Asian Heritage Month 2021



by Lin Liu

The Chinese garden is a landscape garden style which has over three thousand years’ history. The landscape design is deeply impacted by Daoism and Confucianism which are the mainstream philosophies and belief systems in Chinese culture.

In a Chinese garden a strong belief in a sense of unity with nature as a benign wilderness, source of awe, magic and sustenance is required. What vibrates through and around the various elements of its composition was designed to ‘bring out the rhythm of nature’. It purposefully blends together many different elements to create a remarkably integrated concept. It is the place where it is assumed that the visitor views it with an educated mind and eye.

A Chinese garden is a microcosm of the macrocosm, a small complete expression of the vastness of nature. Rocks, water and plants are three basic elements in the design. Plants were not essential to the integrity of a Chinese garden. Rocks and water came first, followed by architecture, plants, trees and flowers.

To the Chinese the accumulated symbolic and ritual associations were far more important than looks. The modest lotus represented a transformation, emerging as it does from the murky bottom of the pond to penetrate the surface of the water where it gradually reveals its face to the sun from which it draws strength and beauty. Different plants have their own meanings, such as Bamboo bends in the wind and does not break, suggesting an honorable man. The orchid represents the true gentleman because its scent is so subtle it only invades the senses when you leave. The peach promises fecundity and immortality, while that most ravishing of all flowers the peony reflects great wealth and elegance. The Chinese approach plants from a symbolical prospective rather than from an interest in botanical specimens.

The Chinese garden also required a painter to design and appreciate it, a poet to immortalize it and, a calligrapher to record its most appealing qualities. Irregularity of design was the key to the success. It was judged on its ability to continually challenge and stimulate the educated mind to discover the subtlety of its references. Confucianism and Daoism philosophies reflected on Chinese garden design. Chinese people attempted to recreate nature’s poetic wonders and create a garden that would be an outward expression of a man’s inner strength. It is highly contradictory because to be at one with the ebb and flow of the natural order of things everything is in constant flux and contradiction. So to go forward, you must step back, to gain you have to let go, and to win you must lose. Its an introspective philosophy, one that had a ‘belief in, and reliance on, human intuition’. This is an expression of Yin and Yang, the two opposing forces at the heart of Chinese philosophy, where the rough and masculine yang is balanced by the soft and feminine, yin. For example, in Chinese garden,  rocks and water were opposites, yin and yang, but they complemented and completed one another. Rocks were solid but water could wear away rock. The gardens were intended to evoke the idyllic feeling of wandering through a natural landscape, to feel closer to the nature way of life, and to appreciate the harmony between human and nature. By understanding the philosophy behind it, visitors are able to see the true beauty of Chinese garden.



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