Thursday, 6 October 2016

Guest blog at China Policy Institute: on Chinese-style gardens and soft power

Fanghuayuan, Orchid Garden, Guangzhou. Credit Richard, Josepha (2009)

This time I am happy to have a blog post published at the China Policy Institute Analysis blog platform.

The title is "Are Chinese-style gardens built outside of China a form of 'soft power'?" and it was a question I had been wondering about for quite some time. 
Feel free to comment on the original post in order to advance the debate.

The China Policy Institute is a centre of expertise on contemporary China based at the University of Nottingham, UK. Their blog platform, "CPI Analysis" hosts almost daily reflections on diverse aspects of Chinese life, news, politics, economics, etc.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

CFPapers: Chinese garden and landscape history conference, Fall 2017, Garden History Society/University of Sheffield, UK

Following the success of the "New approaches in Chinese garden history" conference in June 2015, Jan Woudstra of the department of Landscape (University of Sheffield, UK) is helping the Garden History Society to organise another conference on the theme of Gardens and Landscape history of China, to be held at the University of Sheffield in the autumn of 2017.

This initial call for paper has for aim to hear about any ongoing research, and come up with a theme. Speakers would preferably be based in the UK/Europe (because of travel expenses).

Please forward us your abstract of about 300 words before the 25th of September 2016, to:

Monday, 8 August 2016

Guest blog at Visualising China - Documenting gardens of China through early photographs

 Photograph 486, Joseph Rock Collection, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Photo: J. Richard

This time I wrote a guest blog post for the Visualising China blog, about "Documenting gardens of China through early photographs".

"Visualising China is a JISC-funded project to allow users to explore and enhance more than 8000 digitised images of photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1950. It allows access to many previously unseen albums, envelopes and private collections and also major collections such as Historical Photographs of China, the Sir Robert Hart Collection and Joseph Needham's Photographs of Wartime China. These have many sub-collections and albums. We hope you will contribute by using your knowledge to comment on or annotate these images.
Read more about Visualising China"

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Exploring Johnston's Archives (related to gardens of China) in Needham Institute part 3: Printed maps

Map 1 (Tube2): 北京市什刹海, 历史文化风景区远期规划,古迹分布分析图, December 1989

During the referencing of the Johnston Archives, I came across a number of printed maps (as opposed to the maps drawn by Johnston himself). Some of these are mostly interesting as memorabilia of tourism in China in the 1980-90s and will be treated in a separate post; the present post will review a few others that probably have historical value.

1) The map shown at the top of the article represents the planning of the historical zone of Beijing Shichahai (Beihai, Zhonghai, Nanhai), and could be of interest to urban planners and historians. 北京市什刹海, 历史文化风景区远期规划,古迹分布分析图, December 1989.

2) Specialists might also be interested in the map of Tongli, made in April 1980 (同里缜房屋分佈签 ). Its scale is 1 :1000, and according to my Chinese landscape architect friend was made by computer and hand (a type called 晒图 ). I wonder how it ended up in Johnston's collection as it was probably not something you could get easily as a foreigner at that time.

Map 2 (2016/1): 同里缜房屋分佈签, April 1980

3) Of similar technique is the map of Lili 黎里镇平面图 , scale of 1:5000, (晒图 type). Two dates appear: 1974 & 1982.

Map 3 (2016/1): 黎里镇平面图, 1982

4) A map of Ningbo that could not immediately be dated, titled 宁波市:交通导游图 & on the reverse 城,镇主要街巷图.

Map 4 (2016/1): 宁波市, 城,镇主要街巷图

5) A map of Shaoxing, titled 绍兴旅游交通图

Map 5 (2016/1): 绍兴旅游交通图

6) A map of PRC printed by the PRC cartographic publishing house. Annotation on the map indicates that it was distributed by China reconstructs, data up to 1981 June.

Map 6 (2016/1): Map of PRC, 1981

As usual, if you can provide more information or even corrections from what was presented in this post it is more than welcome. I can also provide closer up photos of the Tongli map, although the best would of course be to visit the Needham Institute.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Exploring Johnston's Archives (related to gardens of China) in Needham Institute part 2: Dongshan

 One page of the red album in Johnston's archives

One of the best surprises inside the Johnston archives were the trove of pictures representing traditional architecture in Dongshan 东山 and Wujiang 吴江 near Suzhou 苏州. Some of the photos offer a unique view in now disappeared gardens and residences.

The most coherent collection consists of 96 black and white photos arranged in a red album, of the type with sticky pages covered in translucent film. The difficult decision to remove them from the album was reached because one detached photo revealed Chinese writings at the back with a seemingly exact location.  

 A close up of one of the Dongshan pictures before removal from red album

The numbers and order of the photos as well as inscriptions in the album were recorded by a librarian of the University of Cambridge's Library. 

Among these inscriptions, the handwriting reveals that Johnston probably annotated the album, whereas a Chinese native was the one who marked the photos and some of the inscriptions. In one of his travel diaries, Johnston mentions going to Dongshan in 1984, so it is possible that he took the photographs himself.

