Suzhou’s Surging Wave Pavilion (沧浪亭)

To say Suzhou has a lot of gardens is an understatement somewhat akin to saying China’s got a lot of people.

It’s the fact that there are so many of them that I’ve only slowly crept out to visit them. Much like temples in China, Suzhou’s gardens do tend to blend together. Generally speaking, they all contain a bamboo garden, big rocks, a pond full of hungry koi, a UNESCO World Heritage site marker, and several busloads of daytrippers.

My apartment is a 10-15 minute walk from two such gardens, but living next to a UNESCO World Heritage site tends to numb you to the experience. Regardless, with Maggie’s mom visiting for the holiday, we wanted to get out and show her a bit of the town.

canglang02So it was that we trotted over to Cānglàng Tíng, better known in English-speaking circles as Surging Wave Pavilion (though the name translates as Blue Wave Pavilion – any experts know why?).

The garden is Suzhou’s oldest garden, dating back about a thousand years to China’s Northern Song Dynasty. It also holds the honour of being one of Suzhou’s smallest and, with a 20 RMB ticket price, cheapest gardens.

canglang01You can get at the garden from an alley off of the southern most end of Renmin Rd. A more interesting way is to follow the canal off of WūQuè Qiáo (parallel to Renmin Rd.), where you get a little peak at some of the classical “on the water” homes.

The garden, as mentioned, is small. You can comfortably explore it in an hour or two. Though not unknown, it is considerably less trafficked than the bigger gardens in town like Master of the Nets and The Humble Administrator’s Garden. This and its low price tag make it one of the better gardens to go to and just relax.
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6 Responses

  1. Cānglàng Tíng (沧浪亭), better known in English-speaking circles as Surging Wave Pavilion (though the name translates as Blue Wave Pavilion – any experts know why?)

    I’m not an expert, but here’s the results of my ten minutes of research. This character “沧” does mean “blue”, but it’s special, and really means “deep sea-blue”. It’s only used in a bunch of idioms (成语) together with “海 hǎi sea”, as “沧海 cānghǎi” which would best be translated as “the deep blue sea”.
    Some of these idioms are really cool, like, for example, “沧海桑田cānghǎi-sāngtián” which means, literally, the deep-blue sea changes into mulberry fields — i.e. time changes everything; “沧海一粟cānghǎi-yīsù a drop in the ocean”; or, my favorite, “沧海遗珠 cānghǎi-yízhū”, literally, “a pearl left behind in the deep blue sea”, i.e. “undiscovered talent”.
    So here, I’m convinced that “沧浪 cānglàng” is an abbreviation of “沧海波浪 cānghǎi bōlàng – a wave from the deep blue sea”, and (taking into account the idioms mentioned above) connotes great changes, like “the turning of the tide”. So, just translating it as “blue wave” doesn’t do that justice at all, does it. “Surging wave” is a little better, but not much.

  2. Cheers man! And you’re right, the name hardly does it justice, but in lies some of the beauty of Chinese I think. The fact that the place has long been a spot of rest and contemplation for poets is of little surprise if you put the name in that context.

    (for the record, we’ll call you “expert” around these parts.)

  3. I’m hardly an expert but…

    The “cang 沧” does mean blue or azure blue as Chris noted though according to the Hanyu Dacidian the “lang 浪” generally means “waves” or “breakers.” The locus classicus for 浪 in the dictionary is a poem by Du Fu (712-770 C.E.): “源水无非浪, 他山自有春.”

    I guess one translation goes with the first character and the second translation looks at the second character. But that’s just a guess.

    Thanks for the post, I’ve enjoyed your virtual tours of the sites of Suzhou.

  4. Thanks Jeremiah, I get a lot of feedback from people looking for information about (working and living) in Suzhou, and figure this is a way to provide a bit of information about what’s good in the city.

    Plus it gives me an excuse to dust off my camera every once in a while.

  5. Hi Guys,

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