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4 Days Classical Garden Arts, Grand Canal & Lake Tai Tour - Suzhou, Tongli, Wuxi from Shanghai

4 Days Classical Garden Arts, Grand Canal & Lake Tai Tour - Suzhou, Tongli, Wuxi from Shanghai
Tour Code: SHA-GDN02
Price from:(per people)
CNY 100 p/p
Duration:
4 day
Departure Date:
You Deside !
Departure/Pick-up:
Shanghai
Traffic:
Car
Main Destination:
Suzhou Tongli Wuxi
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Itinerary Features
Why we suggest this tour itinerary?

There are few tour itineraries like this designed for foreign tourists to thoroughly explore the southern China classical garden arts in Suzhou area. Although Suzhou is quite near Shanghai and the classical garden arts of China is one of the two major garden arts in the world.  

 

Suzhou,The City of Classical Gardens” and around 90km to the west of Shanghai center, is famous for its classical gardens. It is very easy for tourists from Shanghai to explore this spectacular arts in this area.

 

Suzhous classical gardens occupy an unique and irreplaceable position in the history of world landscape gardening. Do not like the western garden arts which is in pursuit of the artificial beauty, Chinese gardens focus on the natural beauty. As the traditional retreat of scholars and gentleman, the classical Chinese garden provided a place not only to meditate, but also to socialize, play music, indulge in the calligraphic arts, paint, write, eat, drink, and play games. The beauty of classical Chinese garden and architecture lies in its knowledge about the world, its combination of aesthetic theory and architecture practice, and its containment and demonstration of the philosophy of ancient China.

 

Now in Suzhou, there are 4 most famous classical gardens: The Surging Waves Pavilion - representing the garden style in Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), Lion Forest Garden - representing the garden the style in Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368 AD), Humble Administrators Garden - representing the garden style in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), Lingering Garden - representing the garden style of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). All of them are in the UNESCO World Heritage List and will be visited in this itinerary. Other World Heritage List Gardens will be visited in this itinerary are Ouyuan Garden (translated as The Couples Retreat Garden or Twin Courtyards Garden), Wangshi Garden (Master-of-Nets Garden), Yipu Garden (Translated as Cultivation Garden or Art Nursery). 

 

Beyond that, there are many tranquil picturesque ancient water towns in this area with master piece of the garden - such as Tongli Town which is around 30 km to the south of Suzhou, where you can enjoy the Tuisi Garden (Retreat and Reflection Garden) - the best water closing garden in China and also the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

 

There are also the best mountain-foot garden in China - Jichang Garden (Pleasure Garden), and the famous ancient town - Huishan Town in Wuxi city in this itinerary. Wuxi, a city only around 40 km to the north of Suzhou, is by the side of Taihu Lake (Lake Tai) - the 2nd biggest freshwater lake in China, 4 times the size of Singapore. Wuxi takes over the most beautiful corner of the Taihu Lake and on the shore of the Lake scatter famous parks such as Turtle-head Peninsula Park. Tourists can also stroll on the ancient Nanchang Street which is said as one of the 10 most beautiful and best preserved ancient streets in China and right by the side of ancient Great Canal - the oldest and longest Canal in the world, enjoy the picturesque Huishan Hill and the scenic areas such as the 2nd Best Spring in China and ancient Huishan Town there. 

 

Both Tongli and Wuxi are not very famous as other ancient water towns and other famous tour cities in this area. They are absent from the main tourist trails and the scenic areas there are not very crowded as other places in China. You’ll see the odd foreign tourist groups there. They are the ideal places for the people wane escape from the busy metropolis. 

