The Great Gardens of China by Fang Xiaofeng – Excerpt

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The gardena place for refined pleasure and spiritual relaxationhas its roots in ancient China. Western travelers from Marco Polo onward marveled at the intricacy, the elaborate buildings, the subtle design, and the assured use of plants, water, and natural materials in Chinese landscapes. The Great Gardens of China shows, through stunning original photography and cogent text, both the visual splendors of Chinas finest gardens and explains their ideas and techniques in accessible terms. Now every gardener, architect, or designer can understand Chinas garden heritage and be inspired to use it to dramatic effect.Beginning with an introduction to Chinese beliefs and the historical development of garden design, this book discusses the basic aesthetics and landscaping elementsarchitecture, rock stacking, waterscapes, plants, borders, and scenic routesused in Chinese garden design. The author, an expert in the history and theory of Chinese and international gardens, also describes specific gardens, from famed world cultural heritage sites like the Summer Palace in Beijing and the gardens of SuzhouLion Grove, Humble Administrators, Lingering, and Master-of-Nets Gardensto the lesser known. The Great Gardens of China serves as a compendiumin text and illustrationof all facets of the Chinese garden. This book allows a total immersion in the enticing art of Chinese classical gardens . . . The book has helped me greatly to understand how Chinese gardens work and how to borrow from them for our own gardens in the West. I believe that Chinese gardens will strongly influence global garden design once their unique versatility is properly understood.Janet Wheatcroft, Craigieburn Garden & Nursery, ScotlandTo read more about The Great Gardens of China or Fang Xiaofeng please visit Crown Publishing Group at


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CONTENTSFOREWORD ORIGIN AND EVOLUTIONThe Chinese World View The Historical Development of Garden Design 007 009 010 019

AESTHETICS AND LANDSCAPINGThe Aesthetic Schemata Landscaping Elements Architecture Rock Stacking Waterscapes Plants Borders Scenic Route

047 048 056 058 086 102 116 124 138

HIGHLIGHTS OF CLASSICAL CHINESE GARDENSThe Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City 14 The Peace and Longevity Palace Garden in the Forbidden City 15 Beihai Park The Summer Palace The Chengde Summer Resort The Humble Administrators Garden 18 The Master of Nets Garden The Lingering Garden The Surging Waves Pavilion The Lion Grove Garden The Geyuan Garden The Zhanyuan Garden The Jichang Garden The Yuyuan Garden The Keyuan Garden The Xiling Seal Engravers Society 24

145 7 3 157 165 175 3 191 197 205 211 219 225 231 237 245 9



FOREWORDChinese gardens are often considered intellectual abstractions, too rareed to be understood by the ordinary gardener. For me, however, they are a set of brilliant solutions to almost every major garden problem. There are formal rules, but these can be broken; there are a variety of styles, but these can be adapted on a mix-and-match basis; and although most of the gardens seem impossibly old, they are constantly renewing themselves. They have also deeply inuenced the most avant garde of garden designers. Near my very traditional garden in southwest Scotland is The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. This extraordinary project has been created over the last twenty years by Charles Jencks and Maggie Keswick Jencks. Maggie knew China well, was entranced by Chinese gardens, and did a great deal to bring them and their inherent philosophy to the West. It was a great privilege to know her briey before her untimely death. Although the garden she and her husband made together is based on science and mathematics, it took its original inspiration from Chinese gardens, and their spirit runs through this wonderful work of art. Even the rather whimsical name ts the Chinese mold. Take too, the incomparable Chinese-American architect, I. M. Pei. He spent his childhood in one of the most glorious of Chinas classical gardens, the Lion Grove in Suzhou: it was his family home until he left for Harvard University in 1935. Almost seventy years later he designed the deeply satisfying Suzhou Museum next door to the old family home. It is a building where there is no division between interior and exterior. There is no feeling of inside and outside; it is not a garden with a museum or a museum with a garden. As in the best Chinese gardens, buildings and garden meld into one. I. M. Pei oversaw every step of the creation of the museum gardens, even choosing individual trees. Although the end result is entirely classical in concept, consisting of rock, water, trees, bamboo, and paving, it is at the same time utterly modern. Unlike some re-creations of Chinese gardens it never descends into pastiche. It is rather a classical Chinese garden for a new century. Janet Wheatcroft Craigieburn Garden Moat Scotland I have written about these two new gardens at some length because to Western eyes, China almost seems to have an excess of history. And once things are consigned to history, they seem to lose any relevance for the here and now. I feel very strongly that despite their great age, these gardens should not be looked upon as museum pieces. In order to appreciate them, we may have to adjust our attitudes and lose a few of our preconceptions about what a garden should be, but surely new perspectives are always a good idea. We may not like or understand everything that we see, but thats ne tooI dont like or understand everything I see in Western gardens either. I am writing this sitting in the Xiling Seal Engravers Society by the West Lake in Hangzhou, China, having visited some of the gardens featured in this book. It was wonderful to experience the gardens I had always dreamed of seeing, but it was not without its frustrating side. I longed to sit alone in a waterside pavilion in the moonlight listening to the breeze in the bamboo and the splash of a rising sh. Or to watch the lotus owers unfurl in the cool of early morning when everything is fresh with dew. Sadly, the modern visitors experience does not allow for such indulgences. But this book allows a less frustrating experience. It is a total immersion in the enticing art of Chinese classical gardens. The pictures capture the essence of each garden, and in writing the captions I have tried to include both what I could see, and also that extra element that the photographer has miraculously caught. The author of the text, Fang Xiaofeng, has helped me greatly to understand how Chinese gardens work and how to borrow from them for our own gardens in the West. In fact, you dont even need to have a garden at all. A pot of bamboo casting its shadow on a white wall can be as potent as a lakeside pavilion.


