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Special> 60th Anniversary of The People's Republic of China> Discovering China> Suzhou
UPDATED: July-19-2008 NO. 30 JULY 24, 2008
The Garden Ambassadors
Suzhou's gardens blend culture into nature, and are a quiet and beautiful retreat from the bustling city life around them

HEAVENLY SOUND: Foreign tourists listen to a musician playing Guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument, in Wangshi Garden (Master of Nets), Suzhou

With a history of more than 2,500 years, Suzhou, in east China's Jiangsu Province, is best known for its exquisite architecture and elegant gardens. So beautiful are the gardens in fact that they have served as ambassadors to the world on many occasions, their images adorning the background displays of cultural and commercial events hosted by the government and private enterprises.

The Ming Hall in Metropolitan Museum in New York City is a clone of a cottage from one of Suzhou's gardens; and the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver is modeled on Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) gardens in Suzhou.

Two styles of garden are prevalent in China: imperial gardens, often seen in Beijing; and the private gardens found in Suzhou.

In its heyday, Suzhou had more than 280 private gardens. Some remain well preserved and are open to the public. The most famous of these are Canglangting Garden (Surging Waves Pavilion), first built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Shizilin Garden (Lion Forest) of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Zhuozheng Garden (Humble Administrator's) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Liu Garden (Lingering) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). They are valued for their history and cultural connation, as well as for the era they represent.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee listed some of Suzhou's classical gardens, including Zhuozheng Garden, Liuyuan Garden, Wangshi (Master of Nets) Garden and Huanxiu (Embracing Beauty) Mountain Villa as world cultural heritage sites in December 1997.

Canglangting is one of the oldest surviving classical gardens in south China. Its most prominent feature is that one can enjoy the scenery before entering the garden. Across a clear stream that meanders around the garden, visitors can see the contours of pavilions and terraces with different heights, whose images are mirrored in the rippling water. The garden is accessible through a bridge. Inside the garden, man-made hills dominate the scene. Buildings are constructed around the hills, connected by zigzagging paths lined with clusters of green bamboo and exuberant shrubs or trees. Canglangting Pavilion nestles among woods at the top of a hill.

Shizilin Garden is also famous for its man-made hills with a labyrinth of winding pathways and caves and grotesque shaped peaks and cliffs. Its layout is spontaneous and natural, with hills mostly in the southeast part and waters mostly in the northwest. Winding corridors connect elusive buildings and terraces. Many architectural structures in the garden nestle against hills and are close to the waterfront.

Covering an area of 5.2 hectares, most of which is water, Zhuozheng Garden is large. Buildings in the garden cluster around water. The garden is divided into three parts: eastern, middle and western. The middle part is the cream of the garden with beautiful hills, clear water, exquisite buildings and exuberant trees and flowers; the west part of the garden features winding corridors on water, which quietly mirror secluded buildings and terraces; the east part is flat and spacious, with meadows and thriving bamboo. The garden has a large expanse of water. With scenery tailored to the landscape, this garden is typical of the classical garden style in areas south of the Yangtze River.

Liuyuan Garden can be divided into four sections: east, west, middle and north. Magnificent buildings with simple and elegant upholstery dominate the east section. The 9-meter Guanyun Peak is the tallest rock in the area. In the west section, maple trees thrive on the man-made mountains. In late fall and early winter, the red maple leaves paint a beautiful picture. Water prevails in the middle section, with man-made mountains and buildings circling around the lake in the middle. The northern section is pastoral, with bamboo, peach, apricot and willow tress, wisteria rack and vineyard on the banks of a brook running in front of the hill.

Suzhou's gardens are miniatures of nature as well as culture. The ancient garden builders were usually well-educated and well-versed in poems and painting. The interest, ideas and dreams of the owners were expressed in poems or articles inscribed on horizontal boards or parallel couplets.

Pan Duo
Yuan Longping
Chen Guangbiao
Chen Zhangliang
Zheng Xiaoying
Song Dafang
Jiang Qingliang
Liu Jinyan
Hu Fei
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