I translated this brief history of gardens in China from the reference book:
Peng,Y. 彭一刚 (2008). Zhongguo gudian yuanlin fenxi 中国古典园林分析 (Analysis of the classical Chinese garden). 25th Ed. Beijing: China Architecture & Building press.
Picture: Jichangyuan 寄畅园, Wuxi. Copyright © 2012 J.Richard. All rights reserved.
History of the evolution of garden-making in China.
The history of Chinese garden-making has been very long and progressive. As early as in the Shijing (Classic of Poetry) a report can be found about the time of the Duke of Zhou1 stating that there was construction of palaces and parks. After the Qin [dynasty] unified China, a hunting park was created to the south of the Wei river; it had a wide scale of several li2. Inside were built temporary palaces for the emperor. Besides, a large amount of wild animals and birds were bred in the park. During the Western Han dynasty3, these palaces and park were expanded. Moreover to the south of the capital Chang'An, an important area was converted into Han Wudi4's imperial park. At the time it was mainly a hunting park with natural mountains and springs, but inside this park was also added a man-made5 garden. Even if this time marked the supremacy of Confucianism, the emperor also believed in immortals. Thus he ordered a pond to be dug inside the park. Inside the pond, small islets were created, representing the three mythical islands of Penglai, Fangzhang and Yingzhou that are supposed to be inhabited by immortals. Han Wudi's imperial park not only became a model for the following dynasties imperial gardens, but also introduced the idea of a symbolic representation inside a garden, as opposed to only imitating nature as did the previous attempts. During the Eastern Han dynasty6, the capital was moved to Luoyang. There the imperial gardens didn't reach the big scale of the Eastern Han's, but they were more exquisite.
During the two Han dynasties, private gardens started to appear both in the capitals of Chang'an and Luoyang. These were built by high-ranked officials of the court, usually ministers or generals.
During the Wei7, Jin8, North and South9 dynasties, the country was divided. In these times of war, the society was in chaos and the economy worsened. It was also the period when Taoism and Buddhism arrived in China, and a mystical school was created, the Xuanxue10. Then, scholars dreamed about living in reclusion far from the world and sought purely intellectual conversations. The intellectuals were very active, unconventional and unrestrained. The scholars of the period either indulged in hedonism, or tried to live in seclusion, or travelled in order to visit cherished famous landscape sceneries. Under the influence of this special atmosphere, literature and art developed greatly. For example, out of interest for landscape beauty, pastoral poetry and landscape painting were developed and reached great achievement. This period certainly marked the beginning of modern aesthetic conceptions. In this context, garden making also achieved a spectacular development, gardens created by member of the administration reached a peak, and private gardens multiplied actively. Among these, the bureaucrat and poet Shi Chong11 built the famous garden Jinguyuan12. In the book Luoyang Jialang Records13 was also recorded the garden of the Grand Minister of Agriculture of the time. These gardens' layout was not as imaginative as the political leader's parks of the period, such as the Tongqiaotai14 and Hualinyuan15, but according to the records, previously quoted private gardens reached a much higher achievement in the beauty of the natural landscape and the piling of rocks.
This period is also one of growth for temple gardens. Buddhism gradually developed in China during the Eastern Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms16 period. During the Wei and Jin dynasties, it acquired an impact on scholars through the intermediary of the mystical school Xuanxue. Around this time, temples were actively established, especially in the two main centres which were the southern capital Jiankang and the northern capital Luoyang. Thus the poets of the Tang dynasty described the Luoyang Buddhist temples as follows: ''Under the southern dynasty [in the capital] were four hundred eighty temples, numerous pavilions surrounded by the mist''. In fact the number of Buddhist temples in the surroundings of Luoyang really outnumbered those built around Jiankang. According to the Luoyang Jialang Records, among the more than sixty Buddhist temples in Luoyang, many possessed gardens, which proves that temple gardens underwent a great development at this period.
1. The Duke of Zhou, 周文公Zhou Wengong was a nobleman from the Zhou dynasty, brother to the ruler of Zhou. The Chinese legend gives him as the author of the Shijing, 诗经, Classic of Poetry.
2. The li 里is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which exact value has varied over time. Nowadays it is equal to 500 meters.
3. Western Han dynasty 西汉Xi Han, from 206 BC to 24 AD, regarded as the first unified Chinese empire.
4. Emperor Wu of Western Han 汉武帝Han Wudi,(ruling from 141 BC to 87 BC).
5. Here in the sense of artificial, as opposed to natural landscape.
6. Eastern Han dynasty 东汉 Dong Han, from 25 AD to 220 AD.
7. Wei dynasty 曹魏 Cao Wei, from 220 to 265.
8. Jin dynasty 晋 Jin, from 266 to 420.
9. North and South dynasty 南北朝 Nanbei Chao, from 420 to 589.
10. Xuanxue, 玄学, a mystical philosophical school derived from Taoist theories, during the Wei and Jin dynasties.
11. Shi Chong 石崇 (249 - 300), poet originated from Qingzhou, minister under the Western Jin dynasty.
12. 金谷园 Jinguyuan. Famous historical private garden built by Shi Chong during the Jin dynasty, in the Golden valley situated to the north-west of Luoyang capital, in actual Henan province. Acquired an almost legendary status and is often cited in later poetry.
13. 洛阳伽蓝记: An important record containing collected works in literature, history, geography, Buddhism theory, centered on Luoyang capital. It was written under the northern Jin dynasty
14. 铜雀台Tongqiaotai. A garden created by Cao Cao from the Three Kingdoms period, supposedly located in the actual Linzhang county of Hebei province.
15. Hualinyuan华林苑, garden built in Luoyang during the northern Wei dynasty.
16. Period of the Three Kingdoms.