Shantang Street extends 3,829.6 meters, stretching from Duseng Bridge at Changxu Road to Tiger Hill in the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu province. According to a local government record (dating back to around 1753), the distance between Changmen city gate and Tiger Hill was seven lis (one li equals 500 meters), and the local people called it “Shantang of seven lis”.
However, in the folklore, Shantang Street was also called “Shantang of seven cats”, as another Chinese word, one whose meanings is Li Hua cat (a native Chinese domestic cat), is also pronounced as “li”.
Xu Wengao, a Shantang local, said that there was one bluestone cat lying near each of the seven bridges of Shantang Street. According to folklore, these cats were guardians appointed by history-changing politician and litterateur Liu Bowen (1311-1375). Xu said he remembers the old cat sculptures: not tall, very glossy on top from people petting them over hundreds of years, and as a place for people to rest when they were tired.
In the late 1950s, the bluestone cats were removed and used to make lime. The cat by the Puji Bridge was the last one to disappear, having been removed in 1966 and subsequently lost.
In December 2012, one collector and local entrepreneur claimed that he had found an original Shantang cat which saved by an unnamed private collector, and said if it was confirmed to be an original, he would buy it and donate it to Shantang Street. Sadly, a cultural relic expert and Xu Wengao examined the cat and found it was not an original. The suspicious stone cat was much bigger than the original cats, and the materials were different. The original cats were carved from bluestone and this one was made of granite.
Many people missed the seven stone cats, so in August 2006, seven replica stone cats were placed by the seven bridges along Shantang Street. Each cat weighs 0.8 ton and is about 1.4 meters tall. Shantang Street authority wrote on their Weibo that each of these seven guardian cats masters a fortune: The Meiren cat (美仁狸) by Shantang Bridge represents elegance; the Tonggui cat (通贵狸) by Tonggui Bridge represents wealth; the Wenxing cat (文星狸) by Xing Bridge represents knowledge; the Caiyun cat (彩云狸) by Caiyun Bridge represents happiness; the Baigong cat (白公狸) by Puji Bridge represents health; the Haiyong cat (海涌狸) by Wangshan Bridge represents fate, and the Fenshui cat (分水狸) by Xixhan Temple Bridge represents opportunity.