Humble Administrator’s Garden — Reclusion Culture in Poetic "Mountain and Water" Garden

Humble Administrator’s Garden or Zhuozheng Yuan in Suzhou

Humble Administrator’s Garden or Zhuozheng Yuan in Suzhou, Photo by Zhang Xinyi.

What is the Humble Administrator’s Garden?

 

Humble Administrator's Garden or Zhuozheng Yuan is one of the best representatives of the classical private Southern Jiangnan Style garden. 

 

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the garden is an exceptional example of brilliant combination and harmony of aesthetic buildings, ancient philosophy, natural views, reclusion culture, and poetic designs.

 
Classical Bridge Xiao Fei Hong in Humble Administrator’s Garden

Classical Bridge Xiao Fei Hong in Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by Tingyuqinfeng.

Why is it named the Humble Administrator’s Garden?

 

Wang Xianchen, the founder of the Humble Administrator's Garden, was a brilliant guy born into an official's family and won good scores in Imperial Examinations. 

 

However, his smartness and family's political legacy didn't give him a bright career. Instead, after years of diligent works, he was accused of some charges, got framed up, and punished.  

 

After years of bumpy experiences, Wang Xianchen disheartened resigned and started to construct the garden for his reclusion life in the early 16th century.  

 

He considered himself as a failed politician, therefore, he named his garden the Humble Administrator's Garden after an ancient poem.

 

After the garden was finished, Wen Zhengming, a famous scholar, artist, and calligrapher, who was believed as an important designer of the Humble Administrator’s Garden, painted beautiful sceneries, wrote poems and articles about the garden.

 
Part of Wen Zhengming's Painting of Humble Administrator's Garden in 1533

Part of Wen Zhengming's Painting of Humble Administrator's Garden in 1533 — The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

History and important owners of the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

 

The widespread of Wen Zhengming's paintings and poems made the garden became more and more famous. 

 

After Wang Xianchen passed away, his son lost the garden in gambling to the Xu family, who then lived there for about a century. 

 

In 1631, declined Xu family divided the garden into two parts and sold them to two officials. 

 

These two new owners, Wang Xinyi and Chen Zhilin were talented scholars. They valued the perfect harmony of reclusion culture and nature and didn't change the garden much. 

 
Artful Arch Doorway of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.

Artful Arch Doorway of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.

Later, Wang Yongning, son-in-law of General Wu Sangui (1612 — 1678) got the garden after the former owner Chen Zhilin was convicted and relegated. 

 

Wang Yongning spent big money on renovating and expanding this garden into a luxurious, fancy palace, where he lived an extremely extravagant life. 

 

Years later, however, Wu Sangui initiated a large-scale rebel war against the emperor, which scared Wang Yongning to death.

Exquisite Decorative Openwork Windows of Humble Administrator’s Garden

Exquisite Decorative Openwork Windows of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by Tao Yuan.

The garden was taken back by the government then and gradually became desolate. 

 

In the next decades, the garden experienced many owners and witnessed their rises and falls. 

 

Some owners managed it well, like Jiang Qi who resorted the garden to its original elegant looks; some were busy with their careers in other cities or encountered big failures, and let the garden fall into disuse.  

In 1860, General Li Xiucheng also the King Zhong of the Taiping Kingdom of Heaven (1851 — 1864), which was established during an unprecedented peasant rebellion war, became the new owner of the Humble Administrator's Garden.

 

He reunified all divided parts and expanded this garden, and made it his fabulous palace.

Jianshanlou (the King Li Xiucheng's Office) and ancient tree of Humble Administrator’s Garden

Jianshanlou (the King Li Xiucheng's Office) and ancient trees of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by Yin Qimin.

In 1864, the Taiping Rebellion was defeated and Li Xiucheng was executed. The garden was divided into three parts again, part to the former owner, part to the government, and part became dwellings of some civilians. 

 

Again, the garden experienced different owners, as well as renovations and changes that were implemented according to their tastes. 

Luxurious Liuting Ge of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Renovated by A Rich Businessmen in 1877, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.

Luxurious Liuting Ge of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Renovated by A Rich Merchant in 1877, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.

In the chaotic, embattled early to mid 20th century, the Humble Administrator's Garden had been used as guildhall, teahouse, public entertainment place, wartime headquarter, office, temporary shelter, smoking cessation center, hospital, school, and so on. 

