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.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Video: One of the four famous gardens of Lingnan, Qinghuiyuan

During my fieldwork in June/July 2014 I visited again the Qinghuiyuan 清晖园. It is considered one of the four famous gardens of Lingnan, an outdated term designing globally the region around Guangdong.

In reality this "top 4" only takes into account gardens relatively well conserved around Guangzhou, as the most renown were for the most part destructed.

Here is an amateur video of the main scene of this garden. 
The Qinghuiyuan is located in Daliang, Shunde 顺德. It was first a residence owned by Wang Shijun under the Ming Dynasty, but the current garden takes its origin in the constructions made for Long Yingshi at the end of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796). It includes buildings such as the Returning Hall, the Chengyi Pavilion, the Bixi Caotang, the Xiyin Study, the main building being the Boat Hall which was supposedly built for the daughter of the owner. Two ponds are located on both sides of the boat hall, on the south-east is the original pond on which the garden is centred; and the south-west pond was added during modifications from the Jiaqing period (1796-1821). It has been largely renovated in the second half of the 20th century, and only one of the pond has kept relatively intact appearance - the one you can see in this video.

Thanks to UCCL and to the Landscape Department at the University of Sheffield for funding my fieldwork.
Most books on Lingnan gardens are written in Chinese, therefore I recommend this bilingual edition:
Lu, Q., Zhang, B., & Li, Y. (2004). Lingnan yuanlin yishu 岭南园林艺术 (Art of Lingnan gardens). Beijing, Zhongguo jian zhu gong ye chu ban she.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Biddulph Grange, videos

Wondering if you should come along to our guided visit to Biddulph Grange on the 18th of June? Here is something to convince you!

See also the short extract from BBC Four here
Any recommendations of videos welcome in the comments.

Book your guided visit from Sheffield here!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Free lecture to start the "Chinese garden history" events in the University of Sheffield

Jichangyuan, Wuxi, 2012. Credit: J.Richard. All rights reserved.

We are glad to announce that a free lecture will start the series of events on Chinese garden history in the University of Sheffield. The Confucius Institute of Sheffield is welcoming our main speaker, Dr Alison Hardie, to give a lecture on:

Chinese gardens: history, design and meanings. 

Lecture by Alison Hardie

Thursday 21 May 2015,  
3:00 - 4:00pm
4:00-4:30, networking with drinks and biscuits  

Conference Room, Alfred Danny Building, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, S10 2TN

This talk will cover the historical development of Chinese gardens, relating it to comparable or contrasting developments in European garden history.

It will outline the different types of Chinese gardens, including imperial, private and institutional (temple or academy) gardens. It will consider the cosmological ideas and design principles underlying the layout and features of Chinese gardens. Finally it will discuss the social significance and uses of Chinese gardens, particularly in the late imperial period.

Speaker biography:
Alison Hardie is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds and Director of the National Institute of Chinese Studies under the White Rose East Asia Centre, a collaboration between the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield. Since 2010 she has been a Senior Fellow (advisory committee member) in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, the research institute in Washington DC affiliated to Harvard University. Dr Hardie holds degrees in Classics from the University of Oxford and in Chinese from the University of Edinburgh, and a doctorate from the University of Sussex. Her main research interest is in the social and cultural history of early modern China. She will retire this summer and a conference this 19th June will celebrate her career.

Enquiries to be sent to

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.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Reduced delegate fee for the "New approaches in Chinese garden history" conference 19th June

19th JUNE 2015

We are pleased to announce that, thanks to the support of the Confucius Institute at Sheffield, we have been able to reduce the conference delegate rate for "New approaches in Chinese garden history".


This conference dedicated to Dr. Hardie on the occasion of her retirement will exceptionally bring together international scholars each interested in a different aspect of the Chinese garden and its wider theme: architecture, garden history, cultural history, translation studies, orientalism and chinoiserie, and the impact of Chinese gardens on the concept of English gardens.

The conference's schedule has been approved with a total of 7 academic speakers and 3 postgraduate speakers. Lunch and coffee breaks provided.

