Chinese Garden - Design of The Classical Garden

Design of The Classical Garden

A Chinese garden was not meant to be seen all at once; the plan of a classical Chinese garden presented the visitor with a series of perfectly composed and framed glimpses of scenery; a view of a pond, or of a rock, or a grove of bamboo, a blossoming tree, or a view of a distant mountain peak or a pagoda. The 16th century Chinese writer and philosopher Ji Cheng instructed instructed garden builders to "hide the vulgar and the common as far as the eye can see, and include the excellent and the splendid."

Some early Western visitors to the Imperial Chinese gardens felt they were chaotic, crowded with buildings in different styles, without any seeming order. But the Jesuit priest Jean Denis Attiret, who lived in China from 1739 and was a court painter for the Chinese Emperor, observed there was a "beautiful disorder, an anti-symmetry" in the Chinese garden. "One admires the art with which this irregularity is carried out. Everything is in good taste, and so well arranged, that there is not a single view from which all the beauty can be seen; you have to see it piece by piece."

Chinese classical gardens varied greatly in size. The largest garden in Suzhou, the Humble Administrator's Garden, was a little over ten hectares in area, with one fifth of the garden occupied by the pond. But they did not have to be large. Ji Cheng built a garden for Wu Youyu, the Treasurer of the Jinling Province, that was just under one hectare in size, and the tour of the garden was only four hundred steps long from the entrance to the last viewing point, but Wu Youyu said it contained all the marvels of the province in a single place.

The classical garden was surrounded by a wall, usually painted white, which served as a pure backdrop for the flowers and trees. A pond of water was usually located in the center. Many structures, large and small, were arranged around the pond. In the garden described by Ji Cheng above, the structures occupied two-thirds of the hectare, while the garden itself occupied the other third. In a scholar garden the central building was usually a library or study, connected by galleries with other pavilions which served as observation points of the garden features. These structures also helped divide the garden into individual scenes or landscapes. The other essential elements of a scholar garden were plants, trees, and rocks, all carefully composed into small perfect landscapes. Scholar gardens also often used what was called "borrowed" scenery (借景 jiejing) ; where unexpected views of scenery outside the garden, such as mountain peaks, seemed to be an extension of the garden itself.

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