 

It had experienced bombardment, destruction, and witnessed countless people's destinies and struggles during that dark period. 

 

Until 1951, the Humble Administrator's Garden was put under protection, when careful restorations were implemented gradually. In 1997, is it listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as an important Classical Gardens of Suzhou. 

Lanterns in Exquisite Corridor of Humble Administrator’s Garden

Lanterns in Exquisite Corridor of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by 97Lang.

Structural and aesthetic designs of the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

 

Structural Divisions and Characteristics

 

Because of complicated histories and frequent changes of owners, the garden has been divided into three parts: the Western, Middle, and Eastern Parts.

 

  • The Middle Garden is the main part of the entire Humble Administrator's Garden, which has many buildings added in history, but mainly followed the original structure and aesthetic. 

 

  • The Western Garden had been bought by a rich merchant in 1877, who made architectures there quite luxurious and delicate. 

 

  • The Eastern Garden had encountered the most destructions in history, therefore today, it is more of a modern garden with relatively new buildings.

 
The Reconstructed Hanqing Ting in Eastern Part of Humble Administrator’s Garden

The Reconstructed Hanqing Ting in Eastern Part of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by Yin Qimin.

Taoism Aesthetic and Pursuing of Nature

 

Taoism Aesthetic, natural and simple, has been an influential concept in Chinese culture and had been worshipped by many elegant intellectuals in history. 

 

Wang Xianchen, the builder of the Humble Administrator's Garden, was a sincere believer of Taoism Religion and made his garden a great representative of the perfect combination of reclusion culture in beautiful nature.

 

Surrounding water, some elegant and simple buildings were dotted among picturesque plants and flowers.

Ruoshu Tang in Wen Zhengming's Painting of Humble Administrator's Garden in 1533, A Main Building in the Original Garden

Ruoshu Tang in Wen Zhengming's Painting of Humble Administrator's Garden in 1533, A Main Building in the Original Garden — The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Rich Flowers and Plants

 

Since the Humble Administrator's Garden was built in the early 16th century, it has been famous for well designed and rich floras, which consist of extraordinary sceneries in different seasons, such as peonies to spring, lotus in summer, osmanthus for autumn, and plum blossoms in winter.

Lotus Surrounding Furong Xie (Lotus Pavillon) of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.

Lotus Surrounding Furong Xie (Lotus Pavillon) of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.

Excellent use of borrowed and enframed sceneries and arranging of spaces

 

Contrary to royal gardens such as Summer Palace and Chengde Resort in the north, the private Humble Administrator's Garden had been restricted by hierarchy standards and spaces. 

 

Therefore, exquisite designing skills, including artful borrowed and enframed of scenery, skillful incorporating of manmade buildings and stones, are frequently used in the garden, etc. 

Enframed Scenery or Kuangjing in Humble Administrator’s Garden, a traditional skill of classical Chinese Garden

Enframed Scenery or Kuangjing in Humble Administrator’s Garden, a traditional skill of classical Chinese Garden, Photo by Yin Qimin.

Poetic nomenclatures and literary significance of the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

 

After this garden was built, many scholars had visited and written poems to eulogize its beauty.

Besides, elegant couplets hung on pillars, some of them were inscriptions by those poets, are with exceptional literary significance as well.

 
Couplets Written by Artist Wen Zhengming (1470 — 1559) for Pavillon Xiangxue Yunwei, Photo from Official Site of Humble Administrator’s Garden.

Couplets Written by Artist Wen Zhengming (1470 — 1559) for Pavillon Xiangxue Yunwei, Photo from Official Site of Humble Administrator’s Garden.

More importantly, same as the name Humble Administrator’s Garden, every building and area inside the garden has a beautiful, poetic name, most of which were from famous ancient poems or articles. 

Important Data of Humble Administrator’s Garden.

 

  • Humble Administrator's Garden or Zhuozheng Yuan is in Suzhou city of Jiangsu Province;

 

  • It is about 52,000 square meters large, and consists of three sections (eastern, middle, and western sections);

  • There are about 101 ancient tablets, 40 steles, 21 valuable ancient trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style potted landscapes (penjing) preserved inside.

  • Next to the Humble Administrator's Garden are Suzhou Museum and Suzhou Garden Museum, whose designs all followed the garden's style, and preserve over 41,000 invaluable cultural relics. 

 
Artful Pavilion of Humble Administrator’s Garden

Artful Pavilion of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by Gusulian Lvren.