Suzhou Garden, the Exquisite Landscaping Art

Suzhou in east China’s Jiangsu Province is a city of rivers and canals and also a city of gardens. Although the history of Suzhou's gardens can be traced as far back as the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC), it was during the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) that the garden art of Suzhou was at its zenith, when at one time there were more than 200 private family gardens.
Suzhou gardens have their own characteristics in layout, structure and style. The prospering city and its outskirts were dotted with exquisite private gardens. Dozens of them, such as Zhuozheng (Humble Administrator's) Garden, Liuyuan (Lingering) Garden, Wangshi (Master of Nets) Garden and Huanxiu (Embracing Beauty) Mountain Villa, are still well preserved today, which respectively represent the different styles of Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. In fact, it was the perfection of the designs and workmanship of these gardens that influenced landscaping throughout the region.
Imperial gardens and private gardens each developed their own distinctive features over many years. The imperial gardens of Beijing are considered the finest examples of that style. They are noted for their expansive size, grandeur and stateliness. The gardens of Suzhou are the epitome of landscaping art for the private garden, with their delicacy and simplicity. The designers of private gardens, not bound by the rigid conventions of the imperial court, had greater freedom of expression in their art.
Suzhou gardens seek the return to Nature and the cultivation of temperament, with hills and waters, flowers and trees, pavilion, terraces, towers and halls composing the basic garden elements. The ancient gardens of Suzhou were designed to be lived in as much as were the houses to which they were attached. Paths invited residents and their guests to wander, offering a new view at every bend; pavilions, gazebos or simple seats offered comfortable spots in which to relax, chat, and perhaps to take some refreshments or pen a poem. This type of landscaping was often used in the densely populated cities, where residents recalled the countryside with nostalgia and yearned to commune with nature.
Horizontal inscribed boards, hanging scrolls, sculptures and hall decorations, as well as the trees, stones and ponds in the gardens are not only delightful treats for the senses. They also provide a wealth of information as to the history, society, values and aesthetics of the eras in which they were built. Wandering through the gardens even today, people can enjoy reflecting on the philosophic concepts and ideologies of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism; they can still sense the romance of the ancient poetry and prose that influenced the gardens' creators.