Humble Administrator’s Garden — Reclusion Culture in Poetic "Mountain and Water" Garden
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 the brilliant combination and harmony of aesthetic buildings, ancient philosophy, natural views, reclusion culture, and poetic designs.
Classical Bridge Xiao Fei Hong, Photo by Tingyuqinfeng.
Why Is It Named the Humble Administrator's Garden?
Wang Xianchen, the founder of the garden, was a brilliant guy born into an official family and won good scores in Imperial Examinations.
However, his smartness and his family's political legacy didn't give him a bright career. Instead, after years of diligent work, he was accused of some charges, framed, 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 a failed politician; therefore, he named his garden the Humble Administrator's Garden after an ancient poem.
After it was finished, Wen Zhengming, a famous scholar, artist, and calligrapher, who was believed to be an important garden designer, painted beautiful sceneries and wrote poems and articles about Zhuozheng Yuan.
Part of Wen Zhengming's Painting of Humble Administrator's Garden in 1533 — The Metropolitan Museum of Art
History and Important Owners
The widespread of Wen Zhengming's paintings and poems made the garden 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 and Floras, 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 renovating and expanding this garden into a luxurious, fancy palace, where he lived an extremely extravagant life.
Years later, Wu Sangui initiated a large-scale rebel war against the emperor, which scared Wang Yongning to death.
Exquisite Decorative Openwork Windows, Photo by Tao Yuan.
The garden was taken back by the government then and gradually became desolate.
In the following 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 significant failures and let the garden fall into disuse.
In 1860, General Li Xiucheng, the King Zhong of the Taiping Kingdom of Heaven (1851 — 1864), established during an unprecedented peasant rebellion war, became the new owner.
He reunified all divided parts, expanded this garden, and made it his fabulous palace.
Jianshanlou (the King Li Xiucheng's Office) and Ancient Trees, Photo by Yin Qimin.
In 1864, the Taiping Rebellion was defeated, and Li Xiucheng was executed. The garden was divided into three parts again, one for the former owner, one for the government, and the rest became dwellings of some civilians.
Again, the garden experienced different owners, as well as renovations and changes implemented according to their tastes.
Luxurious Liuting Ge, Renovated by A Rich Merchant in 1877, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng.
In the chaotic, embattled early to mid-20th century, the garden had been used as guildhalls, teahouse, public entertainment place, wartime headquarter, office, temporary shelter, smoking cessation center, hospital, school, and so on.
It had experienced bombardment and 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, it was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site as an important Classical Garden of Suzhou.
Lanterns and Interior Designs in Exquisite Corridor, 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 follows the original structure and aesthetic.
The Western Garden had been bought by a wealthy merchant in 1877, who made buildings quite luxurious and delicate.
The Eastern Garden encountered the most destruction 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, Photo by Yin Qimin.
Taoism Aesthetic and Pursuing of Nature
Taoism Aesthetic, natural and simple, has been an influential concept in Chinese culture and has been worshipped by many elegant intellectuals throughout history.
Wang Xianchen, the garden builder, was a sincere believer in Taoism Religion and made his garden a great representative of the perfect combination of reclusion culture in beautiful nature.
Surrounding the 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 — The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Rich Flowers and Plants
Since the 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 in spring, lotus in summer, osmanthus for autumn, and plum blossoms in winter.
Lotus Surrounding Furong Xie (Lotus Pavillon), Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng Garden.
Excellent Use of Borrowed and Enframed Sceneries and Arranging of Spaces
Therefore, exquisite design skills, including artful borrowed and enframed scenery, and skillful incorporation of artificial 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, Photo by Yin Qimin.
Poetic Nomenclatures and Literary Significance
After this garden was built, many scholars visited and wrote poems to eulogize its beauty.
Besides, elegant couplets hung on pillars, some of them were inscriptions by those poets, with exceptional literary significance as well.
Couplets Written by Artist Wen Zhengming (1470 — 1559) for Pavillon Xiangxue Yunwei, Photo from Official Site of Zhuozheng.
More importantly, like the garden's name Zhuozheng, every building and area inside the garden has a beautiful, poetic name, most of which were from famous ancient poems or articles.
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);
About 101 ancient tablets, 40 steles, 21 valuable ancient trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style potted landscapes (Pen Jing) are preserved inside.
Next to the garden are Suzhou Museum and Suzhou Garden Museum, whose designs all follow the garden's style and preserve over 41,000 invaluable cultural relics.
Artful Pavilion of Humble Administrator’s Garden, Photo by Gusulian Lvren.
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