More about The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River at UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5328/
 

Main Tourist Attractions in the Itinerary:

Suzhou: 

Tiger Hill, Liuyuan Garden (Lingering Garden, UNESCO World Heritage), Canglangting Garden(Surging Waves Pavilion, UNESCO World Heritage), Yipu Garden (Translated as Cultivation Garden or Art Nursery, UNESCO World Heritage), Pan Gate (the only well preserved water and land city wall gate in China), Suzhou Museum, Zhuozhen Garden (Humble Administrators Garden, UNESCO World Heritage) and Chinese Classical Garden Museum, Pingjiang Historical and Cultural Street Block, Shizilin Garden (Lion Forest Garden, UNESCO World Heritage), Ouyuan Garden (translated as The Couples Retreat Garden or Twin Courtyards Garden, UNESCO World Heritage), Wangshi Garden (Master-of-Nets Garden, UNESCO World Heritage)

 

Tongli Town: 

Ancient Mingqingjie Street (Ming & Qing Dynasty Street), Tuisi Garden (Retreat and Reflection Garden, UNESCO World Heritage), Pearl Tower Garden, Luoxingzhou Island in the Tongli Lake to the east of the town, some well preserved ancient mansions by the side of narrow rivers and canals, such as Gengle Hall, Jiayin Hall, Chongben Hall and so on...

 

Wuxi:

Yuantouzhu (Turtle-head Peninsula Park, include tour to some islands in the lake), Taihu Lake (Lake Tai), Huishan Hill (Includes the 2nd Best Spring in China which was found around around 1400 years ago, Huishan Temple which was built around 1500 years ago, Taibo Temple which is for the prince Taibo who got to this area around 3000 years ago and is the origin of the Wu culture - the main culture in the southern Yangtze River Delta, Jichang Garden (Pleasure Garden)), Ancient Huishan Town, Nanchangjie Street, Grand Canal. 

  

Experience in the Itinerary:

1. In this itinerary, tourists can explore, enjoy and study the stunning beauty of the Chinese classical gardens, to know more about Chinese arts such as garden arts, paintings, brush calligraphy, literature, philosophy and so on.

2. Visit the famous Suzhou Museum to know more about the Wu Culture (the local culture) in this area. Wu Culture occupies a very important position in traditional Chinese culture. 

3. Tourists can also stroll in the ancient Tongli Town - one of the famous water towns in China to enjoy the indescribable natural beauty of the town, appreciate its peaceful atmosphere there and feel the magic power of water. A walk in the ancient town is said to be a walk into history frozen in time, tranquil and serene.  

4. Walking by the side of Taihu Lake (the 2nd biggest freshwater lake in China) and visit some islands in the lake in Wuxi is also an exciting experience. And in Wuxi, Tourists will also visit the fascinating Huishan Hill to enjoy the 2nd Best Spring, Jichang Garden (Leisure Garden), ancient Huishan Town there, to stroll on the ancient Nanchang Street by the side of the Grand Canal - the oldest and longest canal in the world. 

 

More info about Suzhou city:

The ancient city of Suzhou occupies an area of 14.2 square kilometers, and the city was built as the capital city of the Wu Kingdom in 514 BC by Wu Zixu, the primary mister of the kingdom by the order of King Helu. Hence the name of "Great City of Helu", the ancient name for Suzhou. With a history of more than 2,500 years, the city (old city with around 14 square meters) still stands at its original site when it was established around 2500 years ago! The two moats inside and outside the city wall and the city gates of Chang, Qi, Lou, Xiang, Pan and Xu remain basically unchanged. Suzhou is the only one ancient city in the world which never moved its location for over 2500 years. According to the inscribed stone "Pingjiang Map" in the second year of the Shaoding reign of the Southern Song Dynasty (1229), there were seven north-south rivers and 14 east-west rivers inside the city of Suzhou, totaling 82 kilometers, and 314 bridges. InSuzhoutoday, there are still 35 kilometers of rivers and more than 160 bridges.

 

The layout of the ancient city of Suzhouwas in the form of double chessboards, that is, rivers and streets run parallel to each other. The river and streets were intermingled, and the waterfront houses varied in height, together representing a rich flavor of water town. There are numerous cultural heritages such as ancient pagodas and temples, government offices, former residences of celebrities, gardens and mansions, ancestral temples, halls and public places, archways and ancient wells in the city.  

