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Archive for the ‘Chinese Gardens’ Category

Gardens of Pleasure in Prosperous Times

In the Year 581, the establishment of the Sui Dynasty (581-618 A.D.) put an end to the long period of divided rule in China. 37 years later, the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) overthrew the Sui Dynasty, and set up a great unified feudal empire. Because the Tang rulers adopted a policy of developing production and stabilizing society as a whole, agriculture developed, the economy flourished and the whole political situation was stabilized. China became prosperous as never before.

If the love of natural surroundings of the Wei and Jin period reflected the disillusionment with politics and the need to escape from reality, then, on the contrary, the same love of natural-style gardens of the Tang Dynasty was based on the need for recreation and pleasure of the flourishing rule at that time. The imperial gardens of the Tang Dynasty were mainly concentrated in the city proper and suburban areas of the capital Chang’an and the eastern capital Luoyang. The largest of these gardens was Jin Yuan (the Forbidden Garden) situated on the north side of Chang’an. In the Annals of Chinese History, it is recorded that it was 27 li (13.5 km) in width from east to west, and 23 li (11.5 km) in length from north to south, and covered a very large area. Inside the garden could be found 24 smaller gardens and clusters of structures, such as the Wangchun (Looking to Spring) Palace, Yuzao (Fish and Weed) Palace, Jiuqu (Nine Turns) Pond, and Fangya (Letting out the Duck) Pavilion.

Jin Yuan was the main place where royalty would come to enjoy the scenery and for hunting. Every year, the emperor would come with the empress, his concubines and his subjects for hunting, feasting, singing and dancing, games, soccer, cock-fights, and rope-pulling contests. These are just some examples of the various games and entertainment in the gardens. Polo was especially popular among the Tang Dynasty emperors, at which they became very adept. During the mid-Tang period, a Royal Art Institute was set up in the Liyuan (Pear) Garden at the southern tip of the Jinyuan Gardens. The emperor of that time Li Longji (date of rule 712-755 A.D.) personally taught music at the Institute.

The palace gardens of the Tang Dynasty had “three inners”(the Daming Palace, the Taiji Palace and the Xingqing Palace), and “three gardens” (the Dongnei Garden, the Xinei Garden and the Jinyuan Garden). The so-called “three inners” were primarily a combination of palaces and gardens. The frontal part of the Daming Palace was the palace area and the north of this area was the garden area. In the center of the Daming Palace area was the Taiyechi, a pond of vast dimensions, which was situated on the same central axis as the Xuande (Advocate Virtue) Palace and the Zichen (Royal Purple) Palace. This way of situating the palace area in the front and the garden area in the rear became the basic layout of royal palace of future times.

The Quyang Pond at the south-east corner of Chang’an was also known as Playing Chess behind Layers of Screen painted by a royal painter in the 10th century. From this painting, later generations could get to know the furnishings of the imperial living room Playing Chess behind Layers of Screen painted by a royal painter in the 10th century. From this painting, later generations could get to know the furnishings of the imperial living room the Furong or Hibiscus Garden. This garden was originally reserved for the pleasure of the royalty, and not until later was it opened to the public. The banks of the pond are full of curves and inlets, with different styles of pavilions built on the edges of the bank, and trees and flowers of all sorts planted there to please the eye, making it one of the most beautiful scenic garden spots in Chang’an. Every year on the third day of the third month and the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, the garden is decorated with festive lanterns and colored streamers, music is played throughout the garden, and merchants and vendors selling all manner of goods set up stalls along the banks. The emperor comes with the empress and his concubines to enjoy themselves in the garden, and he lays out feasts for all the officials. On these days, ordinary folk are also admitted to the garden, which makes it a medley of crowds, color and joy. This practice of making the imperial gardens into places where common people can also enjoy themselves together with the royalty and aristocrats is very rarely found throughout the whole history of Chinese feudal society.

