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Chinese Gardens

Chinese Gardens - A scene from Bejing's Summer Palace
Chinese gardens – beauty, calm, sophistication

Chinese gardens are some of the most idyllic and evocative places in China. The garden was the traditional retreat of the Chinese scholar, a place of quiet beauty, calm and sophistication in which to smoke a pipe, read poetry and play chess.

Chinese gardens combine rockery, water and architecture in a way that can seem at once jumbled and logical, a vista, never the same twice, of the natural world recreated by man.

Chinese Gardens as High Art

Even at first glance Chinese gardens are distinctly different from Western gardens. For the Chinese, gardens are one of the highest forms of artistic expression, on par with calligraphy, poetry and painting.

As a high art, reference to other arts are often made in gardens, through recreating the scene of a famous painting, integrating a piece of calligraphy into the design of the garden, or using poetic names for the garden’s various features.

Chinese Gardens – Designed to Reflect Nature

Chinese gardens, unlike Chinese architecture, tend to be asymmetrical. Chinese garden designers eschew careful measurements of proportion, uniformity and geometric patterns in favour of arrangements that make the observer feel closer to nature. Buildings are designed to compliment, not dominate, the scenery.

In the best Chinese garden one should be amazed at its beauty, but at the same time wonder if it was actually designed at all, or if it just grew like that.

In recreating the natural world, the Chinese gardener tries to also recreate its unpredictable and ever changing nature. There are usually many different routes around the garden and a slightly different view wherever you are.

Chinese Gardens – Regional Variations

South of the Yangtse River Chinese gardens were the private domains of aristocratic scholars, small and enclosed. The town of Suzhou in Jiangsu province is particularly well known for its gardens, some of which are among the finest in China.

North of the Yangtse River you find examples of monumental palace gardens like the Summer Palace, Yuanmingyuan and Beihai Park in Beijing. Imperial Chinese Palace Gardens follow the same principles as other Chinese gardens, but on a much grander scale.

Towers compliment mountains as pavilions compliment rockery, and of course Imperial gardens had to reflect the might and prestige of the dynasty, often more sombre and imposing compared to their more relaxed private counterparts.

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