Chinese classical gardens
Urban-nature remains a distinct phenomenon in the drive to achieve green infrastructure in contemporary society. An image of growing and developing cities is often connoted with the shrinking and slow disappearance of urban nature. The issue of climate change continues to spearhead the incentive to integrate biodiversity into the development of urban areas. Biodiversity and water are inter-connected; both underpin the well-being of humankind with significant impact on the social, ecological and economic. The importance of sustainable ecosystems cannot be overcome as they act as a lifeline for the well-being of humanity regarding the provision of food and water, climate change adaptation, flood management and water among others. Also, ecosystems can act as a source of culture and cultural heritage with other forms of nature insinuating religious implications. However, it can be noted that it remains integral to the development of cities the creation of sustainable, cost-effective natural infrastructures to cities with one formidable example being, the Chinese classical gardens. The development of garden systems holds an aesthetic appeal, mitigation of climate disasters with distinct projects forming part of national and city heritage.
Harini Nagendra highlights the revalorization of urban nature as being both an emerging opportunity for change and a potential recipe for disaster(Nagendra). Urban-nature as aforementioned has become euphoric with the dramatic global objective of going green lacking in artistic spirit. Urban-nature change has taken a front row seat in mitigating the climate changes observed world-over. Garden systems have become popular with real estate developers taking advantage of the opportunity by revaluing properties with garden sites thus avoiding disaster for property buyers. Cities grow due to the immigration of individuals from rural areas to the cities in search of jobs, education, and other opportunities. The growth of cities suggests altered indigenous landscape, the chemistry of soils, climate, hydrology and land cover(Palmer). The alleviating populations in the cities have an adverse impact on the physical environment through pollution and rapid industrial developments. Therefore, it is evident that urban environments are constantly changing and hence, an urban-nature change deemed inevitable. The paper discusses or describes the cultural implications and aesthetic appeal accrued by these historical gardens that form part of the world heritage sites according to UNESCO(Huadong 89). The contemporary cities can be said to be an embodiment of the complex, historical evolution of knowledge, desires, and technology. Chinese classical garden systems depict the scenario of the temporal change underlined by evolving aspirations and mediated by the existing technologies and social structures.
The classical Chinese gardens of Suzhou consists of the Lingering Garden, the Master-of-Nets, Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, Canglang Pavilion, Lion Forest Garden, Garden of Cultivation, Couple’s Garden Retreat, Retreat and Reflection Garden among others. The classical gardens are full of history as they have been in existence for almost three thousand years. The miniature landscapes form part of the classical Chinese garden designs that have had an influence globally. The incentive behind the building or the development of the gardens was diverse. The gardens existed for the poets, administrators, emperors, soldiers, government officials and traders. The scrupulous design can be related to other cherished artistic masterpieces. In essence, the gardens dating back to the 11-19th century form part of the historical and philosophical changes accrued to the various historical Chinese dynasties and eras. David Goode suggests the Chinese classical garden as a template for an urban ethos that accentuates respect towards nature(Goode). It stands different from the current garden systems by developers blinded by the incentive to make a profit rather than create a work of art.
Suzhou is one of the oldest cities in the world located near the Taihu Lake that existed as the capital of the Wu(Ferguson 53). The city represented the cultural and economic hub of South China and hence, attracted many masters and wealthy merchants to the location(Ferguson 53). The earliest Chinese gardens constituted parks and belonged to the kings and nobles in Chinese traditional societies mostly in the Han dynasty. The imperial gardens were a combination of botanical and zoological features. Political instability characterized the Ming dynasty period and for this fact, government officials erected gardens as a form of escape from the realities by connecting with nature and concentrating on literature. According to David Goode, classical gardens started to flourish in the Golden Chinese ages with the Tang Dynasty being the onset (Goode). He continues to reiterate that one of the greatest influencers of Chinese classical gardens was a poet Wang Wei, who was also commonly known for his landscape paintings and garden- Wang Chuan Villa(Goode). In the Ming dynasty, there existed the famous gardens alluded in the paper. One of the gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lingering Gardens in Suzhou.
