According to traditional Chinese historians, two Zhou princes, Taibo and Zhongyong, founded the first Chinese state in the area of Wuxi around the 11th century BC.
This state of Wu (吳) had its first capital at Meili, generally thought to be the village of Meicun in Wuxi (although some records indicate a location closer to Wu's later capitals around Suzhou). Taibo and Zhongyong helped develop Wu's agriculture and waterways and the area soon flourished. Taibo died without an heir, and Zhongyong succeeded him as king of Wu. His descendants were later officially enfeoffed by the Zhou court as vassals before declaring themselves full kings again during the Spring and Autumn Period. A shrine to Taibo was set up in today's Meicun. Although the original wood structure was eventually destroyed in war, it has been rebuilt several times. A stone carved with sayings by Confucius can still be seen at the modern Taibo Shrine, whose architecture dates mostly to the Qing dynasty.
Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period
The State of Wu became one of the strongest kingdoms during the Spring and Autumn Period. Sunzi (Suntzu), who wrote the famous "the Art of War" came to Wu and helped the king with his military affairs. Wu was considered one of the seven strongest kingdoms during this period. Some of Sunzi's descendants still live in Sunxiang in Wuxi near the Plum Garden. However, Wu was later defeated by the State of Yue, today's Zhejiang and Fujian, which in turn was overthrown by the State of Chu and incorporated into Chu during the Warring States period.
Qin and Han Dynasty
The cultural and economic center of the “Wu”area shifted to Suzhou after the reign of the first Qin Dynasty emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who united China; Wuxi at that time belonged to Suzhou. During the Han dynasty, Wuxi was set up as a county by emperor Han Wudi. Historic records show that tin was discovered during the early Han era, leading to conflicts in the area. Soon, however, the tin was depleted. This was once believed to be the origin of the name Wuxi, meaning “no tin.”The name was changed to Youxi (有錫), meaning“having tin”, during the Wang Mang conflicts period because Wang wanted to change the name.
Six dynasties, Tang and Song Dynasties
Agriculture and the silk industry flourished in Wuxi and the town became a transportation center under the early Tang Dynasty after the construction of the Grand Canal. Although Suzhou became the center of the Wu area, Wuxi was also important in the county of Wu.
Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties
During the Ming Dynasty, Wuxi became a prosperous cultural center. During the late Ming and early Qing periods, Wuxi was a center for political discussion and public opinion. Agriculture, with rice and fish were major products in the Qing period. During the Taiping Rebellion, Wuxi was devastated by the war's destruction, like other parts of the lower Yangtze valley. Warfare disrupted planting in the region. * As a result of famine, city dwellers resorted to eating human flesh. There are records of sales of human flesh from this period.* During the late 19th century, Wuxi became a center of the textile industry in China and one of the four most important rice markets nationwide. By 1878, Wuxi was the leading silk producing county in Jiangsu, outstripping even Suzhou, the traditional center of that industry. In the late 19th century, Wuxi was also the regional center for the waterborne transport of grain and a major commercial center.
During the period between 1900 and 1940, Wuxi was considered one of the most important counties in China. In dramatist Cao Yu's well-known drama "Thunderstorm", Wuxi was mentioned several times with a comment “Wuxi is a good place”. After the communists set up the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Wuxi continued to grow in importance, with the establishment of more textile production and both light and heavy industry. This city was considered the second most important city in Jiangsu Province after the capital Nanjing. However, its developmental model has been criticized for the environmental deterioration caused. New strategies are now under consideration to ensure its sustainable development.