Aesthetics of the Garden

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Wang Tingyun (1151-1202 AD), Secluded Bamboo and Withered Tree            source


Designing a garden was seen as an intellectual pursuit, and often took a lifetime to perfect. The garden was an unfinished work constantly under revision and improvement. In its aesthetic goals and the symbolism employed, it was closely linked to activities such as Chinese painting.


To an individual of cultivated tastes, the scholars' gardens of the Ming represented a culmination of many values expressed in other art forms like painting, calligraphy, and poetry. Landscape painting in particular was very influential on garden design.


The aesthetic goals of a Chinese garden were not the same as those in typical Western gardens. Compare below two views of the same garden, the Garden of the Artless Official, located in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.


What seem to be the dominant elements or most distinctive features?


Are these different from parks or gardens with which you are more familiar?

A corner of the Garden of the Artless Official                                                            source


Bird's eye view of Garden of the Artless  Official                                                    source


An overall impression of tidiness and precision rarely strikes the visitor to a Chinese garden. Unlike its Japanese counterpart, the Chinese garden is enjoyed for its apparent disorder. Most gardens try to incorporate aspects of rusticity and spontaneity inherent in nature. This is a similar goal to that found in many Chinese paintings where subjects, such as gnarled trees or rigid bamboo (see the painting at the top of this page), are often chosen for their character. 


What positive value do you think disorder might play in a Chinese garden?

Treebark pavilion, Chongqing (Sichuan province)                                                source


The personality of the garden's designer determined to a large extent the types of buildings, plants, and other features that were selected. The exterior environment might also influence how rustic or elegant a garden was in its architecture and decorative details.


Compare the Treebark pavilion (above) with the view through this gate in a city garden.


How do they each take advantage of the natural surroundings?



Moon gate, Garden of the Artless Official, Suzhou                             source

Another preference in garden design is to use shapes that metaphorically refer to elements in nature; some of the subtlest examples of this practice are also the most highly appreciated. The wall opening, above, is one example of an allusion to nature.

What might be some reasons for undulating walkways or walls in a garden like the one on the right?






Wall and bamboo at the Shrine of Count Wu (Zhuge     

Liang), Chengdu (Sichuan province)                  source

Covered walkway at the Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou (Jiangsu province)                                           source


Special thought was given to planning the Chinese garden for year-round enjoyment. It was thought that the garden should have a distinct look in each different season of the year.


How do you think the planners incorporated this preference into their final design of this garden?

Rejoicing in the West Tower, Chongqing (Sichuan province) source 


Move on to Garden of the Master of Nets