Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Humble Administrator's Garden

As part of my experience as a 2007 Fulbright Scholar to China, I had the opportunity to visit several Chinese scholar gardens in Suzhou, China. The excerpt below is from my China Blog.

The Humble Administrator's Garden (Zhouzheng Yuan) was the second garden we visited in Suzhou. The garden is about 13 acres in size and was much larger than the Master-of-the-Nets garden we had visited earlier (it was also much more crowded). The garden had its origins as a scholar garden during the Tang Dynasty, was converted to a monastery garden for Dahong Temple during the Yuan Dynasty, and then In 1513 (Ming Dynasty) an administrator named Wang Xianchen appropriated the temple and converted it into a private villa with gardens. The design and layout of the garden was established by Wen Zhengming, a famous Ming artist. During the late Ming dynasty, the garden was divided up and remained neglected until the Qing Dynasty reigns of Emperors Shunzhi and Kangxi. At that time, the garden was extensively rebuilt with major modifications to its earlier plan. 

The garden today is one of the more popular of the Suzhou gardens, as the large crowds proved. There are numerous pavilions and bridges set among a maze of connected pools and islands. It consists of three major parts set about a large lake: the central part (Zhuozheng Yuan), the eastern part (Guitianyuanju - Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside), and a western part (the Supplementary Garden). A residential complex lies in the south of the garden.

In total, the garden contains 48 different buildings with 101 tablets; 40 stelae; 21 precious old trees; and over 700 Suzhou-style bonsai. It is safe to say that the "humble administrator" was somewhat less than humble. I, for one preferred the Master-of-the-Nets garden over this garden - it was smaller, and more refined and I believe truly reflected the spirit of a traditional Chinese scholar garden.

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