In the early 1960s, Mao Zedong urged industry to learn from Daqing, the northern oilfield where officials claimed self-reliance and revolutionary zeal brought success in pumping oil from the frozen earth. Forty years later, the landscape has changed and local officials are holding up the manicured industrial parks of Suzhou as the new model for development, declaring the eastern city has already become a 'well-off, harmonious society'. Foreign companies flocking to Suzhou's development zones and tourists visiting the ornamental gardens have brought prosperity. Suzhou saw its economy grow 17.6 per cent last year and attracted foreign investment of US$9.5 billion, among the highest in the nation. The average annual income of urban residents rose 16.9 per cent, the fastest rate in the Yangtze River Delta, to 14,451 yuan last year. But central government moves to cool construction fever in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta have led some to question the Suzhou miracle as the mainland strives for more balanced development. Since taking office two years ago, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have sought to encourage development in lagging northeastern and western regions and narrow the growing gap between rich and poor. Suzhou's heavy dependence on overseas investment and exports has also given rise to concern. Suzhou is urging its Kunshan city to diversify from Taiwanese investment amid political tensions with the island. And officials warn a possible upward revaluation of the yuan could hurt exports. But the city's success has left some people behind. Sitting outside his house near the historic Auspicious Light Pagoda, a retired chemical factory worker said: 'I just have enough to eat and enough to stay warm. How can you call that a well-off society?' He is bitter because authorities are planning to evict his family to make way for a park on the banks of the city moat while offering 2,000 yuan per square metre for his old home, not enough to buy a new one. In a sign of the boom, Suzhou became the city with the most expensive housing in Jiangsu province last year. Average prices reached 3,127 yuan per square metre, but inner-city housing commands at least 4,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan is becoming more common. In many ways, Suzhou is blessed by geography. Historically, the Grand Canal made the city into a trading centre. Now Suzhou's proximity to Shanghai has made it popular for foreign companies. 'It's been a good place for us. We wanted to be close to the Shanghai manufacturing base for suppliers without being in the city if we could help it,' said David Warth, general manager of Emerson Climate Technologies (Suzhou), which makes compressors for air conditioners. Foreign companies say the unique combination of infrastructure and government know-how in Suzhou will be difficult to recreate in the mainland's inland provinces, though other coastal cities are offering competition. The central government has rewarded Suzhou's leaders with promotions, giving rise to speculation in the media about the growth of a so-called 'Suzhou gang', comparable to the 'Shanghai gang' of former president Jiang Zemin . Former Suzhou mayor Yang Weize recently became party secretary of nearby Wuxi city, while a former Suzhou party secretary, Liang Baohua, is governor of Jiangsu. Another former Suzhou party secretary, Wang Min, is now governor of northeastern Jilin province and his predecessor, Chen Deming, is governor of Shaanxi province . Li Cheng, a professor of the department of government at New York state's Hamilton College, said the rise of officials with ties to Suzhou reflected their ability to deliver economic growth, rather than patron-client ties. 'Their remarkable achievements in economic growth and foreign investment in Suzhou can be very helpful for the economic take-off of inland provinces.'