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A Chinese garden is unlike a western garden. It is an art discipline, a philosophical manifestation and above all, an integral part of Chinese culture. The traditional art of gardens was also practiced by artists and developed in parallel to painting as well as the traditional color woodcut.
The history of traditional Chinese gardens dates back to 3,000 BC. The city of Suzhou near Shanghai has about 200 traditional gardens and about 69 more that are well preserved and among the best in the world. They predominately originate between the 11th and 19th centuries and in 1997 were added to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites.
The booming metropolis of Suzhou of the eastern Jiansu Province lies on the Grand Canal (the longest artificial river in the world) and is penetrated by a thick network of canals, which has earned it the nickname, the "Venice of the East." It is also one of the oldest cities on the Yangtze River delta. The city was founded in 514 BC by the legendary King Helu of Wu and was a trading and crafts center. The construction of the Grand Canal created trade routes and started an economic boom. Over the centuries the city developed into the "Silk Capital" and has been a leader in silk production since the 14th century.
The city owes its wealth not only to silk and the arts but also to its construction, especially that of many classical gardens, for which Suzhou is still famous today. The gardens' addition to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites will ensure their preservation. Suzhou is also today an important center for the high technology industry.
The gardens of Suzhou are categorically landscape gardens. The early traditional gardens of China consist first and foremost of architectural elements. The later subsequent landscape gardens tried to find a balance between architecture and nature. Most of the gardens of Suzhou, especially those built later, date to the city's economic peak between the 16th and 18th centuries, which parallels the height of painting and art. It is then not surprising that it should receive the nickname, "earthly paradise."
Such traditional gardens were beloved and even excessive motifs in art and in crafts. They could be found on ceramics or carved onto decorative ornate pieces of furniture. They were also especially popular motifs in woodcuts, which is connected to landscape gardening unlike any other form of art.
A principle behind the traditional Chinese gardens was to create a picture of the ideal universe and brought together several artistic principles from philosophy, painting, architecture, poetry, drama, calligraphy and sculpture. Construction of the garden aimed to fuse in harmony and to present to man the seven so called "things": earth, sky, stone, water, buildings, paths and plants with stones and water as the main elements, according to popular belief and Taoist philosophy.
The classical Chinese gardens were constructed according to the Feng Shui principles, but not in the way that the west commonly misunderstands as a philosophy of arranging things. Rather it is a complex art about creating a landscape to be read, one which was architecturally in tune with nature. The effort to optimize the flow of positive energy and to create perfect balance is seen in the gardens, especially in their tranquil harmony.
The origin of the harmony principle comes from the Taoist teaching of the Yin and Yang, the balance of opposites. In the art of classical gardens this means a contrast between the near and the far, verticals and horizontals or hard and soft surfaces, and finally between clear reality and diffuse reflections in water. This is seen in the architecture, where dark wood contrasts with white walls or in brightly colored calm elements or in the balance with the natural coloring of wood, the stones or the sky.
Because plants did not take up a great deal of space in the classic Chinese garden, they found their meaning and importance as symbols. Up until the late 19th century the most cherished plants were weeping willows, winter cherries (Chinese lantern plants), ponies, chrysanthemums, bamboo and pines. Architecture that dominates the garden fulfills two tasks: it creates picturesque images and it serves as a place of contemplation before the diverse and surprisingly complex view into the outside.
Each view in the garden has a special poetic name. One of the most famous gardens in Suzhou is the Master of the Nets Garden by Wang Shi Yuan, and was started in the 12th century and finished in 18th century. The garden is richly architecturally furnished with several buildings, in whose names one can find poetry.
The Humble Administrator's Garden by Zhouzheng Yuan from 1513 is the largest landscape garden of Suzhou and is filled with rich plants and natural ponds. Among the most famous classical gardens in Suzhou are The Surging Waves Pavilion from 1044 the oldest remaining garden in Suzhou, The Lion Grove Garden from 1342 and the The Lingering Garden from 1522 by Liu Yuan.
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Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.