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Classical Gardens of Suzhou

The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are a group of gardens in Suzhou region, Jiangsu province which have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Spanning a period of almost one thousand years, from the Northern Song to the late Qing dynasties (11th-19th century), these gardens, most of them built by scholars, standardized many of the key features of classical Chinese garden design with constructed landscapes mimicking natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers with strategically located pavilions and pagodas.

Though smaller and less elaborate than the another well-known type of Chinese gardens, the opulent Imperial Gardens and Palaces in Beijing, best exemplified by the Beihai Park, Zhongshan Park, Old Summer Palace and Summer Palace; the elegant aesthetics and subtlety of these scholar's gardens in many ways contrast with the grandeur of the former, and their delicate style and features are often imitated by various gardens in other parts of China, including the Imperial Gardens, such as those in the Chengde Mountain Resort. According to UNESCO, the gardens of Suzhou "represent the development of Chinese landscape garden design over more than two thousand years," and they are the "most refined form" of garden art.

These landscape gardens flourished in the mid-Ming to early-Qing dynasties, resulting in as much as 200 private gardens. Today, there are 69 preserved gardens in Suzhou, and all of them are designated as protected "National Heritage Sites." In 1997 and 2000, eight of the finest gardens in Suzhou along with one in the nearby ancient town of Tongli were selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to represent the art of Suzhou-style classical gardens.

The gardens

Humble Administrator's Garden (拙政园/拙政園; Zhuōzhèng Yuán)

Humble Administrator's Garden

The Humble Administrator's Garden (simplified Chinese: 拙政园; traditional Chinese: 拙政園; pinyin: Zhuōzhèng Yuán) is a renowned Chinese garden in Suzhou. At 51,950 m2, it is the largest garden in Suzhou and is generally considered to be the finest garden in all of southern China. In 1997, Zhuozheng Yuan, along with other classical gardens of Suzhou was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The garden's site was initially the residence and garden of Lu Guimeng, a Tang Dynasty scholar. Later in the Yuan Dynasty it became monastery garden for the Dahong Temple. In 1513 CE, Wang Xiancheng an Imperial Envoy and poet of the Ming Dynasty appropriated the temple. In 1510, he retired to his native home of Suzhou after a long persecution by the East Imperial Secret Service, and began work on the garden.

This garden, meant to express his fine taste, was designed in collaboration with the renowned artist, Suzhou native, and friend, Wen Zhengming. It was as large as today's garden, with numerous trees and pavilions. The garden was named after a verse by Pan Yue's Idler's Prose, "I enjoy a carefree life by planting trees and building my own house...I irrigate my garden and grow vegetables for me to eat...such a life suits a retired official like me well." This verse symbolized Wang's desire to retire from politics and adopt a hermits life in the manner of Tao Yuanming. It took 16 years until 1526 CE to complete. Wen Zhenming wrote an essay Notes of Wang's Humble Administrator's Garden, and painted Landscapes of the Humble Administrator's Garden in 1533 CE to commemorate the garden.

Wang's son lost the garden to pay gambling debts, and it has changed hands many times since. In 1631 CE The eastern garden was divided from the rest and purchased by Wang Xinyi, Vice Minister of the Justice Board. He added many modifications over the next four years, finishing work in 1635 CE. After completion it was renamed Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside (歸田園居). The central garden was purchased by Jiang Qi Governor of Jiangsu in 1738 CE. After extensive renovations he renamed it Garden Rebuilt. Also in 1738 CE the Western Garden was purchased by Ye Shikuan Chief Histographer, and renamed The Garden of Books. The Garden of Books was purchased by a Suzhou merchant, Zhang Lüqian, in 1877 CE and renamed The Subsidiary Garden. In 1949 all three parts of the garden were rejoined and restored in 1952. In 1997 the garden was given UNESCO world heritage status.

Cao Xueqin lived at the garden during his teenage years. It is believed much of the garden in his novel Dream of the Red Chamber was inspired by the scenery of the Humble Administrators Garden. In particular the grotto at the entrance.