From the brief history, it is evident that the Chinese classical gardens form part of China’s traditional culture and cultural practice. They connote to a Chinese artistic heritage created to connect the metaphysical to nature. A place of splendid beauty and tranquility where the mind can think and obsess on nature and add on artistic value. The gardens can be termed as a unique cultural phenomenon and a development of civilization. Individuals such as Wang Wei accredited to the creation of a landmark garden were motivated both by the material construction and cultural view. In the gardens was where the entity formulated his poems and refreshed his individual spirit.
The design of the Chinese classical gardens can be termed a spectacle. The works of creation constitute miniature landscapes that were not meant to unravel at once but tease the spectator to the diverse themes they insinuated. The settings and scenic views were developed in parts with every scene well-orchestrated. Some of the gardens purposely include objects that are not physically in the gardens to accentuate the view. Most of the gardens are characterized by winding or spiral paths, decorative rocks, flora, trees, flowers, water catchments e.g. ponds and are enclosed by a white wall. The randomness or irregularity of the placements is a means to add to the aesthetic appeal, in fact, beautiful disorder. The Chinese gardens were enclosed with white walls more so because white as a color and background stresses the beauty generated by the flora found in these gardens. The walls also seclude the gardens from interference from other objects that do not form part of the garden. The Chinese classical gardens did not have to be large only well-arranged. In the gardens, there are also buildings that depended on the nature of the developer. A scholar would build a library in the gardens while an emperor a pavilion or villa where he can get away from everything.
The design of the Chinese classical gardens represents ecological transformations that were grown and well-arranged to a perfect harmony. The architecture of the gardens include structures such as ceremony halls that are located at the entrance of the gardens and utilized for family celebrations. The pavilion flowers were put close to the residential homes with pavilions with movable walls designed to offer panoramic views of the gardens. The architecture of the gardens also consisted of some form of rocks or construction of miniature Mountains. The presence of the rocks has a cultural connotation of representing stability according to Chinese culture as will be discussed in-depth later on in the paper. The water elements are distinct, for example, in the Humble Administrator’s garden of about ten acres a fifth of the land contains the pond located at the center. The multiplicity of architecture- pavilions- is handed poetic names that reveal in part what they offer their visitors, for example, in the Lingering Garden one of the pavilion is named The Peak- Worshipping pavilion. The water elements also represent a symbolic presence in the gardens as the Chinese society accrues water to symbolizing communication and dreams.
Culture and Heritage
Ferguson denotes that Beijing is known as a center of governance and government, Shanghai an epitome of trade and commerce, however, in between the two famous Chinese cities exists Suzhou, an urban center that found a balance between business and cultural life(Ferguson 52). The history of the Chinese classical gardens and the representations constituted in them in the form of pavilions, rocks and water elements among others denote a link between developments of garden systems with meaning. It suggests a relationship between the design and the cultural heritage indicated in an urban center. The Chinese classical gardens can be used to illustrate the development of civilization in the society and pinpoint historical events, issues, and agendas. Therefore, highlighting the evolution of architecture dictated by sociological changes. The Suzhou, an urban economic center of Southern China, boasts suffices to depict an urbannature relationship whereby, inhabitants seek to balance the realities of the city with the serenity of nature. The poetic classical Chinese gardens are for this reason classical examples of garden systems that portray urban-nature changes.
The gardens can be said to carry much information accrued to the Chinese transformed culture. The Ming and Qing dynasties can mostly be accreditedto the development of landscape painting architecture(Ferguson 55). The inhabitants of the Suzhou ranging from the retired government officials to scholars and poets lived in pursuit of creating beautiful living environments. The Chinese garden system template was developed by intellectuals and painters. As aforementioned, the classical gardens of Suzhou not only present credible works of art but their features also include information on the history, culture, philosophy and science. The myriad of features such as the garden’s names, decorations, rocks, water elements, flowers, and trees contain the embodiments of philosophical notions and ideologies of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. The garden systems are a combination of intellect, poetry, artistry, and culture.
The vegetation or ecology hinted different representations with fossil trees integral to the working and the aesthetic appeal of the gardens. The depiction of rocks as earlier stated are a representation of Confucianism that hints rocks to stability with the water elements a show of dreams and communication.
