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Classical Gardens in Suzhou

Suzhou is China's well-known "city of gardens", which tops all others in both the number and the artistry of gardens. Dating from Pi Jiang Garden of the Eastern Jing Dynasty, Suzhou's art of gardening has undergone a history of 1, 500 years. There were once over 200 gardens in the city, and 69 of them are still in good preservation today. The concept of Suzhou classical gardens has gone beyond the city limits, since it generally refers to all those private gardens built in the regions south of the Yangtze.

The Suzhou garden originated from the desire to retire from the strife of officialdom and to shun from worldly affairs. It seeks the return to Nature and the cultivation of temperament. In Taoist philosophy and the refinement of culture underlies the theme of the garden. Hills and waters, flowers and trees, pavilion, terraces, towers and halls constitute the basic garden elements, while the prominent tone is expressed in the dark colour of roof tiles, the grey of bricks, and chestnut brown of wooden pillars.

Suzhou garden is the Nature in nutshell, which enables one to "feel the charm of mountains, forest and springs without going out of the noisy surroundings of the town". Its human interest also lies in that the architect, philosopher, poet, painter, and common folk can all find in it the idea, the flavour, the lines and the rhythm. The unfolding of the garden vistas is the verisimilitude of a landscape scroll. When enjoying tea, poem, flower arrangement or playing musical instrument in the garden, one gains the most natural inspiration. To those tourists desiring to understand China, Suzhou garden is the best museum.

Local chronicles reveal that during its heyday, Suzhou city held nearly 200 gardens, topping the whole nation. Suzhou gardens have their own characteristics in layout, structure and style.The Four Classical Gardens of Suzhou, i.e. The Surging Waves Pavilion, The Lion Grove Garden, The Humble Administrator's Garden and The Lingering Garden represent the different styles of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The Surging Waves Pavilion

The Surging Waves Pavilion. First built in 1044 AD, the garden is the oldest of the existing Suzhou classical gardens. The outer part of the double corridor is over the canal's edge,while the other open to the central hill. Latticed windows on the wall supply the spatial link between the scenery inside and outside the garden, which is the typical device of "borrowed views".

The Lion Grove Garden

The Lion Grove Garden. Built in 1342 AD, the Garden is particularly well-known for the great quantities of its Taihu rocks that form an intriguing maze of mountain paths and varied scenes.

The Humble Administrator's Garden

The Humble Administrator's Garden. First laid out in 1509 AD, the garden's scenery is focused on a central pond with various buildings of pavilions, terraces, chambers and towers located by the water or on hillocks in a natural, unsophisticated, and appropriate composition. The garden is most representative of Chinese classical gardens in the Ming Dynasty.

The Humble Administrator's Garden covers 4 hectares in northeast Suzhou. It is the largest garden of the city and a typical example of the art of horticulture south of the Changjiang river.

It was laid out in 1513 by the censor Wang Xiancheng after his retirement from political life. He named the garden after an essay by Pan Yue of Jing Era---On Idle Living:" Building house and planting trees, watering garden and growing vegetables are the affairs (Zheng) of humble (Zhuo) people." After his death, his son gambled away the garden.

When Taiping troops occupied Suzhou in 1860, King Zhongwang picked this one and the neighboring buildings of the present Historical Museum as a residence and center for his political activities.

Three-fifths of its area is covered by magnificent ponds. All of the buildings are right next to the ponds, so that the garden seems to be floating on the water. The entire grounds can be divided into three parts: an eastern, a central and a western part. The central one is especially worth a visit. It centers around Yuanxiang Tang pavilion. Two artificial islands linked to each other in the lotus pond north of the pavilion are densely overgrown with bamboo plants and trees. In the western part, Sanshiliu Yuanyang Guan hall, the Hall of the Thirty-Six Mandarin Ducks, will attract the visitors' special interest. On the adjoining lake, one used to be able to see mandarin ducks, symbol of marital faithfulness. Today, some swim in a fenced-off part of the lake. West of the garden there is a noteworthy bonsai exhibition a a teahouse.

The Lingering Garden

The Lingering Garden. The garden was first laid out in 1522 AD. The whole space is artfully and appropriately handled,and arranged with exquisite petty scales. It is a typical garden of the Ming period with elegance and exquisiteness in the southern Yangtze Valley. The Cloud-Crowned Peak in it is a treasured piece of Taihu rock noted in the region.

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