Student rate: £20

Delegate rate: £40

Full announcement here.
Book your seat here.
See also the Commented visit to Biddulph Grange on the 18th June here.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Conference abstract: "Cantonese gardens in the 19th century"

Yuyin shanfang, Panyu, Guangzhou suburbs. Picture: J.Richard 2010, all rights reserved.

New approaches in Chinese garden history, conference abstract

19th June 2015, at the University of Sheffield


Josepha Richard, PhD candidate, University of Sheffield, UK

"Cantonese gardens in the 19th century"

Gardens in Lingnan, particularly those located in and around Guangzhou (Canton), were among the first Chinese gardens to be visited by Westerners, as until the Opium Wars, movements of foreigners were restricted to the city of Guangzhou, with the exception of a few missionaries who were able to enter Beijing. Thus Guangzhou gardens, and more specifically the Co-Hong (or merchant) gardens of the 19th century, have largely informed Western understanding of Chinese gardens at a time when Suzhou gardens were inaccessible to foreigners. However, despite its historical importance the Lingnan region has not been thoroughly explored by Western scholars, and research in China has mostly seen local exposure. This paper will present a conjectural reconstruction of Co-Hong merchant Howqua’s garden, built at the beginning of the 19th century in the suburbs of Guangzhou. This reconstruction is based on Western diaries, records and photographs, as well as Chinese sources such as annals, export paintings and poetry. Howqua’s garden is presented in the context of social life of late Qing Guangzhou, when its inhabitants were developing a discourse of local culture in the wake of the creation of the Xuehaitang Academy.

See Josepha's profiles here and here.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Conference abstract: "The evolution of Chinese public gardens in the concessional Shanghai, 1840-1940"

Representation of the Yuyuan 豫园 in Shanghai, 1884 申江名胜图说 p83

New approaches in Chinese garden history, conference abstract

19th June 2015, at the University of Sheffield

Mo Fei, PhD candidate, University of Sheffield, UK

"The evolution of Chinese public gardens in the concessional Shanghai, 1840-1940"

The Chinese notion of public recreation changed dramatically after the establishment of English, French and American concessions in Shanghai from the 1840s. Traditional public spaces for recreation did not satisfy the evolving social demands for recreation, particularly after the opening of the Public Garden on the Bund by the British in 1868. The majority of the Chinese were not allowed to access, but it triggered a general desire to experience foreign gardens and increased tensions between Chinese and foreign communities in the use of public open space, particularly as the Chinese, rather than foreigners, contributed the majority of rates in the foreign concessions. From the 1870s to the 1920s, privately owned ‘commercial’ gardens acted as public gardens for the Chinese population, as well as traditional sites such as temple compounds. The Nationalist Government of Republican China elected at the end of the 1920s first provided the conditions to develop municipal parks. In the post concessional period after 1943, the Chinese government developed transformed foreign and Chinese public gardens, parks and recreation grounds into park systems for the benefit of the population.

See Mo Fei's profile here.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Conference abstract: “A critical history of rockwork in Chinese gardens”

Garden of a Piece of Rock (Pian Shi Shan Fang), April 2013. Credit: L.Gu, all rights reserved.

New approaches in Chinese garden history, conference abstract

19th June 2015, at the University of Sheffield

Liyuan Gu, University of Sheffield, PhD Candidate

“A critical history of rockwork in Chinese gardens”

Rockwork plays a significant role in Chinese gardens. It appears as one of the features that at first instance is difficult to understand, but then starts to intrigue. There is considerable variation in rock formations in gardens, and the various techniques employed are not only revealing of the philosophy, but also of the era and region in which they were conceived. Construction techniques and appearance evolved over thousands of years. This paper aims to provide a critical review of the development of rockwork in Chinese garden by exploring how notions of aesthetics, religion and philosophy influenced fashions in the design of rockwork.
Chinese rockwork can be divided into three types according the construction materials----‘earth hill’, ‘stone rockery’ and ‘earth-stone rockery’. Additionally there are a variety of stones that were used in the construction, with Taihu rock and Yellow Stone being the two favourite choices. The choice of stones was usually directed by costs for initial acquisition and by transportation. The fashions in rockwork construction however were influenced by particularly mythology, Confucianism and Taoism. These contributed to notions of aesthetics as well as life, whereas policies of different dynasties affected size and format of gardens, and thereby the size of rockwork. Additionally the rise of specialized rockwork craftsmen in the Qing dynasty resulted in remarkable strides in the quality of design and construction of rockwork, with different schools emerging. The critical review of rockwork history has been conceived in order to inform conservation practice; this paper produces some of the initial findings relating to the historic research. 

