Pingjiang Road is a historic street located in the northeastern Suzhou ancient city. With the total length of 1,606 meters, the road stretches from East Ganjiang Road in the south to East Baita Road to connect with Dongbei Street in the north. Named “Shiquanli” in the ancient times, Pingjiang Road was even marked as the main route of the east half of Suzhou on the Pingjiang Map of Song Dynasty, the most ancient city map of Suzhou. It has been well-preserved at its actual place for 800 hundred years in terms of the original patterns that the road parallels the river, the texture and the length. The clear and simple features can be found everywhere in the stream flowing under the little bridges, the white walls and black-tiled roofs and well-proportioned houses, width of the street and watercourses. Hence Pingjiang Road becomes an ancient street with the most original taste of a water city in today’s Suzhou. Despite a street distance away from the noisy commercial Guanqian Street, Pingjiang Road seems to be another planet of quiet and simple life totally from the hustling nearby.
There are quite a number of narrow alleys connecting vertically with Pingjiang Road, including Xuanqiao Alley, Shilin Temple Alley, Chuanfang Alley, Donghua Bridge Alley, Caohuxu Alley, Dingxiang Alley, big and small Xinqiao Alley, Weidao Guanqian Alley, Zhongzhangjia Alley, Daru Alley, Xiaojia Alley and Niujia Alley. Each of these names may be derived from a long story. In those alleys, narrow and winding streets are protected by high walls on both sides, providing a secluded quiet place serving as private gardens beyond calculation. Generally the design of these private gardens attaches importance on the separation from the downtown area to avoid the secular disturbance. Such design demonstrates another side of the life in Suzhou. The peaceful life in the garden is actually complementary to the routine busy life in the city, both representing the essence of the culture in Suzhou. Although the elegant and refined taste of scholars and literati enhances the cultural sense of Suzhou, the aesthetic interest of “a secluded life in the city” is not complete without the mundane life.
In the late Qing Dynasty and modern times, the houses in these narrow alleys were the home to many celebrities In the Xuanqiao Alley, for example, there is the former residence called Shiliju (the Ordinary Officer's Study) of Huang Pilie, a book collector and publisher. It was said that the residence was the little study of the bookaholic. In the same alley, Hongjun, a champion in the highest imperial examination of the Qing Dynasty, once lived in a residence with Sai Jinhua, his concubine. In addition, the former house of famous doctor Qian Boxuan and the Gu’s Garden of the historian Gu Jiegang are also located in those alleys for someone coming to look for their historic traces. The only pity is that those celebrities’ former residences are no more the same ones, these houses are homes to ordinary people. Though the main halls are still in the same shape as they are in old days while the antique carved windows lattices ooze the magnificence in the past, those tall walls cannot keep the noisy and earthly life outside. If there is a chance to recall the history, one may just abandon himself to the window lattices and wooden beams, the flowing water, and battered stone mounds. Perhaps it is just the busy and daily trivial life of local people that contributes to the long-lasting memory of Suzhou culture. The elegant past of the city may still be told and heard with the memory of the fragrance of kitchen smoke and books.