 

The ancient city of Suzhou has rich cultural heritages. There are now 47 historical and cultural areas and 126 historic sites under protection, including 11 under national protection, 30 at provincial level and 85 at municipal level. In addition, there are also many under controlled protection: 200 buildings, 22 sections of ancient revetments, 22 ancient archways, 70 ancient bridges, 37 gate towers with brick carvings, and 639 ancient wells. Of these cultural heritages, eight classical gardens have already been inscribed in the World Heritage List. The historical and cultural street blocks of Pingjiang, the Humble Administrators Garden and Shantang, as typical areas of the ancient city of Suzhou, will apply for being inscribed in the World Heritage List. Now in Suzhou , totally there are still 69 ancient classical gardens with hundreds of years history.

 

Situated at the temperate zone and with subtropical oceanic monsoon climate, Suzhou enjoys four distinct seasons, a mild temperature and abundant rainfall. The city spreads on a low terrain, with the plain covering 55% of the total area. With a network of rivers and canals as well as a fertile land, the city is rich in a variety of agricultural products. Major crops vary from rice to wheat, rape, cotton, mulberry, and fruit. Its specialties include Biluochun(Green Spiral Spring) Tea, Dao Fish from Yangtze River, Silver Fish from TaihuLakeand Hairy Crabs fromYangchenhuLake. As a well-known "Land of Fish and Rice" as well as a "Silk Capital",Suzhouenjoys a fame of "Paradise on Earth".

 

Map of Tongli Town:

The Classical Garden Arts of Suzhou

The Classical Garden of Suzhou is a group of gardens in Suzhou region which have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is the form of harmony created by the man’s artistic manipulation of nature and space.

 

Spanning a period of almost one thousand years, from the Northern Song to the late Qing dynasties (11th-19th century), these gardens, most of them built by scholars, standardized many of the key features of classical Chinese garden design with constructed landscapes mimicking natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers with strategically located pavilions, chambers and corridors.

 

The elegant aesthetics and subtlety of these scholars gardens and their delicate style and features are often imitated by various gardens in other parts of China, including the various Imperial Gardens, such as those in the Chengde Mountain Resort. According to UNESCO, the gardens of Suzhou "represent the development of Chinese landscape garden design over more than two thousand years," and they are the "most refined form" of garden art.

 

These landscape gardens flourished in the mid-Ming to early-Qing dynasties, resulting in as much as 200 private gardens. Today, there are 69 preserved gardens in Suzhou, and all of them are designated as protected "National Heritage Sites." In 1997 and 2000, eight of the finest gardens in Suzhou along with one in the nearby ancient town of Tongli were selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to represent the art of Suzhou-style classical gardens. Their names are: the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden, the Master-of-Nets Garden, the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, the Canglang Pavilion, the Lion Forest Garden (or translated as Lion Grove Garden), the Garden of Cultivation, the Couple’s Garden Retreat, and the Retreat & Reflection Garden (except the last one which is in Tongli, a small town near Suzhou, other 8 gardens are in the ancient Suzhou city proper.) Dating from the 11th-19th century, the above 9 gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture in their meticulous design - Valued by UNESCO World Heritage Website.

 

Design of the Classical Garden

A Chinese garden was not meant to be seen all at once; the plan of a classical Chinese garden presented the visitor with a series of perfectly composed and framed glimpses of scenery; a view of a pond, or of a rock, or a grove of bamboo, a blossoming tree, or a view of a distant mountain peak or a pagoda. The 16th-century Chinese writer and philosopher Ji Cheng (1582 - ?), also one of the most famous garden designers in ancient China who wrote the first garden arts monograph in the world “Yuan Ye” (means "The Craft of Gardens"), instructed garden builders to "hide the vulgar and the common as far as the eye can see, and include the excellent and the splendid."

 

Chinese classical gardens varied greatly in size. The largest garden in Suzhou, the Humble Administrators Garden, was a little over ten hectares in area, with three-fifths of the garden occupied by the pond. But they did not have to be large. Ji Cheng built a garden for Wu Youyu, the Treasurer of Jinling (the South Capital at that time, current Nanjign city), that was just under one hectare in size, and the tour of the garden was only four hundred steps long from the entrance to the last viewing point, but Wu Youyu said it contained all the marvels of the province in a single place.