It is noteworthy that the flourishing of culture and art during the Tang Dynasty created a very favorable cultural background for the development of private gardens. The depictions of natural scenery in Tang period poetry became not only more numerous, but also increasingly mature. The traditional Chinese scenic paintings also not only gradually matured but became an independent school of painting in itself, and many renowned scenic painters of that period became famous in later times. The flourishing of poetry and painting depicting scenery, together with its creative methods, exerted an important influence on the designing and building of gardens of that period.

To take the Wangchuan Garden Residence built near Chang’an by the famous poet and painter Wang Wei as an example-he built this garden in a natural valley endowed with hills, forests and lakes. This garden has 20 scenic spots. The scenery is extremely picturesque, and inspired a good number of his better-known poems. Although this garden is no longer in existence, people of later times still continue to sing its praises. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (reign from 1736 to 1795) even built a “Beiyuan Mountain Village” scenic spot in the Yuanmingyuan Garden in imitation of Wang Wei’s Wangchuan Garden Residence.

The literati of prosperous times seemed to possess especially high spirits. The famous poet Bai Juyi personally designed and constructed a garden residence in Luoyang City, and frequently would invite his friends in the literary circle to come there for drinking, singing, conversing on literature and poetry and enjoying themselves in general. Every autumn when the weather became cool and pleasant, he would come to the garden to drink and play musical instruments. After he got drunk, he would have young boys construe to play music for him in the pavilions on the pond, and the sound of the music would mingle with the mist of the lake. This poet, also built a so-called “Lushan Mountain Grass House” on the north of the Xianglu (Incent Burner) Peak of Lushan Mountian in Jiangxi Province. The walls were made of mud, and the window frames of wood, with paper for window panes, and hanging bamboo shades and curtains. No paint at all was used, giving it a natural and simple style. Inside the garden could be found tall ancient pines and cool bamboo forests. The mountain rocks were ingeniously arranged, and the pleasant sound of the waterfall could be heard at all times.

Gardens built by men of letters reflected their general philosophy of life. Their style was mainly clear, fresh, simple and elegant, as compared with the extravagance and luxury of the imperial gardens and the splendor and ornate style of the privately owned gardens of the officials. The development of the gardens of the intelligentsia during the Tang period laid a solid foundation for the rules by which such gardens were built in later times.

Fully Enjoying the Beauty of Nature

The ancient painting named Guo Country Ladies’ Field Trip in Spring recreates the happy life when Tang Dynasty’s noble ladies played and enjoyed themselves freely in outskirts of the The ancient painting named Guo Country Ladies’ Field Trip in Spring recreates the happy life when Tang Dynasty’s noble ladies played and enjoyed themselves freely in outskirts of the city” width=”90″ height=”67″ />Beginning from the fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty (26-220 A.D.), China entered a period of divided rule and constant fighting among smaller states, which lasted around 300 years. This was a time of great social upheaval. The rise and fall of different states and the succession of dynasties was like a constantly shifting lantern show before the eyes. Normal production was disturbed, the economy came to a standstill, and the population decreased sharply. On the other hand, in the area of ideology, the tradition of Confucianism as the only ruling thought was challenged. Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism contended for the upper hand on the ideological scene which became much livelier. The unique “Wei and Jin Style” which we can find in the history of China’s culture pertains to the cultural and spiritual characteristics of this period.

During the Wei-Jin and South-North Dynasties (220-586 A.D.), sociopolitical contradictions were very sharp. The social strata of the officials became very disillusioned with their future as officials and with life in general. This gave rise to a philosophy of seeking peace and quiet and doing nothing that goes against nature. It became fashionable to talk idly of metaphysics and other mysterious matters. What is more, in 67 A.D. Buddhism was introduced into China and this exerted a profound influence on the thought of that time. The officials of the time combined the Buddhist and the Taoist escapist altitude, and chose a lifestyle of distancing themselves from the centers of political power, losing themselves in the beauty of nature, and giving no regard to their personal appearance, so that they could both keep out of political trouble and pride themselves in the cultivation of personality. At the same time, a new form of production organization began to develop rapidly from out of the traditional Chinese feudal economic structures-the plantation. This type of self-sufficient economic structure ensured the independence and creativity of the official strata in the realm of ideology and culture.

