The Canglang Pavilion is the oldest among the existing gardens of Suzhou. In the 5th year of the reign of Qingli (AD1045), the Northern Song poet Su Sunqin purchased the destroyed garden belonging to Sun Chengyou, commander of Zhong Wu military forces of the Wu Yue State during the Five Dynasties period following the Tang Dynasty, and built the Canglang Pavilion by the water. The idea came from an ancient song, saying, “If the Canglang River is clean, I wash the ribbon of my hat; if the Canglang River is muddy, I wash my feet.” Not long afterwards it belonged to the Zhangs and the Gongs respectively. Under the Southern Song Dynasty it was renamed the Hans’ Garden as Han Shizhong abode here. During the Yuan Dynasty it was converted into the Mystical Concealment Temple, and then the Great Cloud Temple. In the 25th year of the reign of Jiajing (AD1546) under the Ming Dynasty, the Buddhist Abbot Wen Ying rebuilt the garden. In the 35th year of the reign of Kangxi (AD1696) under the Qing Dynasty, Song Luo, the Governor of Jiangsu, relocated the pavilion to the top of the earthen mountain. It was repaired and rebuilt again in the reigns of Daoguang and Tongzhi, becoming the garden one visits today. Since 1954 it has been open to the public. Starting from Nov. 2000, it has been inscribed on the World Heritage List along with a supplementary list of the classical gardens of Suzhou.
Successfully borrowed the view of the winding Fengxi Canal outside, the garden, covering about 1 ha., features open and natural perspectives. A double-corridor constructed by the canal unifies waterscapes outside the garden and landscapes inside through its latticed windows, a unique technique in the classical gardens of Suzhou. One enjoys the garden view before the act of entrance. Also, it encourages one to explore the unknown sights. Entering the garden, one catches sight of a range of man-made mountains running from east to west, made from a mixture of earth and rocks, and covered with bamboo and age-old trees which are full of delights of the wilderness. Various buildings virtually ring the mountains, most of them, however, clustering to the south, namely, the Enlightenment Hall, the Realm of Yaohua, the Pure Fragrance House and the Elegant Bamboo House. The Imperial Pavilions of Steles by Emperors of Kangxi and Qianlong are to be found to the east and west of the mountains. Connected by a roofed walkway, the Pavilion Fronting Water, the Water Pavilion of Lotus Blooms and the Prunus Mume Pavilion have characteristically formed a group of garden buildings reflected beautifully by the pure expanse of water. The Temple of 500 Sages is a noteworthy building in the garden and has valuable portraits of 594 sages cut on steles and set into the wall, who rendered Suzhou meritorious services in a period of more than 2500 years from the Zhou to Qing Dynasties. The garden possesses as many as 108 latticed windows with vivid and different design patterns.
All in all, the garden still shows the initial characteristics of being simple, natural and unrefined, and boasts a wide expanse of water and a mountain range with luxuriant vegetation. It is reputed by garden experts to be a fine specimen of “urban scenery”.