See Liyuan's profile here.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Commented visit to Biddulph Grange - 18th June 2015

Biddulph Grange, taken by L.Gu, all rights reserved.

Guided visit to Biddulph Grange garden - 18th June 2015

As part of the "New approaches in Chinese garden history" conference, the Department of Landscape of the University of Sheffield is hosting a commented visit to the Victorian garden of Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire (National Trust).

Created by James Bateman from the 1840s, the garden displays a series of Italian, Egyptian, Chinese and Himalayan themes, as well as an outstanding collection of worldwide plants. In relation to our conference, the vision of a Chinese garden as well as the "Great wall of China" exhibited in the garden will be our primary focus.

There will be a prepared visit commentary, however speakers and delegates of the conference - as well as participants - will be encouraged to give their personal input. For example our speaker Emile de Bruijn has researched the garden and as to Bianca Rinaldi, she has insight into the 'chinoiserie' concept, whereas Georges Métailié could comment on the choice of plants. Students will be able to ask questions and all present will voice their reflections as the visit unfolds.

The coach will depart at 9.30am sharp from the Geography & Town and Regional Planning car park behind the Arts Tower (next to the Mushroom Lane bus 95 stop), University of Sheffield, Western Bank S10 2TN. We are aiming to return to Sheffield in the early afternoon after the commented visit, in time for all to take a break before the evening conference dinner (optional, on booking only) in town.

Delegate (£20) and student (£10) fees available.
You are more than welcome to join in directly at Biddulph Grange but will need to pay full fee for your coach seat if you need a space on the return coach.

National Trust page for Biddulph Grange HERE.
Bookings available HERE.

Enquiries such as mobility issues should be directed to Josepha Richard:

Conference abstract: Peter Blundell Jones

Xiangshan, outside Beijing. 2012. J.Richard, all rights reserved

New approaches in Chinese garden history, conference abstract

19th June 2015, at the University of Sheffield

We are pleased to announce that a new speaker has joined our conference:

Peter Blundell Jones, University of Sheffield

"The sense of direction in Imperial Chinese architecture"

There seems at first an obvious similarity between the long entry sequence of the Forbidden City set on a centre-line reserved for the Emperor and the axial layouts of European Palaces such as Versailles. The formality of Imperial Chinese Architecture might then seem to reflect a centralising tendency connected with the expression of power, helping justify a universal technique of axial planning further developed by the Beaux Arts and passed on to architectural academies across the world. Both involve hierarchical societies and require a capability to undertake large scale planning in a unified manner, and both involve a theatrical display of political and quasi-religious power. Both presume the rationality of orthogonal construction, underlined in the Chinese case by a discipline of carpentry. But similarities can be deceptive, resulting in a tendency to overlook differences, which sometimes are more significant than the parallels. One is the question of direction and progression, and what it might mean. 

See Peter's profile here
See his joint article with Jan Woudstra about Chinese gardens here.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Conference booking available now with a student fee

We are pleased to announce the student fees for the "New approaches in Chinese garden history" conference:

Visit to Biddulph Grange 18th June: £10
Conference Day 19th June: £20

Reminder for the delegate rate:

Visit to Biddulph Grange 18th June: £20
Conference Day 19th June: £40 (£50)

For both rates, the optional evening conference dinner can be booked for £22.


Booking website HERE

Josepha Richard

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Conference booking temporarily unavailable: repairs coming soon!

Dear all,

The "New Approaches in Chinese garden history" conference booking page is temporarily unavailable as we add student fees. We apologise for the issue and apologise for the inconvenience.

The issue should be solved Monday 27th April 2015.

Conference announcement here.