diflucan buy align=”left”>In addition to fully enjoying walking among natural scenic spots, they also tried to emulate this scenery of forests and hills on the grounds of their own residences to create an idyllic and pastoral atmosphere of nature in the wild that they could enjoy at will. Thus the early stage of the private garden painters- Lucha, Wang Wei`s villa in WangchuanThe famous Tang Dynasty garden recreated by the Qing Dynasty painters- Lucha, Wang Wei`s villa in Wangchuan appeared on the scene. The distinguishing feature of this type of garden was that natural things like hills bodies of water such as ponds and streams, and vegetation made up the main structure of this garden landscaping system. Due to the limitations of geographic, climatic and economic conditions, the practice of using man-made rocks made from materials obtained nearby took place of the practice of building gardens next to large mountains of the Qin and Han dynasties. The plants most commonly used were pine, fir and bamboo. These were selected because they are green all year round, and are also tall and straight, which was used to symbolize the upright character of the owner. In the private gardens of that time, the spatial relationship of objects and plants became even more intricate and exquisite.

Using Luoyang, the capital of Northern Wei (386-584 A.D.) as an example, there were 220 small residential districts and large numbers of private gardens were built within these districts. According to records of the “Luoyang Jialan Records”, at that time Luoyang was rich in hydraulic resources. To take the gardens of the high-ranking official Zhang Lun as example, in his garden you could find lawns and trees and he tried to emulate nature in the wild. There was an imitation of the famous Jing Yang Mountain, the trees were tall enough to block out the heat of the sun, and vines swayed gently with the breezes. We can see that people of that time already knew how to duplicate natural scenery in their own homes. In these gardens not only were there magnificent buildings, but these were ingeniously combined with natural hills and waters to form complete landscapes. This method of utilizing hills and waters in garden construction, and emphasizing the elegance and details of the structure of the buildings, painstakingly selecting trees and plants, and cutting out winding paths leading to beautiful shaded places were exemplary models that garden builders of later times all liked to imitate.

The imperial gardens of this time were primarily built inside the palace grounds of the capital of each state. To take the Three Kingdom Period (220-280 A.D.) as an example, in the capital of the Wei Kingdom Ye Cheng City (the northern part of Anyang, Henan Province today) was built the Bronze Peacock Garden. In Luoyang of Northern Wei was built the Hualin Gardens and the Xiyou Gardens, and in the capital of the Southern Dynasty Jiankang (today Nanjing of Jiangsu Province) was built the Hualin Gardens and the Leyou Gardens. These imperial gardens were comprised mainly of hills, ponds and streams, all kinds of vegetation, and different types of pavilions. They no longer possessed the functions of hunting and merrymaking as imperial gardens of earlier periods did. In the gardens were built small-scale hills symbolic of the five greater mountains, as well as lakes and islets. The buildings and structures were adorned with carved or painted rafters, and had protruding eaves or roof corners that were tilted upwards. Some were built directly on the water, and some were connected by long corridors or bridges. All of this served to enhance the majestic and extravagant style of the imperial gardens built in the midst of natural surroundings.

Simultaneous with the development of the art of garden building during this period was the flourishing of the culture of the literati (intelligentsia and ranked officials) including poetry and literature, calligraphy, painting, music, culinary arts and clothing and jewelry. All of the above was developed to an unprecedented level. People of later times spoke highly of Chinese classic gardens as blending natural scenery together with poetry, calligraphy and painting, and this style of garden construction actually began from this period.

Nine Dragon Pond in Lintong, Shaanxi province - scenic garden built on the original site of Tang Dynasty temporary palaceTogether with the building of Buddhist and Taoist temples all over China was the emergence of many temple gardens, which gradually merged together with imperial gardens and privately-owned gardens. The imperial gardens of this period no longer possessed the splendor of gardens of the Qin and Han period. Chinese gardens beginning from this period discarded the grandiose and large-scale style of earlier periods, and began to develop the small and exquisite style of later times.