 

The classical garden was surrounded by a wall, usually painted white, which served as a pure backdrop for the flowers and trees. A pond of water was usually located in the center. Many structures, large and small, were arranged around the pond. In the garden described by Ji Cheng above, the structures occupied two-thirds of the hectare, while the garden itself occupied the other third. In a scholar garden the central building was usually a library or study, connected by galleries with other pavilions which served as observation points of the garden features. These structures also helped divide the garden into individual scenes or landscapes. The other essential elements of a scholar garden were plants, trees, and rocks, all carefully composed into small perfect landscapes. Scholar gardens also often used what was called "borrowed" scenery where unexpected views of scenery outside the garden, such as mountain peaks, seemed to be an extension of the garden itself.

 

Architecture

Chinese gardens are filled with architecture; halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, bridges, kiosks, and towers, occupying a large part of the space.

 

Some gardens have a picturesque stone pavilion in the form of a boat, located in the pond. These generally had three parts; a kiosk with winged gables at the front, a more intimate hall in the center, and a two story structure with a panoramic view of the pond at the rear.

 

Galleries are narrow covered corridors which connect the buildings, protect the visitors from the rain and sun, and also help divide the garden into different sections. These galleries are rarely straight; they zigzag or are serpentine, following the wall of the garden, the edge of the pond, or climbing the hill of the rock garden. They have small windows, sometimes round or in odd geometric shapes, to give glimpses of the garden or scenery to those passing through.

 

Windows and doors are an important architectural feature of the Chinese garden. Sometimes they are round (moon windows or a moon gate) or oval, hexagonal or octagonal, or in the shape of a vase or a piece of fruit. Sometimes they have highly ornamental ceramic frames. The window may carefully frame a branch of a pine tree, or a plum tree in blossom, or another intimate garden scene.

 

Bridges are another common feature of the Chinese garden. Like the galleries, they are rarely straight, but zigzag or arch over the ponds, suggesting the bridges of rural China, and providing view points of the garden. Bridges are often built from rough timber or stone-slab raised pathways. Some gardens have brightly painted or lacquered bridges, which give a lighthearted feeling to the garden.

 

Gardens also often include small, austere houses for solitude and meditation, sometimes in the form of rustic fishing huts, and isolated buildings which serve as libraries or studios.

 

Artificial mountains and rock gardens

The artificial mountain or rock is an integral element of Chinese classical gardens. The mountain peak was a symbol of virtue, stability and endurance in Confucian philosophy and in the I Ching (The Book of Change).

 

The first rock garden appeared in Chinese garden history in Tu Yuan (literally "Rabbit Garden"), built during the Western Han dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD). During the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), the rock was elevated to the status of an art object, judged by its form, substance, color, and texture, as well as by its softness, transparency, and other factors. The poet Bai Juyi (772–846) wrote a catalog of the famous rocks of Lake Tai, called Taihu Shiji. These rocks, of limestone sculpted by erosion, became the most highly prized for gardens.

 

During the Song dynasty, the artificial mountains were made mostly of earth. But Emperor Huizong (1100–1125) nearly ruined the economy of the Song Empire by destroying the bridges of the Grand Canal so he could carry huge rocks by barge to his imperial garden. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the use of piles of rocks to create artificial mountains and grottos reached its peak. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD), the Ming rock gardens were considered too artificial and the new mountains were composed of both rocks and earth.

 

The artificial mountain in Chinese gardens today usually has a small view pavilion at the summit. In smaller classical gardens, a single scholar rock represents a mountain, or a row of rocks represents a mountain range.

 

Water
A pond or lake is the central element of a Chinese garden. The main buildings are usually placed beside it, and pavilions surround the lake to see it from different points of view. The garden usually has a pond for lotus flowers, with a special pavilion for viewing them. There are usually goldfish in the pond, with pavilions over the water for viewing them.


The lake or pond has an important symbolic role in the garden. In the I Ching (The Book of Change), water represents lightness and communication, and carried the food of life on its journey through the valleys and plains. It is also the complement to the mountain, the other central element of the garden, and represents dreams and the infinity of spaces. The shape of the garden pond often hides the edges of the pond from viewers on the other side, giving the illusion that the pond goes on to infinity. The softness of the water contrasts with the solidity of the rocks. The water reflects the sky, and therefore is constantly changing, but even a gentle wind can soften or erase the reflections.