Best regards

Josepha Richard

Friday, 24 April 2015

Conference abstract: "Translating the Chinese garden: the Western invention of a canon"

Picture: G. Le Rouge. V7. Coupe d'une maison chinoise... Jardins anglo-chinois, Cahier 5, BNF, Paris. Copyright may apply.

New approaches in Chinese garden history, conference abstract

19th June 2015, at the University of Sheffield

 Bianca Maria Rinaldi, University of Camerino, Italy

"Translating the Chinese garden: the Western invention of a canon"

Categories are useful tools for studies in garden history. The Italian renaissance garden, the English landscape garden, the Picturesque garden, the anglo-chinois garden conjure up easily identifiable garden typologies, chronologically defined and geographically determined, and they convey immediately a precise visual image. The category of ‘Chinese Garden’ has blurred contours, with its inclusive denomination proposes the Chinese garden as invariable over time. However the definition of a Chinese garden aesthetic seems to be based exclusively on a study of the gardens of the Jiangnan region, regardless of any evolution and regional or stylistic differences.

The paper discusses how and when the concept of the ‘Chinese Garden’ was invented in the West. The gardens of China have been the focus of Western travelers’ accounts for centuries. During the eighteenth century, some authors, such as the Jesuit Jean-Denis Attiret, William Chambers and the Jesuit Pierre-Martial Cibot, made an intellectual effort to interpret and convey Chinese garden design principles to their Western readers; while later travellers, particularly British merchants and diplomats, simplified the design of Chinese gardens in their descriptions and synthesised a formal vocabulary.

Through an analysis of Western travellers’ accounts of the gardens of China, the paper will show that the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were crucial periods in the Western invention of a generic ‘Chinese Garden’. It will demonstrate that the restrictions of movement that Westerners experienced in Qing China, the limited numbers of gardens they were able to visit, as well as the memory of European chinoiserie, all encouraged simplistic interpretations, so that Chinese garden aesthetic was associated with recurring elements that seemed to convey a sort of shared image of Chineseness.

The paper argues that the Western idea of a general and generic Chinese Garden influenced the design of Chinese-style gardens built outside China from the 1970s onward, with their repertoire of typical elements and the lack of the complexity in spatial arrangement of the gardens in China.

See Bianca's academic profile at the University of Camerino here
Read a review of her book The Chinese Garden here.


Conference abstract: "The changing significance of the Chinese taste in British gardens"

Picture: The Chinese garden in Biddulph Grange, 2012. Credit: L.Gu, All rights reserved.

New approaches in Chinese garden history, conference abstract

19th June 2015, at the University of Sheffield


 Emile de Bruijn, National Trust, UK

"The changing significance of the Chinese taste in British gardens"

In the seventeenth century, China was held in high regard by Europeans as a nation with an ancient history, a sophisticated system of government and the ability to produce high quality goods. Europeans became familiar with Chinese imagery through the decoration of porcelain, lacquer and silk imported by the East India Companies. William Temple explicitly praised Chinese gardens for their subtle asymmetry and artful naturalism, in an essay published in 1685.

However, when British gardens did become more ‘natural’ in the second quarter of the eighteenth century, there was no obvious evidence of Chinese influence. Even so, the English landscape style was soon associated with China, as evident in the French term jardin anglo-chinois. The Chinese element was initially mainly expressed through fanciful garden pavilions. The conceit of the Chinese garden was brought indoors as well, with the use of Chinese wallpaper and chinoiserie furniture with pagoda and fretwork motifs. Only towards the end of the eighteenth century were actual Chinese plants introduced into British gardens.

In spite of the increasing material evidence of the real China, nineteenth century examples of Chinese taste in British gardens were if anything even more fantastical than their eighteenth-century forebears. The Chinese section in the garden at Biddulph Grange, for instance, is reminiscent of the Willow Pattern, a popular type of ceramics decoration created by British manufacturers.

Recent studies have emphasised the rhetorical nature of the chinoiserie style: how ‘China’ was used to express local and contemporary concerns and how the meaning of ‘China’ changed in response to European stylistic, social and intellectual developments. This paper will demonstrate how that rhetoric operated in British gardens between the middle of the seventeenth and the middle of the nineteenth century.

See Emile's professional Twitter account here.
See Emile's  Academia profile with a list of publications here.