Suzhou (蘇州), rich in culture, renowned for its great beauty has a long history of 2500 years. It is a prosperous and highly cultural city in southeast China.
The Qianlong Emperor (乾隆皇帝) (1711-1799) (reigned from 1735- 1796) commissioned Xu Yang (徐揚) to draw Prosperous Suzhou (姑蘇繁華圖) after he returned from an inspection trip to the Suzhou and other southern parts of the country in 1751. Xu Yang was a court painter and a native of Suzhou. It took about 10 years for Xu Yang to complete this long scroll in 1759 (乾隆二十四年).
The long scroll depicts a continuous journey from Mount Lingyan (靈岩山) to the city walls of Suzhou, through the city, cross Stone Lake (石湖) and ending at Tiger Hill (虎丘).
Prosperous Suzhou combines Western linear perspective with traditional Chinese landscape trees and rocks painting methods. The scroll is invaluable from both a historical and an artistic point of view, depicting in sophisticated details the most prosperous city in China in mid-18th century. This enables modern viewers to have a good idea of how Suzhou looks like some 270 years ago before the invention of photography.
The scroll vividly illustrates the picturesque scenery, thriving businesses and the affluent life style of the prosperous city. It is said that there are more than 5,000 human figures, 2,000 architectural structures, 400 boats, 200 shops, 50 bridges, many government offices, and city walls are portrayed in vivid details.
The scroll’s flamboyant expression reflects the highly refined skill of the artist with his acute observation and meticulous arrangement.
The scroll was originally entitled Burgeoning Life in a Resplendent Age (盛世滋生圖).
It is 1225 cm in length and 35.8 cm in width, kept in the Liaoning Provincial Museum (遼寧省博物館).
Boats and boatmen
A junk (帆船) is a type of wooden Chinese sailing ship with sails. They are used to transport cargoes and passengers or used as pleasure boats or houseboats. Pleasure boats are for sight-seeing, catering or other recreational purposes including singing by young women. Houseboats are used as a permanent habitation in inland water where families live, cook and eat.
Sampan (舢舨) are small flat-bottomed wooden boats used for fishing and transportation. Some sampans include a small shelter on board.
Big events other than commercial activities
An open-air theatre
An opera or a play is on at the open-air theatre. The stage is decorated beautifully with lanterns and ribbons. People of all ages are in the audience. Some shorter people stand on chairs to get a good view of the show. The show may be a special celebration in Spring as pink peaches flowers bloom in many parts of the long scroll.
A wedding ceremony
A wedding ceremony is at a grand house with many relatives and guests. The house is decorated with lanterns. We can see musicians at the top left hand corner as well as at the bottom of the painting. There is a bridal sedan chair and two servants carrying gifts in multi-layer boxes. Kids are watching the ceremony with fun.
A play for a small group of audience on special occasion
Assembly of government officials
Military training or exercise
A distribution of relief to elderly people
Shops of all trades
Farmers and fishermen
Farming is very important in China. People in those days used simple tools for farming, growing rice, wheat, corn and vegetables. Oxen helped with ploughing the soil and transportation.