 

Small gardens have a single lake, with rock, plants and structures around its edge. Middle-sized gardens will have a single lake with one or more streams coming into the lake, with bridges crossing the streams, or a single long lake divided into two bodies of water by a narrow channel crossed by a bridge. In a very large garden like the Humble Administrators Garden, the principal feature of the garden is the large lake with its symbolic islands, symbolizing the isles of the immortals. Streams come into the lake, forming additional scenes. Numerous structures give different views of the water, including a stone boat, a covered bridge, and several pavilions by the side of or over the water.

 

Some gardens created the impression of lakes by places smooth areas of white sand, bordered by rocks, in courtyards. In the moonlight these looked like real lakes. This style of dry garden was later imported into Japan and transformed into the Zen garden.

 

The streams in the Chinese garden always follow a winding course, and are hidden from time to time by rocks or vegetation. A French Jesuit missionary, Father Attiret, who was a painter in the service of the Qianlong Emperor from 1738 to 1768, described one garden he saw:

 

"The canals are not like those in our country bordered with finely cut stone, but very rustic and lined with pieces or rock, some coming forward, some retreating. which are placed so artistically that you would think it was a work of nature."

 

Flowers and Trees

Flowers and trees, along with water, rocks and architecture, are the fourth essential element of the Chinese garden. They represent nature in its most vivid form, and contrast with the straight lines of the architecture and the permanence, sharp edges and immobility of the rocks. They change continually with the seasons, and provide both sounds (the sound of rain on banana leaves or the wind in the bamboo) and aromas to please the visitor.

 

Each flower and tree in the garden had its own symbolic meaning. The pine, bamboo and Chinese plum (Prunus mume) were considered the "Three Friends of Winter" by the scholars who created classical gardens, prized for remaining green or blooming in winter. They were often painted together by artists. For scholars, the pine was the emblem of longevity and tenacity, as well as constance in friendship. The bamboo, a hollow straw, represented a wise man, modest and seeking knowledge, and was also noted for being flexible in a storm without breaking. Plum trees were revered as the symbol of rebirth after the winter and the arrival of spring.

 

The peach tree in the Chinese garden symbolized longevity and immortality. Peaches were associated with the classic story The Orchard of Xi Wangmu (The Mother of Kings), the Queen Mother of the West. This story said that in Xi Wangmus legendary orchard, peach trees flowered only after three thousand years, did not produce fruit for another three thousand years, and did not ripen for another three thousand years. Those who ate these peaches became immortal. This legendary orchard was pictured in many Chinese paintings, and inspired many garden scenes. Pear trees were the symbol of justice and wisdom. The word pear was also a homophone for quit or separate, and it was considered bad luck to cut a pear, for it would lead to the breakup of a friendship or romance. The pear tree could also symbolize a long friendship or romance, since the tree lived a long time.

 

The apricot tree symbolized the way of the mandarin, or the government official. During the Tang dynasty, those who passed the imperial examination were rewarded with the banquet in the garden of the apricot trees, or Xingyuan.

 

The fruit of the pomegranate tree was offered to young couples so they would have male children and numerous descendants. The willow tree represented the friendship and the pleasures of life. Guests were offered willow branches as a symbol of friendship.

 

Of the flowers in the Chinese garden, the most appreciated were the orchid, peony, and lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). During the Tang dynasty, the peony, the symbol of opulence and a flower with a delicate fragance, was the most celebrated flower in the garden. The poet Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073) wrote a famous prose to the lotus, comparing it to a junzi, a man who possessed integrity and balance. The orchid was the symbol of nobility. The lotus was admired for its purity, and its efforts to reach out of the water to flower in the air made it a symbol of the search for knowledge. The chrysanthemum was elegized the poet Tao Yuanming (352 or 365-427), who surrounded his hermits hut with the flower, and wrote a famous verse:

 

"At the feet of the Eastern fence, I pick a chrysanthemum, In the distance, detached and serene, I see the Mountains of the South."

