Suzhou is one of the oldest cities along the Yangtze River. In fact, it was in this region that the Wu culture sprang up some 2500 years ago during the late Shang Dynasty. When the Shang Dynasty fell apart, the Wu clan established the city of Helu, the former name for Suzhou.

Helu acted as the capital of the Wu kingdom for some years, but the Wu clan soon lost power, and the city was eventually annexed into the Chu kingdom. Power over Helu passed hands many times with the progression of dynasties, but the city did not regain its former glory until the completion of the Grand Canal in the 6th or 7th century, by which time the city had been renamed Suzhou. The city proceeded to grow into a center of trade thanks to the canal.

Though the city was badly sacked by the Jin in 1130, the Mongols in 1275 and the Ming in 1367, it managed to recover its prosperity and beauty. Many beautiful gardens were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties, but some of these were again destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion of 1860 and the Japanese invasion of the 1930s. However, restoration projects dating from the 1950s have repaired or rebuilt many of the cultural and historical landmarks. Today, the gardens of Suzhou are part of the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.