Suzhou is home to some of China's most popular and well known sights. While you are here therefore, it's a good idea to pick up any of the "typically" Chinese souvenirs you want to take home with you!
The most well known souvenirs from here include, Suzhou embroidery (which is regarded as some of the best in the country), Suzhou tea (which has a distinctive aroma and delicate flavor), the Song brocade, writing brushes and Taohua Wu wood carvings.
Suzhou has been recognized as a world leader in silk production since ancient times. The variety and quality of silk available here is almost unbeatable in China. Along with Hangzhou, this is THE place to buy silk dresses, silk fans, jackets, pajamas, underwear....the list is endless. There are numerous souvenir shops selling all these things. Try the night market next to the Temple of Mystery for good priced silk and a fair selection. There are tailors all over town who can whip you up a creation in a couple of days and most cloth shops have in house tailors.
Suzhou's Biluochun Tea:
Suzhou's Biluochun Tea is one of the ten most famous teas in China. It is locally known as "Fearful Incense" due to the strong aroma of the brew!
During the Qing dynasty, Emperor Kangxi visited Suzhou and praised the flavor of this aromatic tea. The tea leaves are picked from the Biluo Mountain near Tai Lake, and are collected traditionally in early spring between what is known as "Tomb-sweeping Day" and "Grain Rain Day"!
The technique for collecting tea leaves is very complex. Only the tender tip of the leaf is used for the tea making process. This part of the leaf should be no longer than one inch long and shaped like the tip of a spear. One tin of tea uses 60 thousand spears! It's no surprise then, that some of the finest Chinese teas are very expensive. The next step in the process is to repeatedly knead, rub and roll the leaves by hand. The Biluochun tea involves a particularly labor intensive process but the end result are leaves that are compact, tender and wonderfully fresh and aromatic.
If you have never sampled Chinese green tea, the Biluochun is a good one to start with. Chinese tea not only smells and tastes great but is reportedly very good for you! Take a few tea leaves and sprinkle them at the bottom of your cup. Next, cover them with boiling water until the tea leaves sink. Leave it to rest for a minute and then fill the cup to the top. The tea will then change color, to a light green shade and should taste delicious! It is an acquired taste but certainly one that grows on you, and is much healthier and more refreshing than black tea. The tea is quite expensive and can cost between RMB200 and RMB5000 for a kilogram. There are numerous tea houses around the city selling the leaves, particularly try some of the shops near Renmin Lu.
Suzhou Silk Fan:
In China, there are really only two authentic places to buy fans; Suzhou and Hangzhou. The variety and selection of fans available in both these cities is incredible and they make a beautiful gift for yourself or someone else.
The folding fan (or sandalwood fan) is very elegant and actually originated in Korea. During the Tang Dynasty this type of fan became fashionable in Suzhou and was mass produced for visiting aristocrats and artists who bought the fans to cool themselves or just to pose with! The surface of the fan is made from a very delicate rice paper. Some fans are painted with intricate pictures of scenery.
Suzhou also produces "Gong" or silk fans. During the Han Dynasty in China, only noblewomen were permitted to use silk fans! In the Tang Dynasty, standards were relaxed a little and the fan became very fashionable and popular. There are many different types of silk fan including the hand painted silk fan, the single sided embroidered fan, the double sided embroidered and the dyed silk fan. Most are round in shape but a few more unusual ones are styled to resemble plum blossom or lotus leaves. The handles of the fans are usually made from bamboo, hardwood, animal bones or ivory.
These fans can be bought all over the city in most of the tourist shops. For the best prices try the city Night Market near the Temple of Mystery.
The special writing brush that is now associated with Suzhou actually originated in Zhejiang province and gradually became popular in Jiangsu. This "Huzhou" writing brush (as it is known), is now a specialty of Suzhou.
These brushes are used in the expert art of calligraphy. The Huzhou brush uses only the finest raw materials and expert technology in
production. There are more than 300 varieties of brush, classified into six categories and each one made from a different type of hair. Goat hair, Mixed hair, Purple hair and weasel hair are just a few of the varieties available.
The type of brush also varies. Some artists prefer to use a "sharp" brush which has a cone shaped tip, others use a "round" or "robust" tip whereby the brush is elastic and flexible.
There are some gorgeous calligraphy sets available throughout China and Suzhou is a good place to purchase one. Most of the souvenir shops stock them and there are usually some at the city's Night Market near the Temple of Mystery.