Life-long Savoring—Thinking about the Nature View of Chinese Traditional Garden

ZHU Jun-zhen   2016-05-08 16:07:22

ZHU Jun-zhen

Fig.1 The Nature View of Chinese Traditional Garden

In 2014, a friend sent me a two-volume set of Qin Boyi Travels, one titled The Great Chinese Soul, and another The Beautiful Chinese Sceneries. Undoubtedly, these two books are my favorite and also the ones I should better read. The two books have 1,178 pages and are published by Hong Kong Cosmos Books. I roughly read the two books with great interest in two days, and the author's ethos, spirits and emotions, as well as the fluent writing, left me a deep impression. In around one thousand pages, the sentence that excites—even activates—me most is: "Garden, enough for the lifetime savoring of a travel enthusiast!" For me, an old professional in garden for over 60 years, this sentence is exactly the portrayal of me, isn't it? It can be said that I have been savoring garden for a lifetime. Although my work and planning are fragmented and shallow, which is not only the necessary reflection of the history, but also mainly because of my efforts not reaching a high level, it does not mean I have not thought. Today I especially present my "thinking about the nature view of Chinese traditional garden" in the name of "the lifetime savoring":

The above table is my schematic, simplified, or "hesitant" thinking, but for the colleagues in this profession, it should be plain and clear. Here I do not attach my ideas, interpretations, examples, or pictures, because I have always had an understanding that now the information is so enormous, people's time is so precious, and therefore I always want to use the tabular form instead of a lengthy text.

People often say, landscape design should achieve the "unity of heaven and man", but how can we do it? After much thought, I put forward ten propositions in the above table. I think garden is an artificial nature (of course, the use of the original natural landscape is also common in garden), and the real nature is an objective reality, and its beauty need to be recognized, excavated and expressed by gardeners, while garden—the man-made nature—contains more humanistic, subjective spiritual things, so as to achieve our gardening goal and needs.

The word garden first appeared in ancient times (with many versions, but not repeating here), but until after the founding of the new China in 1949, we began to set up the landscape architecture major, and compile China's first encyclopedia. In this process, many experts and scholars had discussed and argued for many times through meetings and papers. Having developed to the present, with the emergence of all kinds of microcosm garden (such as Splendid China, and the Window of the World), theme parks (such as Ocean Park Hong Kong, and Guangdong Changlong Amusement Park), and the highly sensational Disneyland, I doubt whether all these forms of recreational gardens can be included in the definition of "garden" that was constructed in last century. Are these the development of "garden", or have they had jumped out of the range of "garden" and become another specialized industry?

I should note that the above table is only the reflections on Chinese traditional garden through a historical theory perspective, not involving discussions on terms, discipline or industry. However, I have to elaborate on how to make gardening by using the real nature.

The so-called "use the object of the nature" means to use stones, water and plants to make rockeries, water management and pant configuration. Therefore it is necessary to first understand the nature of these natural objects, otherwise it may be in violation of the law of natural objects, not making a good garden. The "imitation of nature form", the first of course is an imitation of the original natural ecology and naming after the physical forms of the objects, such as different shapes of the stones, we can call them as "Monkey View of the Sea", "Waiting for Husband", "Heavenly Space", etc., which refer to the imitation of the "shape", while others are alike in spirit, such as "Foggy Trees in Jimen" and "Layered Woods in Juyongguan" in Beijing; the further imitation of the form requires a little creativity, for example, Yangzhou garden is known for rockery, and the use of stones, together with various plants, presents a "seasonal rockery", achieving the organoleptic effects, as said in the Painting Theory, being gracefully light in Spring, deep green in Summer, peacefully bright in Autumn, and dismally sleepy in Winter. This is really the superb imitation idea.

"Listen to the sound of the nature" is more used in gardening, since the various sounds the nature, wind, rain, birds, insects, cocks, dogs, tigers and trees, all can be introduced into garden. For example, water is an frequently used or even essential natural object in garden, and different terrains produce different sounds of running water, like the trickle sound, torrent sound, whistling waves, and surging waterfalls… all sounds can trigger people's different thoughts and reverie. The Octave Stream of Jichang Garden in Wuxi is a good example. The "Mountain and Flowing Water" music composed by ancients not only produce a "buzzing and lingering" artistic charm, but also triggered a true friendship between people who were keenly appreciative of each other's talents. This story originated from the Warring States period, about the friendship arising after a folk pianist played the music "Mountain and Flowing Water", indicating that garden can also create the mountain and running water sound and inspire visitors.

The astronomical phenomena of the nature, such as the sun, moon, stars, lights, clouds, fog, rain, and snow, can all be introduced into garden, or naturally into the scene, such as the seaside mirage and the Buddha above Emei Mountain, while the moon view is everywhere in scenic areas or gardens, such as Santanyinyue, Pinghuqiuyue, Lugouxiaoyue, Yinheyueye, Changhongyangyue, Shuangxiliuyue… The "Shining Sun and Moon" in Wenjin Mansion in Chengde Summer Resort especially shows the Chinese wisdom and spectacular original spirit in gardening. The unpredictable four sprays in the artificial garden of Hong Kong Shing Mun Valley Park, and the "misty mountain clouds in wonderland" in Hohhot Genghis Khan Park, are fantastic and stand for the innovation of the new era. Therefore, introducing the rich and varied "astronomical phenomena" into garden to create magnificent sceneries is indeed an inexhaustible gardening resource.

And it has long been a principle of Chinese traditional garden to "follow the landscape of the nature", including connecting the mountain and water together, digging for pond and heaping up hill, facing water and backed by mountain, fitting to local conditions, walking scenes, etc.

Furthermore, if the Chinese traditional garden takes the beauty of nature as a criterion, then this beauty was often in Chinese Confucianism and Taoism the two philosophical levels, reflected in the human civilization and material life. Such as the Confucian "the wise delights with water, and the benevolent delights with mountain" shows that the natural landscape is taken as the symbol of human morality, and Taoist "unity of heaven and man" stresses the guidelines of harmony between man and nature, and shows that the nature as the heavenly residence is a symbol of spiritual detachment. Both Confucianism and Taoism theories originate from the the traditional Chinese view of nature, and therefore, this nature view becoming the core and fundamental of Chinese traditional garden is doomed and an inevitable orientation.

In short, the above is about "the real of the nature", and if assigned with "humanity contents", Chinese traditional garden will stand towering in the orient of the world, with beautiful rivers and mountains, picturesque, humanity and mesmerized postures. Researching on the inheritable part of Chinese traditions and developing the creativity the era needs in order to achieve the great rejuvenation dream and maintain the aura of "China (garden) as the mother of the world’s gardens" is well in sight. I hold this belief.

(Editor / WANG Yuan-yuan)


ZHU Jun-zhen, female, Professor of the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University (Beijing 100084)

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