Suzhou, 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 largest city in the province. 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 Dynasty, 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".
Suzhou, the cradle of Wu culture, is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. By the Spring and Autumn period of the Zhou, local tribes named the Gou Wu are recorded living in the area which would become the modern city of Suzhou. These tribes formed villages on the edges of the hills above the wetlands surrounding Lake Tai.
Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian records traditional accounts that the Zhou lord Taibo established the state of Wu at nearby Wuxi during the 11th century BC, civilizing the local people and improving their agriculture and mastery of irrigation. The Wu court later moved to Gusu within the area of modern Suzhou. In 514 BC, King Helü of Wu relocated his court nearby and called the settlement Helü City after himself. His minister Wu Zixu was closely involved with its planning and it was this site that grew into present-day Suzhou. The height of his tower on Gusu Hill (Gusutai) passed into Chinese legend. In 496 BC, King Helü was buried at Tiger Hill. In 473 BC, Wu was defeated and annexed by Yue, a kingdom to its southeast; Yue was annexed in turn by Chu in 306 BC. Remnants of the ancient kingdom include pieces of its 2,500-year-old city wall and the gate through it at Pan Gate.
The city was originally laid out according to a symbolic three-by-three grid of nine squares, with the royal palace occupying the central position.
During the Warring States period, Suzhou was the seat of Wu County and Commandery. Following the Qin Empire's conquest of the area in 222 BC, it was made the capital of Kuaiji Commandery, including lands stretching from the south bank of the Yangtze to the unconquered interior of Minyue in southern Zhejiang. Amid the collapse of the Qin, Kuaiji's governor Yin Tong attempted to organize his own rebellion only to be betrayed and executed by Xiang Liang and his nephew Xiang Yu, who launched their own rebellion from the city.
Suzhou is on the Lake Tai Plain south of the Yangtze River, about 100 km (60 mi) to the west of Shanghai and just over 200 km (120 mi) east of Nanjing.
Suzhou has a four-season humid subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and cool, cloudy, damp winters with occasional snowfall (Köppen climate classification Cfa). Northwesterly winds blowing from Siberia during winter can cause temperatures to fall below freezing at night, while southerly or southwesterly winds during the summer can push temperatures above 35 °C (95 °F). The hottest temperature recorded since 1951 was at 41.0 °C (106 °F) on 7 August 2013, and the lowest at −9.8 °C (14 °F) on 16 January 1958.