Shān)
    Tiger Hill; the leaning tower atop the hill, known as Tiger Hill Leaning Tower (虎丘斜塔, Hǔqiū Xiétǎ) or Cloud Rock Pagoda (云岩寺塔, Yún Yán Sì Tǎ; literally, “Pagoda of Cloud and Cliff Temple”), is one of Suzhou’s most visible landmarks
Suzhou Museum

苏州博物馆 (Sūzhōu Bówùguǎn): Suzhou Museum, museum of ancient Chinese paintings, calligraphy, and a variety of other artworks, including carvings, ceramics, pottery, silk, and ivory; its collection consists of 15,000 artworks, including approximately 250 “national first-class” pieces

  • 贝聿铭 (Bèi Yùmíng)
    I.M. Pei (Ieoh Ming Pei), internationally famous Chinese-American architect who designed the Suzhou Museum’s new building, which opened in 2006
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