Today's garden is only very loosely related to its earliest version, but maintains its late Qing appearance, with numerous pavilions and bridges set among a maze of connected pools and islands. It consists of three major parts set about a large lake: the central part (Zhuozheng Yuan), the eastern part (once called Guitianyuanju, Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside), and a western part (the Supplementary Garden). The house lies in the south of the garden. In total, the garden contains 48 different buildings with 101 tablets, 40 stelae, 21 precious old trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style penjing/penzai. Eastern Garden Composed of a few buildings around a central great lawn and pond combination. The lawn is ringed by a grove of crape myrtle trees which is an allusion to the Tang Dynasty State Secretariat which was nicknamed the Crape Myrtle Department. Central Garden This section is composed of many scenes arranged around the Surging Wave Pond. Within the pond three islands recreate the scenery of the fariy islands of the east sea.

Lingering Garden (留园/留園; Liú Yuán)

Lingering Garden

Lingering Garden (simplified Chinese: 留园; traditional Chinese: 留園; pinyin: Liú Yuán) is a renowned classical Chinese garden. It is located at 338 Liuyuan Rd. Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China (留园路338号). It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1997, the garden, along with other classical gardens in Suzhou, was recorded by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The garden also stores two UNESCO intangible world heritage arts; Pingtan (评弹) and Guqin music.


Lingering Garden is located outside the Changmen gate (阊门) of Suzhou, Jiangsu province. It was commissioned by Xu Taishi (徐泰时), an impeached and later exonerated official in 1593 CE. Stonemason Zhou Shicheng (周时臣) designed and built the East Garden (东园) as it was initially called. The East Garden became famous in its day when the magistrates of Wu and Changzhou County both praised the design of Shi Ping Peak, a rockery constructed to resemble Tiantai Mountain in Putao.

Ownership passed to Liu Su, another official in 1798 CE. After extensive reconstruction, he renamed it Cold Green Village after a verse, "clean cold color of bamboo, limpid green light of water". Keeping with that theme, he added pine and bamboo groves. He was an avid collector of Scholar stones and added 12 more to the garden housing them in the "stone forest". It was also at this time the "Celestial Hall of Five Peaks" was built. The garden soon acquired the nickname "Liu Yuan" from the owner's surname. From 1823 CE the garden was open to public, and became a famed resort.

Ownership passed to Sheng Kang, a provincial treasurer of Hubei in 1873 CE. He repaired the damaged caused to the garden by the chaos of the Taiping. After three years the reconstruction was complete in 1876 CE, and the garden was renamed to Liu Yuan (留园). The name, while homophonous to an older name, connotes leisure and is thus pays tribute to the former owner as well as the resort period of the garden. It was at this time the "Auspicious Cloud Capped Peak" stone was moved to its current location. The garden was inherited by Sheng Xuanhuai from his father, he abandoned the garden in 1911 and it fell into disrepair

During Sino-Japanese War, the garden was abandoned again, and it even degenerated into breeding zone for army's horses. After establishment of the People's Republic of China, Suzhou government took over and renovated the garden. It was reopened to the public in 1954. In 2001 the garden was added to the UNESCO Word Heritage list, and remains a major tourist destination.

Since its creation the Lingering Garden has been well received by critics and has inspired artists. The East Garden is described and praised in Sketches of Gardens and Pavilions by Yuan Hongdao (magistrate of Changzhou County), "...It is the best of its kind south of the Yangtze River." It was also described in the work Notes on the Hou Yue Tang by Jiang Yingke (magistrate of Wu County). After the East Garden was transformed into the Lingering Garden it was again praised by Yu Yue in his Notes on Lingering Garden, "The rockeries plants pavilions towers and halls are among the best in Wu County."