The Historical Development of Garden DesignOriginsChinese gardens may be traced back to two origins: yuanyou and lingtai. In ancient China, the yuanyou was a sort of hunting ground, part wild and part cultivated. Within these spaces, Chinese emperors often built lingtai, massive towering platforms, like the European Tower of Babel, as a means to get closer to heaven and to communicate with deities (Fig. 9). There they made ritual oerings to the gods. Lingtai located within a yuanyou provided a ne example of how man-made architecture could be integrated into the natural environment, which would become the de ning element of the Chinese garden. However, these proto-gardens were not intended for pleasure or entertainment, but served a strictly practical purpose. Most people identify the emperor with a constant indulgence in pleasure, and so, in the Chinese view, imperial entertainments should be the most sublime in the world; many Chinese emperors were indeed highly inventive in creating new forms of delight. The development of classical Chinese gardens had much to do with those early emperors who, overjoyed at their escape from the connement of palace walls, were entranced by the sights and sounds of the world beyond the palace. Properly constructed natural environments heightened the pleasure of walking in the garden. The panoramic view from a towering lingtai allowed people not only to communicate with heaven, but also to gaze down far into the distancea delightful experience indeed. The lingtai, according to historians, looked massive and imposing, particularly those built in the Spring and Autumn Period (770476 B.C.) and Warring States Period (476221 B.C.), when it was extremely fashionable to build towering terraces and platforms, and splendid palaces and chambers. (A similar idea in Western gardens was the mound, a ubiquitous feature of Elizabethan gardens in England. A winding path spiraled up around a man-made hill, allowing a panoramic view of the garden below.) At that time, most palaces and gardens of the feudal10

princes were named after, and centered around, the high platforms, the landmarks that rose above the surrounding buildings. Among those platforms, Zhanghua, in todays Hubei province, was the grandest of these constructions. The palace of King Ling of Chu (540529 B.C.), built in 535 B.C., Zhanghua was the rst large-scale complex of terraced pavilions in ancient China. The tallest platforms (four dierent levels) once rose three stories to a height of 30 meters (98 feet). All visitors, it is said, would have to stop and rest three times before getting to the top, hence the name the Three-Rests Platform. Today, only the earth terraces remain. Obviously, the earliest gardens were luxuries that few people could aord (Fig. 10). Most yuanyou were extremely large, usually stretching for miles. Lingtai, the means by which emperors and princes could make contact with heaven, were limited to them alone. Inside the yuanyou, the earliest gardens began to take shape; as time went on pleasure and entertainment displaced the religious elements, as the forms and functions of architecture within the garden became more and more varied. Over time the increasing number and variety of buildings and other structures provided new levels of comfort and stimulation to the imperial aesthetes. Perhaps the easiest way to understand these developments is chronologically.

Fig. 9 The Green Mountains by Anonymous (Yuan Dynasty). Fig. 10 Carved stones showing a hunting scene or possibly a visit to a garden by a king (Eastern Han Dynasty).

019Origin and Evolution




079Aesthetics and Landscaping



Ornamental WindowsGarden architecture is an art that emphasizes ne details. Whether installed in walls or elsewhere, ornamental windows come in a variety of shapes and styles. In South China, landscapers pay particular attention to the close match between window patterns and the landscaped plants, and go to great lengths to make the window lattices blend in well with the shape of the twigs and branches around them.Fig. 67 A view into another world from the western half booth in the Humble Administrator's Garden in Suzhou. The circular doorway focuses on the vista like a camera lens. Figs. 6871 Chinese gardens use all sorts of beautiful windows, apertures, and delicate grilles to allow the spectator an enticing glimpse through the wall into the garden beyond.

WaterscapesPond Lake Stream River Gully Pool Fountain Boulders

Fig. 101 Tongli in Suzhou. Water is an indispensable element for a garden. Fig. 102 Lotus, duckweed, and

Water is the soul of all gardens (Fig. 101). It has many dierent roles and functions. It reects the sky, moon, owers, trees, and architectural structures to create a feeling of h