Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou is known as the Venice of the East. It was named by early travelers because the 40 town was built around a network of canals and 300 crisscrossing bridges that fanned out from the Grand Canal. But it is the natural beauty of Suzhou's 60 classical gardens and famous silk industry that inspired the Chinese to name this area "paradise on earth." The most famous gardens here are the Humble Administrator's Garden (1522 AD), the Lingering Garden (1 525 AD), and the Master of Nets Garden (1 140 AD), duplicated at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other attractions include the Drama Museum, located in a centuries-old courtyard theater that was renovated to house theatrical props and artifacts.
The National Embroidery Institute was established in 1957 to pre- serve and further the study of silk embroidery, an important activity in Suzhou for more than 1,000 years. Its exquisite embroideries are often presented to foreign dignitaries. Suzhou is located 53 mi. west of Shanghai, less than one hour by train.