The classical gardens of Suzhou can be said to portray and influenced other cities to the creation of gardens such as the ZEN gardens in Japan (Ferguson 64). The city has existed for about two millennia with its greatest historical manuscripts alluding to the beauty of the gardens. The Pingjiang map an ancient relic of the city implicitly depicts the locations of the beauty spots with names and places. The mentioned example implies that the significance of garden systems or culture does not only lie in the physical but also creates a character for the urban areas in our case, the city of Suzhou. Urban-nature changes are inevitable. However, the Chinese classical gardens are characterized by natural sceneries that have remained constant and impair the ecological environments of the country. For example, the Canglang Pavilion built in the Song dynasty still is scenery that features flourishing grass and trees. The rocks in the Mountain Villa constructed in the Qing dynasty imitate the Yang hill that is located west of the city of Suzhou.
The architectural spaces in the form of the Chinese classical garden systems, social custom and lifestyle of the residents of the city are clearly seen. The high-level lifestyle of individuals in the city had a broad influence with custom artifacts such as furnishings and dishes included in the gardens. The gardens were used for exhibiting folk-custom and also showed the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the city that was largely picked up by another folk with its influence spreading even to the noble life. It is no doubt that the classic gardens carry with them cultural memories and remain as marks in the profound national heritage and culture of China. They are a true representation of artistic and intellectual conception derived from nature but yet surpass it. The cultural meaning of garden systems can be vital in an urban area as it can be utilized to exhibit the lifestyle, history and create a heritage for the inhabitants in which others can emulate.
The Chinese Classical Gardens can be ascribed to be an epitome of urban landscapes. The main or primary notion directed at establishing ‘green cities’ does not only have to hold aesthetic appeal and climate adaptation but can extend to the creation of relationships between the natural environment and humans. The Suzhou classical gardens represent the direction of urban construction, and such eco-systems mean the creation of sustainable urban development. It also portrays the ideal living environments. With the growing value accrued to green cities, economies and living the Suzhou gardens are a representation of high degree ecological settings.
Urban construction and landscaping with a meaning prove essential. The Suzhou gardens are a show of harmony and peace between man and ecology. In modern day urban development, there exists a conflict between people and nature in a myriad of ways. The classical gardens are harmonious and a reflection of the Chinese culture in both aesthetic appeal and philosophy(Zhou 167). They represent the universal values of humanity. The importance of garden systems in the contemporary societies holds having the opportunity to enjoy the abundance of ecological products and lessen the pollution of the environment. In retrospect, it is the return to nature and its formations. The small spaces can pick up a global view. The world can be articulated in the spaces. The gardens are cultural marks and although small in size with the largest currently about five acres are a representation of the world in miniature form. Architects often utilize good backgrounds and contrast dependent on the local conditions.
Vegetation has a significant value in gardens. The choice of vegetation to use in a garden is also important and should be pre-determined. The existence of fossil vegetation in the Chinese classical gardens is one of the contributing factors of its accreditation as a world heritage (Huadong 89). The Suzhou gardens contain ecological conceptualizations that form an ancient re-creation. The gardens exist both as nature and art. They are also a show of the deep national culture of the Chinese people. The link between culture and heritage and its conception through landscapes is evidenced. The Suzhou gardens depict one such combination.
The value of going green does not end with constructing ecological spaces for aesthetic appeal and lessening the poisonous products of industrial development only but extends to forming cultural markers and recreation of eco-systems that present harmony between humanity and nature. The socio-ecological changes dictate the direction of architectural designs and conceptions. The Suzhou classical gardens evolved through the dynasty to their current recreated forms. The gardens gave the city its identity and from it, other individuals emulated the lifestyle forwarded by the gardens. The doctrines of Confucianism in China affected most dimensions of Chinese life with Daoism also assuming an influence such that the two principals were rendered conflicting. Confucianism recommended utilization of geometric for such as circles, squares or straight lines with Daiost influences being manifested through organic shapes to free people’s imagination and creativity However, the gardens pick on the conflicting ideologies integrating them in its design and achieving a harmony. David Goode denotes that we should perhaps conform to a new kind of that does not only serve as a calm location for the urban people but something that entails a greater significance (Goode).
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Zhou, HanMin. Ten Years: Expo 2010 & amp; Me. New York: World Scientific, 2013. Book.
Pictures of the Suzhou Gardens