The 23,310 m2 garden is divided into four distinctly themed sections; East, Central, West, and North. The Central area is the oldest part of the garden. Buildings, the primary feature of any Chinese garden, occupy one third of the total area. A unique feature this garden is the 700 m covered walk which connects them. The built elements of the garden are grouped by section. The ensemble of structures in the central garden encircles a pond and grotto main feature. The grotto is constructed of yellowstone granite and was created by the noted artist Zhou Binzhong. The Eastern section of the garden is arrayed around the cloud capped peak stone. A central courtyard is ringing by buildings. Behind the Old Hermit Scholars' House is the Small Court of Stone Forest, a collection of Scholar stones and connected minor courtyards. The western section is mostly natural containing only a few pavilions, a large artificial hill, and a Penzai garden.

Master of the Nets Garden (网师园/網師園; Wǎngshī Yuán)

Master of the Nets Garden

The Master of the Nets Garden (simplified Chinese: 网师园; traditional Chinese: 網師園; pinyin: Wǎngshī Yuán) in Suzhou is among the finest gardens in China. It is located at Canglang District, Dai Cheng Qiao Road, No. 11 Kuo Jia Tou Xiang (沧浪区带城桥路阔家头巷11号). It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden demonstrates Chinese garden designers' adept skills for synthesizing art, nature, and architecture to create unique metaphysical masterpieces. The Master of the Nets is particularly regarded among garden connoisseurs for its mastering the techniques of relative dimension, contrast, foil, sequence and depth, and borrowed scenery.


The Master of the Nets garden, then called Ten Thousand Volume Hall, was first constructed in 1140 by Shi Zhengzhi the Deputy Civil Service Minster of the Southern Song Dynasty government. Shi Zhengzhi was inspired by the simple and solitary life of a Chinese fisherman depicted in philosophical writings. After his death the garden passed through numerous ownership and subsequently fell into disarray until around 1785 when it was restored by Song Zongyuan, a retired government official of the Qing Dynasty. He drastically redesigned the garden and added multiple buildings, but retained the spirit of the site. He often referred to himself as a fisherman and renamed it the Master of the Nets Garden, as an allusion to the simple life of a fisherman.

Ownership passed to Qu Yuancun, a scholar well-versed in the classics and literature, in 1795. He added and remodeling buildings, planted trees, and arranged stones. The garden acquired the nickname of Qu's Garden during this period as well as its first acclaim by critics. Ownership passed to Li Hongyi, an imperial official and master calligrapher in 1868. About half of the steles in the garden are inscribed by him. Ownership passed to He Chang in 1940, who restored both the garden and returned the name back to Master of Nets Garden. He stipulated in his will the garden should be donated to the government. In 1958 his daughter He Zehui gave the garden to the Suzhou government.

During the late 18th century it was recognized for its herbaceous peonies. In his Notes on the Master of Nets Garden, Qian Daxin stated, "A good integration of the delights of the village and town," and during the early 20th century it served as the studio of the celebrated landscape painter Zhang Daquin. Modern critic Chen Congzhou feels the Master of the Nets Garden is the best representation of all classical Chinese garden art, as stated in Famous Classical Gardens of China.


The 5,400 m² garden is divided into east and west sections. The eastern part consists of residential quarters, while the gardens are located in the western part. Eastern section is the residential area it is a linear sequence of four halls one tower and three courtyards. The western garden is an ensemble of buildings around the 334 m² Rosy Cloud Pool. Plants and rocks are used to create views which represent several seasons. It also includes three side courts to the east and south. The two dominant elements of the composition are the Barrier of Cloud grotto, a cypress tree dating from the Ming Dynasty, and pine several centuries old. The areas to the south of the Rosy Cloud Pool were used for social activities and the areas to the north were used for intellectual activities. The buildings are laid out in a style called close to the water which is used to give the Rosy Clouds Pool the illusion of great size. Small buildings are set on rocks or piers directly over the water surface while large buildings are separated from the pool by yards planted with trees to obscure their size.

Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty (环秀山庄/環秀山莊; Huánxiù Shānzhuāng)

Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty

Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty (Chinese: 环秀山庄; Pinyin: Huánxiù Shānzhuāng) is located on 272 Jingde Rd., inside the Embroidery Museum, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. In 1997, it was recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The history of Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty may date back to Jin Dynasty, when Education Minister Wang Xun (王旬) and his brother Wang Min (王珉) donated their residential house to build Jingde Temple (景德寺). Later during Five Dynasties era, it became Jingu Garden (金谷园), owned by Qian Yuanliao (钱元璙), son of the emperor of Wuyue Kingdom, Qian Liu. In Song Dynasty, it was the pharmaceutical garden of Zhu Changwen(朱长文), a scholar. In following centuries, it was rebuilt several times. In Jiajing years of Ming Dynasty, it became Xuedao Academy of Classical Literature (学道书院), and later, the office of provisions supervisor. In 1573 CE, it was the residence of Grand Councilor, Sheng Shixing (申时行). In late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, his descendant, Sheng Jikui (申继揆), built Qu Garden (蘧园) here.

In Qianlong's years, Qing Dynasty, it was the residence of Jiang Ji (蒋楫), director of Jurisdiction Department. Jiang built Qiuzi Tower (求自楼), and piled stones to form a rockery behind it. He dug the ground to three feet, and a spring emerged and created a pond, called Flying Snow (飞雪). Other houses and pavilions were also erected. The garden subsequently was owned by Bi Yuan (毕沅), the Imperial Secretary of State, and Sun Shiyi (孙士毅), the Chief Counselor. Sun's grandson Sun Jun, in 1807 CE, asked rockery master Ge Yuliang (戈裕良) to rebuild this garden. Ge built the rockery within a field of half mu (0.08 acre) while the effect was overwhelming as if it spread for many li. The garden gained its reputation for its rockery ever since. Wang Zhou, Director of Works, bought the garden and renamed it Mountain Villa of Embraced Beauty. In 1949 the garden became property of the government and in 1988 was declared a major historic site.


The 2,180 m2 garden is composed along a linear axis with three main elements: a grotto called Autumn Hill, and Flying Snow Pool, fed by a waterfall called Flying Snow Spring, and a main hall. The rock work in this garden displays every technique and effect used in Chinese gardens. In addition, it is a recreation of the five important mountains of China, and shows a mastery of creating a sense of vast space in a small area.

Couple's Retreat Garden (耦园/耦園; Ŏu Yuán)

Couple's Retreat Garden

Couple's Retreat Garden (Chinese: 耦园; pinyin: Ŏu Yuán) located in Suzhou city, Jiangsu province, China is a famous classical Chinese garden. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The original garden was built by Lu Jin, prefect of Baoning district, in 1874. It was purchased by Shen Bingcheng, the magistrate of Susong. who rebuilt it in its current form. He also changed the name to the Couple's Garden Retreat. This name refers to the garden's two parts and alludes to a couple. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The 0.33 ha garden is divided into an east and west section by the residential core in the middle; an unusual composition for a classical garden. The eccentric design is continued in the form and details of many of the garden buildings, especially the Taosim Tower. The garden is located in the intersection of canals and is surrounded by water on three sides. It is accessible directly from the canal by boat. The West garden is composed of several structures grouped around a small grotto and a Library annex. It is structurally joined to the central residence. East Garden is the main garden of the complex. It consists of a grotto and pond ringed by a covered walkway that connects the structures. A smaller fruit orchard annex is attached.

Garden of Cultivation (艺圃/藝圃; Yì Pǔ)

Garden of Cultivation

The Garden of Cultivation (Chinese: 艺圃; pinyin: Yì Pǔ) located at No.5 Wenya Nong (文衙弄5号) in Suzhou city, of Jiangsu Province, China. It is one of the best preserved examples of a Ming Dynasty classical garden in Suzhou. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Classical Gardens of Suzhou on the World Heritage list.


