Suzhou Classical Gardens (World Heritage)
Of the original 200 gardens in Suzhou, almost 70 are still preserved today. They are masterpieces of classical Chinese garden art from the 16th to 18th centuries.
Suzhou Classical Gardens: Facts
|Official title:||Suzhou Classical Gardens|
|Cultural monument:||originally 200 gardens in the former “city of 6,000 bridges”; 69 of these are still preserved, such as the most representative site from the Ming period, the 4 hectare Zhouzheng Yuan (“Garden of the Politics of the Simple Man”), Liuyuan (“Garden of Lingering”) with the allegedly from the Song period (960-1279) with the name “Cloud-Crowned Summit”, Shizi Lin (“Lion Forest”), Yiyuan (“Garden of Contentment”) with the “Hall in which you can hear the lute” (Shitingqing Shi) and the “Hall am Stein” (Baishi Xuan) as well as the Canglang Ting (“Garden of the Pavilion of Azure Waves”) and Wangshi Yuan (“Garden of the Master of the Nets”) on the old grounds of the “Hundred Thousand Volumes Hall” (Wanjuan Tan)|
|Location:||Suzhou, west of Shanghai|
|Meaning:||Masterpieces of classical Chinese garden art from the 16th to 18th centuries Century|
Suzhou Classical Gardens: History
|around 520 BC Chr.||first mention of Suzhou as the capital of the Wu Empire|
|End of the 6th / beginning of the 7th century||Construction of the Imperial Canal and economic rise of the city|
|1044||Design of the garden property »Pavilion of the Azure Waves«|
|1342||Plant of the »lion forest«|
|1573-1620||Creation of the “garden of lingering”|
|1860||The “garden of the politics of the common man” as the residence of the Taiping rebels|
|1954||Nationalization of Suzhou Gardens and subsequent restoration|
Crafted nature of the top ten thousand
“Paradise is in heaven, Suzhou and Hangzhou are on earth,” enthuses a Chinese proverb. In the west, the city with its canals is often called the “Venice of the East”, not least because Marco Polo extolled its wealth and beauty in the 14th century and compared it with his hometown. Like the lagoon city, Suzhou, located in the Yangzi Delta, was an important trading metropolis before Shanghai overtook it in the 19th century. In the city’s heyday, numerous wealthy citizens allowed themselves an extremely elegant lifestyle. In the 12th century, the “upper ten thousand” first came up with the fashion of creating small, intimate private gardens where people could retire to study books at will. Not infrequently, however, wine-blissful festivities were celebrated there with friends.
The longing for a simple life in harmony with nature was reflected in Chinese gardening art – weakened in a bourgeois way and exaggerated romantically. In the middle of the city, hidden behind high walls, airy living halls and pavilions were built, idyllic ponds were created, bizarre rocks were arranged into artificial mountains and islands and planted with symbolically significant trees and flowers. Unlike in the west, where the mountains were feared right into the Romantic era and shunned by civilized people, in China mountains were always viewed as places of contemplation. Yes, people loved the mystical aura of bizarre, mist-shrouded peaks, the images of which can be found in Chinese garden design. With this garden world you created your own little piece of highly artificial »wilderness«.
According to homosociety, in China, people like to compare walking through a garden to looking at a scroll. No wonder, because the most important stylistic element of garden architecture is the creation of a varied series of poetic landscape scenarios. The various “pictures”, which the visitor is led past on winding, artistically paved paths or under walkways, are intended to evoke different moods in him: A quiet pond exudes calm and depth, bubbling springs and delicate flowers awaken the serenity, gnarled pines and thick bamboo, on the other hand, stands for the sublime.
About a dozen gardens from the 16th century have survived through the centuries. The most famous are the »Garden of Politics of the Common Man«, the »Garden of Lingering«, the »Lion Forest«, the »Garden of Contentment« and the »Pavilion of Azure Waves«. The “garden of the master of the nets” is the smallest, but certainly one of the most beautiful of them. Its very harmonious composition has made it a prime example of a literary garden. It was created in 1140 at the behest of the deputy war minister Shi Zhengzhi and fell into disrepair after his death. Only when it was acquired by a retired Mandarin and redesigned in 1770 could this gem of garden art be preserved.
The name of the garden alludes to a much-cited theme in Chinese painting and poetry; In the famous “Sage of the Peach Blossom Spring” by the poet Tao Yuanming, a poor fisherman – “the master of the nets” – discovers a secluded country behind a deep cave, the residents of which lead a simple but happy life, who know no resentment, intrigue or war. When the Minister of War Shi Zhengzhi chose the name for his garden, he probably hoped that it would be just such a refuge for him – a place of tranquility and beauty.