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Suzhou: Where Schools and Talent Meet

Suzhou has valued cultural development and education for hundreds of years, earning it a reputation for producing scores of scholars throughout history. 

By NewsChina Updated Aug.1

Suzhou has valued cultural development and education for hundreds of years, earning it a reputation for producing scores of scholars throughout history. 

The city boasts 45 top scorers on the imperial examination in ancient times, accounting for 7.6 percent of the total (596), ranking first in terms of the number of top scorers. Suzhou continues this tradition of excellence in education today. 

According to statistics, by the end of 2015, 111 Suzhou natives became members of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), putting Suzhou at the top of the list for both institutions. 

World-famous Universities
With great historical and cultural resources, excellent living and work environments, and international-level development, Suzhou is increasingly attracting attention from the world’s most prestigious schools. A total of 29 domestically and globally well-known schools have set up cooperative projects in Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), such as Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, University of California, Berkeley, National University of Singapore, Nanjing University and the Renmin University of China. 

In 2006, Xi’an Jiaotong University and the University of Liverpool were the first to arrive in SIP with Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU). It is now one of the most famous cooperative universities in the country, boasting excellent faculty, unique education philosophies and its widely acclaimed “integrated education mode.” 

“At XJTLU, overseas students study together with Chinese students instead of attending separate classes as many do in other international schools. I like it, and it enables me to learn Chinese fast,” said Nick, a financial mathematics major from Thailand. 

Among dense trees is a tranquil school with red walls – the Silk Road School. Founded by Renmin University of China and the People’s Government of Suzhou in May 2018, the school aims to increase the participation of Suzhou and the entire Jiangsu Province in implementing China’s Belt and Road Initiative, enhance opening-up and international cultural and educational exchanges, build on the experience of global talent cultivation programs, and promote integration and reciprocation of resources between schools and local authorities.  

The Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR), Oxford’s first overseas physical science and engineering research arm in the school’s 800-year history, opened in SIP on November 22, 2018. Oxford’s experts spent several years conducting field surveys in Suzhou to choose the site and prepare for the project. 

Initiated by Oxford’s Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, OSCAR focuses on research in engineering, physics, chemistry and materials sciences. Scholars and experts at OSCAR lead market-oriented research in healthcare informatics, tissue engineering, biomedical imaging and environmental modification, as well as development in advanced materials and electronics. Also, OSCAR seeks to collaborate with Suzhou-based enterprises and schools to create an innovation ecosystem.  

SIP is the first flagship cooperation project of its kind between China and Singapore. It was founded in February 1994, and after 25 years of development has grown into one of the world’s top high-tech parks, a model for international cooperation, and a widely known cluster of world-famous schools. 

Attracting Professionals Suzhou is seeking to do more than cultivate talent. Specifically, the city is promoting school-oriented innovation, market-oriented research through cooperation between schools, research institutes and businesses, and incubation of emerging industries. In SIP, for example, many world-famous schools have launched projects to provide technical support for local industrial development and drive industrial innovation.  

Many competitive industries in Suzhou are setting up innovation chains through quality research projects and platforms for their commercial applications.  

For example, in biomedicine, compound annual growth of total industrial output value reached 18 percent in 2018, and over 3,000 biomedicine enterprises recorded an enterprise output of more than 100 billion yuan (US$14.44b). Several biomedicine clusters have formed, such as SIP’s BioBay, Micro RNA Research Base in Kunshan, Taicang Biomedical Industrial Park and Wuzhong District Medicine Industrial Base. Experts predict that Suzhou’s biomedicine industry will see explosive growth in output value within two to three years. 

Dr. Michael DC Yu, who in 2011 founded Innovent Biologics in SIP, led the company over seven years to grow into one of the country’s most influential biotech companies. Innovent Biologics made a strong debut on the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) in 2018, raising about US$485 million, the world’s biggest IPO by a pre-revenue biotech company. 

Suzhou ranks second nationwide in terms of migrant population, with nearly seven million non-native residents. It has more than 2.76 million professionals, among them 244,000 senior-level. 

Increases in talent are playing a big part in promoting growth in the area, especially in propelling industrial upgrading and innovative development. In 2018, the total industrial output of Suzhou’s tech industries was 1.58 trillion (US$227.86b) accounting for 47.7 percent of industrial enterprises above a designated size, while the local GDP was 1.86 trillion yuan (US$284b), ranking seventh nationwide.  

“Suzhou relies on talent for growth. It’s part of the city’s DNA to cherish talented people, give full play to their proficiencies and lend them a hand in their career development,” said an unnamed Suzhou government official, adding the city’s talent ecosystem is a secret to Suzhou’s success in attracting and retaining talent.  

Cultural Confidence
A performance of Six Records of a Floating Life, a Kunqu opera (one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera), was staged at the city’s Canglang Pavilion Gardens on a beautiful night in May. The garden setting provided a fantastic immersive experience as the performers brought the unique feeling of Suzhou to life.  

Suzhou’s Golden Age, a 12.25-meter scroll painting by Xu Yang, a Suzhou-born court painter from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), depicts a thriving streetscape that extends for nearly 100 li (about 50 kilometers) from Lake Tai to Huqiu. 

The ancient section of Suzhou preserves the city’s glorious legacy, its network of canals and bridges, famous gardens and many historic sites make for countless picture-perfect scenes.  Suzhou natives are adamant about protecting their ancient past, and the Pingjiang Road Historic District is a prime example of the city’s restoration efforts. In key sections, the canals and streets were restored according to the Pingjiang Map. Drawn in the Song Dynasty (960-1127), the map reveals how a large portion of Suzhou’s canals and roads, which trace their origins to the Tang Dynasty (618–907), remained unchanged to this day. 

Usually, cultural traits of a city determine its image. Suzhou demonstrates distinct characteristics of Wu culture, a vital component of Chinese civilization that originated in Suzhou and the surrounding areas. The Wu culture embraces water as a symbol of opening-up and inclusiveness – an important part of the spirit that the city advocates.  

Standing on the banks of Jinji Lake is the 150,000-square-meter Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, which houses a theater, cinema, concert hall and art gallery, all offering local residents endless opportunities to savor the world’s cultures.  

Designed by globally renowned French architect Paul Andrew, the center draws inspiration from traditional local elements, from its pearl-shaped main structure to the outer wall and surrounding gardens. 

Boasting more than 3,000 kinds of traditional crafts and art forms, UNSECO listed Suzhou as a “City of Crafts and Folk Art” in November 2014 to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. However, the city faces the new challenge of driving development of traditional crafts. 

In March 2015, Suzhou launched its “New Crafts Campaign” that seeks to incorporate traditional Chinese crafts with contemporary international design.  

It also aims to transform and upgrade industries relying on traditional crafts through branding and talent cultivation, with the ultimate goals of creating high-quality “Made in China” brands, upgrading cultural consumption and spreading Chinese culture overseas. So far, more than 400 well-known designers and craftspeople in 45 cities across the country have joined the campaign.  
As one of China’s first “National Famous Historical and Cultural Cities,” Suzhou has been pushing “culture-driven development” in recent years. The city has made great efforts to develop its cultural industries. Last year, operating income for Suzhou’s cultural industries reached 572 billion yuan (US$82.59b).  

Not only has Forbes Magazine named Suzhou among the top “Innovative Cities in the Chinese Mainland,” its unique mix of ancient culture and cutting-edge research led the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs to name it among the “Most Attractive City for Foreigners” multiple times.  

“In Suzhou, you can either experience the traditional local lifestyle of the water towns, or tour around for the bustling modern buildings to feel the prosperity of the city,” a local expat said.