The Garden of Cultivation was built in 1541 CE by Yuan Zugeng (袁祖庚), at that time it was called the Hall of Delights. In 1620 CE it was purchased by Wen Zhenheng, grandson of the Wen Zhengming the designer of the Humble Administrator's Garden. Wen Zhenheng was a noted garden designer and critic in his own right. He rebuilt the garden to test his aesthetic theories and renamed it Herb Garden for the numerous herbs incorporated in the design. In 1659 CE, It was rebuilt again by Jiang Cai and renamed Jingting Mountain Villa. Jiang Cai added a grove of fig trees. His son Jiang Shijie inherited the garden and renamed it Cultivation Garden after added the chapel of Guanyin. In 1839 CE it was transferred to the Qixiang Office of the Saint and Silk company. In 2000 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The garden received great acclaim in the Qing Dynasty. Wang Wan wrote, "enclosing walls keep the worldly uproars outside; seclusion makes the inside of the house resemble a country villa; branches of date trees are heavy with fruit over the house; the pond surface is decorated with green duckweed and red lotus."


The 3,967m2 garden is divided into an eastern section of residence and a western garden section. Altogether the garden has 13 pavilions, 17 tablets, and 8 stelae. The Western section is composed of several pavilions around the main Lotus Pond, a rockery, and a smaller garden addition named The Garden of Sweet Grasses. The structure of the garden is formed along a north to south axis which ties the three main elements of rockery, pool, and hall together. This style of composition is also used in the Mountain Villa with Embraced Beauty. The overall design is the simplest expression of a classical garden, there is one dominant composition, the Longevity Hall, and its associated view. The 700 m2 Lotus Pond is square with two water tails to give the illusion of infinite size. These tails are crossed by Fish Viewing Bridge and Ferrying Beauty Bridge The former is a three step arched bridge adjacent to the Fry Pavilion. The latter is a natural stone bridge at the entry to the Sweet Grass Garden. The Garden of Sweet Grasses is a scaled down version of the main garden and consists of the Sweet Grass House and Bathing Gull Pond as well as a smaller rockery. This area is the herb (sweet grass) garden added by Wen Zhenheng. It is meant to evoke his principal of "to leave residents free from worries, make tenants unwilling to leave, and enable visitors to throw off their tiredness". The garden is very typical of the Ming Dynasty design aesthetic because of its clear composition in plan and the elegance and simplicity of its elements.

Great Wave Pavilion (沧浪亭/滄浪亭; Cāng Làng Tíng)

Great Wave Pavilion

The Great Wave Pavilion (Chinese: 沧浪亭; pinyin: Cāng Làng Tíng) located at 3 Cāng Làng Tíng Jie (沧浪亭 3) Suzhou City, of Jiangsu Province of China. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Great Wave Pavilion was built in 1044 CE by the Song Dynasty poet Su Shunqing (1008–1048), on the site of a pre-existing imperial flower garden c 960 CE. It is the oldest of the UNESCO gardens in Suzhou, keeping its original Song Dynasty layout. The name is derived from a verse in the poem Fishermen by Qu Yuan (ca. 340 BCE-278 BCE), a poet from the southern state of Chu during the Warring States Period, in his book Songs of the South, "If the Canglang River is dirty I wash my muddy feet; If the Canglang River is clean I wash my ribbon". This verse alludes to an honest official who removes himself from politics rather than act in a corrupt manner. Su Shunqing choose this to express his feelings after his removal from office.

After his death the garden passed through many owners and fell into disuse until 1696 CE when it was restored by Song Luo, governor of Jiangsu Province. In 1827 ownership was transferred to governor Tao Shu, and again in 1873 ownership was transferred to governor Zhang Shusheng. In 1955 the garden was opened to the public and in 2000 it was added to the UNESCO world cultural heritage monuments.


The 1.6 ha garden is divided into two main sections. The garden is sited on a branch of the Fengxi Stream which forms a lotus pond. The garden has 108 leaky windows each one with a unique design.