Some of the scenes show close-up details of architecture and others provide insights into daily life in this village. Inscriptions include the following: 东山前山镇 严家祠堂内花园, 东台(山)周亮成住宅内园, 东山席氏启园入口.

 From the loose Dongshan photographs

However some photos of Dongshan are also scattered through other parts of the archives: 
1) in the form of one out of 29 pages of contact sheet photos glued on paper with inscriptions. 
2) a majority out of 87 loose items composed mostly of small black and white photographs. 
Both have also been inscribed by a (probably native) Chinese handwriting annotations.

 From the loose Dongshan photographs

This Dongshan lot is likely to interest researchers of this area's architecture and social life. Although difficult to date with absolute certainty, these were probably taken in the 1980s. A deeper analysis of all the materials is necessary to reach a more accurate dating of these photos, yet Johnston's trip in 1984 is one of the biggest clue.

I confess that I am not a specialist of this region, therefore any interest or comments would be welcome, and I am sure would benefit the Needham Institute too.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Exploring Johnston's Archives (related to gardens of China) in Needham Institute part 1

The entire Johnston archive on tables of Needham Institute

During the week of 23-28th of May, I had the great opportunity to go through the papers of R.S. Johnston in Needham Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Who was R.S.Johnston? 
Late R. Stewart Johnston was part of the department of Architecture at the University of Nottingham. In 1991 he published Scholar gardens of China: a study and analysis of the spatial design of the Chinese private garden. Thus he become the first Western author (that I know of) to mention the gardens of Lingnan1 in an English language publication.

Librarian of Needham Institute, John Moffett, received Johnston's papers on behalf of Needham Institute from Johnston's widow. The archive contained a wealth of information on gardens of China that Johnston had systematically preserved throughout his research. Some twenty years later John Moffett generously opened this archive to me. This opportunity was sparkled by a conversation about Johnston's book in May 2015 when I underlined the fact that finding photos of Lingnan gardens was difficult, and John Moffett said that Johnston's archives were likely to contain such documents. Spoiler: I was not disappointed!

Johnston’s archive, occupying approximately 1.5m x 2m of archival shelves, had been well labelled by Johnston himself but not yet catalogued. It was therefore the occasion for me to both dig information for my thesis and contribute to the cataloguing as I went through the boxes. The exploration was well worth the effort as I discovered many black and white photographs of gardens in China, most likely dated from the 1980s (I am still working on datation): a few were taken before some of the 'rough' renovations that erased some interesting characteristics of gardens later on.

There are many interesting aspects to this archive, as I already tweeted about on @GardensOfChina; but I will underline some of the most unique parts in a few blog posts, hoping others will come to study them in more detail. 

One of the most pleasant part was to go through all the originals of the maps and drawings included in his publications: some of these were actually typed & photos and captions glued to paper as this was the case before computers changed our way of submitting manuscripts.

1.  岭南 Region located 'to the south of the five ridges' usually understood as either Guangdong province or Guangxi + Guangdong.

Illustrations for Scholar gardens of China


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Talk: "The Illusion of Space: on Garden Design in China" Bianca Rinaldi

The "New approaches in Chinese garden history" conference of the 19th June has been an opportunity to develop another free talk on Chinese gardens after the one given by Alison Hardie in May. This time it is Bianca Rinaldi who will present on the topic of:

The Illusion of Space: on Garden Design in China. 

Monday 15th June. 
Doors open: 10.30am; Talk: 11.00am – 12noon.
Venue: The Discovery Centre, Sheffield Manor Lodge, Manor Lane, Sheffield, S2 1UJ. 
Presented in association with The Confucius Institute (University of Sheffield).

Tickets are free but please book in advance as places are limited. Email:

Telephone: 0114 2762828

Refreshments will be available at the event and the Rhubarb Shed Cafe will be open for lunches after the event.

Abstract (from the organisor):
The lecture discusses the Chinese garden focusing on the key characteristics of its design: its scenery of naturalness, its varied sequences of different ambiences and spaces, the arrangement of central elements (water, rocks, plants, architectural structures), the visual devices and methods used to manipulate the quality and apparent dimensions of garden space. The reading of the compositional structure of the Chinese garden will be applied to a renowned classical garden: the Wangshi yuan (Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets) in Suzhou.

Bianca Maria Rinaldi teaches landscape architecture at the University of Camerino, in Italy, and is visiting professor at the National University of Singapore. She is the author of The ‘Chinese Garden in Good Taste’. Jesuits and Europe’s Knowledge of Chinese Flora and Art of the Garden in 17th and 18th Centuries (2006) and of The Chinese Garden-Garden Types for Contemporary Landscape Architecture (2011), which has been awarded a J.B. Jackson Prize for 2012 by the Foundation for Landscape Studies, New York. She is currently working on a book on Western views of Chinese gardens from the 13th to the 19th century.

Other "Chinese garden history" events to come at the University of Sheffield:

"New approaches in Chinese garden history" conference 19th June
See announcement & bookings here.

Guided garden visit to Biddulph Grange, 18th June
See announcement & bookings here.