 

The creators of the Chinese garden were careful to preserve the natural appearance of the landscape. Trimming and root pruning, if done at all, tried to preserve the natural form. Dwarf trees that were gnarled and ancient-looking were particularly prized in the miniature landscapes of Chinese gardens.

 

"Borrowing scenery", time and seasons

According to Ji Cheng (1582 - ?)s 16th century book "Yuanye" ("The Craft of Gardens", the first garden arts monograph in the world), "borrowing scenery" was the most important thing of a garden. This could mean using scenes outside the garden, such as a view of distant mountains or the trees in the neighboring garden, to create the illusion that garden was much bigger than it was. The most famous example was the mist-shrouded view of the North Temple Pagoda in Suzhou, seen in the distance over the pond of the Humble Administrators Garden.

 

But, as Ji Cheng wrote, it could also be "the immaculate ribbon of a stream, animals, birds, fish, or other natural elements (rain, wind, snow), or something less tangible, such as a moonbeam, a reflection in a lake, morning mist, or the red sky of a sunset." It could also be a sound; he recommended locating a pavilion near a temple, so that the chanted prayers could be heard; planting fragrant flowers next to paths and pavilions, so visitors would appreciate their aromas; that bird perches be created to encourage birds to come to sing in the garden, that streams be designed to make pleasant sounds, and that banana trees be planted in courtyards so the rain would patter on their leaves. "A judicious borrowing does not have a reason." Ji Cheng wrote. "It is born simply of feeling created by the beauty of a scene."

 

The season and the time of day were also important elements. Garden designers took into account the scenes of the garden that would look best in winter, summer, spring and autumn, and those best viewed at night, in the morning or afternoon. Ji Cheng wrote: "In the heart of the tumult of the city, you should choose visions that are serene and refined: from a raised clearing, you look to the distant horizon, surrounded by mountains like a screen; in an open pavilion, a gentle and light breeze invades the room; from the front door, the running water of spring flows toward the marsh."

 

Actually borrowing scenery is the conclusive, last chapter of Yuanye that explains borrowing scenery as a holistic understanding of the essence of landscape design in its entirety. The ever-changing moods and appearances of nature in a given landscape in full action are understood by the author as an independent function that becomes an agent for garden making. It is nature including the garden maker that creates.

 

Concealment and Surprise

Another important garden element was concealment and surprise. The garden was not meant to be seen all at once, it was laid out to present a series of scenes. Visitors moved from scene to scene either within enclosed galleries or by winding paths which concealed the scenes until the last moment. The scenes would suddenly appear at the turn of a path, through a window, or hidden behind a screen of bamboo. They might be revealed through round "moon doors" or through windows of unusual shapes, or windows with elaborate lattices that broke the view into pieces.

 

In art and literature

The garden plays an important part in Chinese art and literature, and at the same time art and literature have inspired many gardens. The school of painting called "Shanshui" (literally mountains and water and with the actual meaning of landscape), which began in the 5th century, established the principles of Chinese landscape painting, which were very similar to those of Chinese gardening. These paintings were not meant to be realistic; they were meant to portray what the artist felt, rather than what he saw.

 

The landscape painter Shitao (1641–1720) wrote that he wanted to "...create a landscape which was not spoiled by any vulgar banality..." He wanted to create a sense of vertigo in the viewer: "to express a universe inaccessible to man, without any route that led there, like the isles of Yinzhou, Penglan and Fanghu, where only the immortals can live, and which a man cannot imagine. That is the vertigo that exists in the natural universe. To express it in painting, you must show jagged peaks, precipices, hanging bridges, great chasms. For the effect to be truly marvelous, it must be done purely by the force of the brush." This was the emotion that garden designers wanted to create with their scholar rocks and miniature mountain ranges.

