Friday, 5 April 2013

History of Chinese gardens - Part 3 From the Five Dynasties to the Yuan dynasty


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.


 Yipu 艺圃 , Garden of Art/Cultivation, Suzhou in 2009. Copyright © 2013 J.Richard. All rights reserved.

During the chaotic period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms1, even though finances were in a poor state, the southern cities still developed into centres of administration, craft industry and agriculture. Among them was the city of Suzhou, located in Wuyue (吴越), where garden-making was flourishing. Besides, some gardens were also built in Guangzhou, much farther in the south.



Even though the Song dynasty put an end to the independent regimes of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the rural economy was still in an exhausted condition. In addition the northern part of China was constantly threatened by invasions, leading to a daily weakening of the country's power. At the same time, the ruling class lived in luxurious style, and in consequence garden-making was still flourishing.



If Song China was not really a prosperous country, it did not prevent poetry and painting to develop and reach new heights. The imperial art academy was established, which allowed a gathering of scholar painters from all over China, triggering a great development in Chinese painting. Outside the academy great artists emerged, such as Wen Tong2, Mi Fu3, Su Shi4, etc. who led painting schools, advocating principles rather opposed to the academic way: they cherished the Xieyi brush style, and led Chinese painting on an original new direction. This can be illustrated by Guo Xi's5 The Lofty Message of Forest and Streams (林泉高致) and Li Cheng's6 Landscape painting principles (山水诀), treaties which offered a deep reflection on the conception of landscape painting, such as the essential principles of composition. This new turn of landscape painting aesthetics also had an influence on the development of garden-making.



During the Northern Song dynasty7, gardens were concentrated in the two capitals, the eastern Bianliang (Kaifeng) and the western Luoyang. As Bianliang was the main capital, the Imperial gardens were gathered here. Among them was the famous Jinmingchong (金明池), built in the eastern part of the city, featuring a regular layout with clear central axis, and pond with in the centre a hall called Shuidian (水殿). South to the Jinmingchong was located another garden called Qionglinyuan (琼林苑), which also featured ponds, this time surrounded by vegetation, flowers, and hills. The mountains in particular were arranged in good taste, undulating and changing, adopting the outline of a ship8. According to local records, this garden required a great amount of men to be constructed, and some of the necessary materials such as plants and strangely [shaped] rocks were sent from the Jiangnan region. The capital Bianliang counted in total nine Imperial gardens, and the private gardens built by nobles and officials were much more numerous.



In the southern capital Luoyang, the number of gardens did not match those of Bianliang, but they were still of a signifiant amount. According to the Record of Luoyang famous gardens9 (洛阳名园记) there was as many as 24 gardens, the majority of those were constructed on the remains of previous Tang dynasty parks. However, the garden's focus shifted from the artificial mountains to the ponds' layout and vegetation environment, causing previous Shanchi (山池) [mountainous pond] to become Yuanchi (园池) [flower pond] or Yuanpu (园圃) [garden, with the meaning of growing plants]. Henceforth Luoyang had been nicknamed ''City of flowers''.



During the Southern Song dynasty10, the political centre was located in the south, so nobles and officials congregated in cities such as Lin'An (临安) ancient name for the actual Hangzhou (杭州), Wuxing (吴兴) and Pingjiang (平江) which is the actual Suzhou (苏州). Ling'An was the southern capital, as such the gardens built around the West Lake (西湖) were too numerous to be counted. Among these, there were at least ten imperial gardens, the rest being temple gardens and private gardens. Wuxing was the place were most of government officials liked to retire or take a break from official life and as a result, the city was thriving with garden construction. According to the Wuxing gardens records11 (吴兴园林记), there was at least 34 gardens in Wuxing. As for Pingjiang, even if was a bit far from the capital Ling'An, it was a flourishing commercial and military centre featuring naturally favourable conditions for garden-making. As a result in the city a number of gardens were constructed.



After the Mongol destroyed the Song and established the Yuan dynasty12, the imperial power was in the hands of foreigners, which sparkled intense conflicts between social classes and ethnic minorities. According to the Yuan classification, the population was categorised in four types, among which Han ethnic people were considered the lowest, especially if they lived in the south. Because of the stagnation of economy, in this period there were only a few garden constructions. In the north, the Jindaninggong (金大宁宫) was transformed, adding the two gardens of Taijichi (太液池) and Wansuishan (万岁山), as part of the imperial park. In the capital Dadu (大都) near the actual Beijing, there were only a few private gardens.


1. Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period五代十国 (907-959).
2. Wen Tong 文同 (1018-1079), painter and poet of the Song dynasty.
3. Mi Fu 米芾 (1051-1107), famous calligrapher and painter of the Northern Song dynasty.
4. Sushi 苏轼 (1037-1101), also called Su Dongpo 苏东坡, one of the most famous Chinese poets.
5. Guo Xi 郭熙 (c.1020-c.1090), landscape painter which treaty detailing brushstrokes became well-known.
6. Li Cheng 李成 (919-967), landscape painter which style was characterised by its use of diluted ink.
7. Northern Song dynasty 北宋 (960-1127).
8. Here I am not very sure of the translation, since the word 外轮wai4lun2 ''foreign ship'' sounds a bit strange in the context.
9. A record written around 1105 by Li Gefei 李格非, listing private gardens in Luoyang.
10. Southern Song dynasty 南宋 (1127-1279).
11. A record written by Zhou Mi 周密 (1232-1298), a scholar from Jinan, listing the gardens in Wuxing.
12. Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

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