Lion Grove Garden (狮子林园/獅子林園; Shī Zǐ Lín Yuán)

Lion Grove Garden

The Lion Grove Garden (Chinese: 狮子林园; pinyin: Shī Zǐ Lín Yuán) located at 23 Yuanlin Road Suzhou City, of Jiangsu Province of China (平江区园林路23号) is famous for the large and labyrinthine grotto of taihu rock at the garden's center. The name of the garden derives from the shape of these rocks which are said to resemble lions. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Lion Grove Garden was built in 1342 CE during the Yuan Dynasty by a Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru in memory of his teacher Abbot Zhongfeng. At that time the garden was part of Bodi Orthodox Monastery (Pinyn: Puti Zhengzong). The name of the garden refers to the lion shaped Tahihu rocks, which in turn were built as reference to lion symbolism in the Lion's Roar Sutra. The name also refers to Lion Peak of Mount Tianmu in County of Zhejiang Province, where Abbot Zhongfeng attained Nirvana. At this time the garden was 6,670 m2 and covered in rock and bamboo. After Tianru's death the garden fell into disrepair, but in 1589 another Buddhist monk, Mingxing, rebuilt the garden. The magistrate (Chinese: 知縣; Pinyin:zhixian) of Hengzhou bought the garden, and his son Huang Xi rebuilt the garden in 1771. At this time the garden name was changed to the Garden of Five Pines. Starting in 1850 the garden fell into disrepair. In 1917 Bei Runsheng purchased the garden and finished the restoration in 1926. Many buildings and rocks date from this restoration. In 1949 the Bei family donated the garden to the People's Republic of China government, who opened it to the public in 1954.

The garden's design attracted the attention of notable visitors such as the painter Ni Zan in 1373 CE, who created Picture Scroll of Lion Grove painting. In 1703 CE Emperor Kangxi visited the garden and was followed in 1765 by Emperor Qianlong visited the garden and left the personally inscribed True Delight tablet as gift. He also had a copy of the garden made in the Changchun garden of the Summer Palace and at the Chengde Mountain Resort.


The 1.1 ha garden is divided into two main parts, a housing complex and rockery around a central pond. In addition to the 22 buildings the garden also houses: 25 tablets, 71 stelae, 5 carved wooden screens, and 13 ancient specimen trees, some dating back to the Yuan dynasty. The garden is most famous for its elaborate grotto of Taihu stone. This 1154 m2 grotto contains a maze of 9 paths winding through 21 caves across 3 levels. The pond divides the grotto into east and west sections. The formal entrance to the western section is the called the Eight Diagram Tactics located across the Jade Mirror Bridge from the Pointing at Cypress Hall. The taihu stone peaks are located atop this grotto. Most famous is the Lion Peak surrounded by four other stones, Han Hui, Xuan Yu, Tu Yue, and Ang Xiao, which collectively form the Famous Five Peaks. There is a folktale about two immortals, Iron-Crutch Li and Lü Dongbin who wandered into the maze of the Lion Grove and being unable to exit settled in a cave to play chess.

Retreat & Reflection Garden (退思园/退思園; Tuìsī Yuán)

Retreat & Reflection Garden

The Retreat & Reflection Garden (Chinese: 退思园; Pinyin: Tuìsī Yuán) is a notable classical garden in China. It is located in Tongli, Wujiang, Jiangsu, China. In 2001, it was recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The garden was built in 1885 by Ren Lansheng an imperial official working in Anhui province who was impeached. The name of the garden comes from a verse by Zho Zhuan in Zhuo Qiuming's Chronicles, "Lin Fu really is a gentleman when he forwards proposals, he shows loyalty to his country, when he retreats he reflects and mends his ways". The garden was designed by Yuan Long a painter of the Wumen school.


The 65 hectare garden is divided into a eastern residential area, a western main garden court with two minor courtyards attached to it. The design of this garden is innovative in that is uses an east west axis as the main axis as opposed to the traditional north south axis. The layout of buildings around the pool in the main courtyard uses the near-the-water style of placing the buildings back from the waters edge and keeping the water level high. This part of the garden is named: "The Garden Floating on Water."
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