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Posts Tagged ‘Emperor Qianlong’

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.