 

In his book, Craft of Gardens, the garden designer Ji Cheng (1582 - ?), one of the most famous garden designers in ancient China who wrote the first garden arts monograph “Yuan Ye” (means Gardening) in the world, wrote: "The spirit and the charm of mountains and forests must be studied in depth; ...only the knowledge of the real permits the creation of the artificial, so that the work created possesses the spirit of the real, in part because of divine inspiration, but especially because of human effort." He described the effect he wanted to achieve in the design of an autumn garden scene: "The feelings are in harmony with the purity, with the sense of withdrawal. The spirit rejoices at the mountains and ravines. Suddenly the spirit, detached from the world of small things, is animated and seems to penetrate to the interior of a painting, and to promenade there..."

 

In literature, gardens were frequently the subject of the genre of poetry called "Tianyuan", literally fields and gardens, which reached its peak in the Tang dynasty (618-907) with such poets as Wang Wei (701–761). The names of the Surging Waves Garden and the Garden of Meditation in Suzhou are taken from lines of Chinese poetry. Within the gardens, the individual pavilions and view points were frequently dedicated to verses of poems, inscribed on stones or plaques. The Moon Comes with the Breeze Pavilion at the Couples Retreat Garden, used for moon-viewing, has the inscription of a verse by Han Yu:

 

"The twilight brings the Autumn

And the wind brings the moon here."

 

And the Peony Hall in the Couples Retreat Garden is dedicated to a verse by Li Bai (701-762):

 

"The spring breeze is gently stroking the balustrade

and the peony is wet with dew."

 

Wang Wei (701–761) was a poet, painter and Buddhist monk, who worked first as a court official before retiring to Lantian, where he built one of the first wenren yuan, or scholars gardens, called the Valley of the Jante. In this garden, a series of twenty scenes, like the paintings of a scroll or album, unrolled before the viewer, each illustrated by a verse of poetry. For example, one scene illustrated this poem:

 

"The white rock emerges from the torrent;

The cold sky with red leaves scattering:

On the mountain path, the rain is fleeing,

the blue of the emptiness dampens our clothes." 

 

The Valley of the Jante garden disappeared, but its memory, preserved in paintings and poems, inspired many other scholars gardens.

 

The social and cultural importance of the garden is illustrated in the classical novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin  (1715 ? -1763 ?) which unfolds almost exclusively in a garden.

 

Philosophy

The Chinese classical garden had multiple functions. It could be used for banquets, celebrations, reunions, or romance. It could be used to find solitude and for contemplation. It was a calm place for painting, poetry, calligraphy, and music, and for studying classic texts. It was a place for drinking tea and for poets to become happily drunk on wine. It was a showcase to display the cultivation and aesthetic taste of the owner. But it also had a philosophical message.

 

Taoism had a strong influence on the classical garden. After the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), gardens were frequently constructed as retreats for government officials who had lost their posts or who wanted to escape the pressures and corruption of court life in the capital. They chose to pursue the Taoist ideals of disengagement from worldly concerns.

 

For followers of Taoism, enlightenment could be reached by contemplation of the unity of creation, in which order and harmony are inherent to the natural world.

 

The gardens were intended to evoke the idyllic feeling of wandering through a natural landscape, to feel closer to the ancient way of life, and to appreciate the harmony between man and nature.

 

In Taoism, rocks and water were opposites, yin and yang, but they complemented and completed one another. Rocks were solid but water could wear away rock. The deeply eroded rocks from Lake Tai used in the classical garden illustrated this principle.

 

Borrowing scenery is a most fundamental idea in Ming period garden making theory (see above).

 

The winding paths and zig-zag galleries bridges that led visitors from one garden scene to another also had a message. They illustrated a Chinese proverb, "By detours, access to secrets".

 

According to the landscape historian and architect Che Bing Chiu, every garden was "a quest for paradise. of a lost world, of a utopian universe. The scholars garden participated in this quest; on the one hand the quest for the home of the Immortals, on the other hand the search for the world of the golden age so dear to the heart of the scholar."

 

A more recent view of the philosophy of the garden was expressed by Zhou Ganzhi, the President of the Chinese Society of Landscape Architecture, and Academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, in 2007: "Chinese classical gardens are a perfect integration of nature and work by man. They are an imitation of nature, and fully manifest the beauty of nature. They can also be seen as an improvement on nature; one from which the light of human artistic genius shines."