The Symbol of a Unified State

Potrait of Qinshihuang, the first emperor in China's history

Portrait of Qinshihuang, the first emperor in China’s history

In ancient times it was the traditional belief that the powers of the rulers were bestowed on by the gods. Since the power of the emperor came from heaven, the emperor was known as the “Son of Heaven”. The Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.-206 B.C.) overthrew six smaller states and unified the country, and was later superseded by an even stronger totalitarian Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.).This was the beginning of a consecutive 2,000 years of a unified state with centralized power. The establishment of this form of state government marks a turning point in Chinese history. The influence of this historic period on the art of gardening was also deep and profound.

From historic annals dating from the Qin and Han periods, we can see many records of large-scale architectural building and construction of gardens during this period which roughly covered 400 years. In the year 221 B.C., the Emperor Qinshihuang unified the country and set up a vast feudal empire. He ordered 200 thousand rich families to move to Xianyang in Shaanxi Province, in order to centralize manpower and resources so he could implement his ambitious construction plan. The Qin Dynasty palace is of astoundingly large proportions. The most famous Qin Dynasty palace is the E-fang Palace which was built south of the capital of that time, Xianyang. In the “Annals of History-Section on Emperor Qinshihuang”,“is wri????en the following passage-”…the front palace of E-fang is 500 paces from east to west, and 50 zhang (note: one zhang equals 10 Chinese feet) from south to north. It is large enough to hold 10 thousand people, and tall enough to erect a 5-zhang banner.

Emperor Qinshihuang used the Xianyang Palace as the center, and around in a radius extending for scores of miles planned to build over 200 palaces and chambers, which were all to be mutually connected by passageways above the ground. This made this whole region both his palace area and his garden area. This extravagant construction plan was never completed. The Qin Dynasty only lasted 13 years, and the dream of Emperor Qinshihuang of building an empire that would last down the ages went up in flames together with the fire that razed E-fang Palace. It is said that the fire raged for 3 months before E-fang Palace was finally burnt down to the ground.

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Hunting and Communion with the Spirits

The classic Chinese gardens originate from very ancient times. According to records dating way back to the 21st Century B.C., there was already the practice of raising and breeding wild animals for the pleasure of the kings and monarchs’ loving of hunting,and these enclosures were known as “You”. The kings of the Shang Dynasty (circa.16th-11th Century B.C.) liked to build high platforms inside the “You” so that they could observe the skies and pay their respects to the gods. These were called Lingtai or spiritual platforms.

The platforms were built out of earth, and were of incredibly large size. In “Xinxu Cishe” it says-”King Zhou built the deer platform, which took him seven years to complete. It had a length of 3 li (note: 1 km=2 li) and a height of 1,000 chi (note: 1 meter = 3 chi), so that he could observe the clouds and rain at his pleasure.”This description seems a bit exaggerated, but it is a fact that platforms built in the Shang Dynasty were truly very large and high.

Serving as places for hunting and communion with the spirits were the earliest two functions of the Chinese garden. At the end of the Spring and Autumn Period (722 B.C.-481 B.C.), dukes and princes became very numerous, and all the small states began to compete in building palaces, chambers, gardens and platforms. An age of extravagance and hedonism was ushered in, and a change in the nature of the platforms, pavilions and gardens began to take place.

Platforms which excluded common people in ancient times did not The famed Guilin landscape has enchanted numerous posts and scholars for thousends of yearsThe famed Guilin landscape has enchanted numerous posts and scholars for thousends of years symbolize the sacred and unattainable anymore. As the form of the state gradually matured, and social activities such as rites, politics and daily life were increasingly clarified, the platforms in gardens did not strive for size and height anymore, but began to form a close structural connection with the surrounding structures. The fog of primitive religion began to slowly disperse, which revealed the innate beauty of the scenery of nature. People began to move away from the blind worship of supernatural powers, and learned to really enjoy and understand the beauty that nature has bestowed us.