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Home Suzhou Attractions Suzhou Humble Administrator’s Garden

Suzhou Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Garden) Introduction


the inscription of the humble administrator garden
The Inscription of The
Humble Administrator's Garden

Humble Administrator’s Garden, in mandarin Chinese pronounced to be Zhuozheng Yuan(拙政园), which was built in the reign of Zhengde in Ming Dynasty(1368-1644) and traditionally expresses a kind of idea of ancient people. Up to today, it has a history of more than 500 years. The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the representative of east China’s (Jiangnan) Classical Gardens. This classical garden located on Dongbei Street 178, is the largest one among the diverse gardens of Suzhou, and also one of four top famous gardens in China(the others are Suzhou Lingering Garden, Beijing Summer Palace and Chengde Summer Resort). Humble Administrator’s Garden is under the state-level protection, and boasts the motherhood of Chinese gardens. In 1997, it was listed as the UNESCO world cultural heritage site.

The Origin of Humble Administrator’s Garden as a Name

The Actor Performing Pan An

The origin of the name comes from a prose or fu titled Xianju Fu(闲居赋, The Prose of Staying at Home Idle). This classic was written by Pan Yue(潘岳, 247-300), whose courtesy name was Anren(安仁), a symbolized figure of handsome man in traditional China and a famous fu writer in the West Jin Dynasty(265-316). This prose is themed with his tiredness of the official life and desire to the reclusive life, when Pan Yue was at the age of 50. Conclusively speaking, this prose was a summary of his 30 years’ official life on the occasion that his mother died of the disease.

In the prose, one of his friends commented him to be “拙于用多”(Zhuoyu Yongduo), which literally could be translated as being weak in overusing, precisely, it means that Pan Yue led a quite humble and economical life. And then the author expressed his standpoints and depicted a scene he admired. All is self-served as he wanted, and he also quoted a saying from Shang Shu(尚书, Book of Documents, one of four classic books in Confucianism) – “孝乎惟孝,友于兄弟”(Filial Piety is loving your parents and friendly to your brothers) to further interpret his understanding to “拙者之为政”(the administrative way of the unsmart). Therefore, he considered that the life can be ideally self-served and the family relationships can be ideally harmonized were the base of the humble administrators’ pursuits. This is the basic principle of this garden named Zhuozheng, and also the garden owners’ intention.

The History of the Humble Administrator’s Garden

In 1509, the Humble Administrator’s Garden was firstly built by Wang Xiancheng(王献臣). It was historically said that Wen Zhengming(文徵明, 1470-1559) was entrusted to design the garden, so today, there are some prose and paintings themed with the Humble Administrator’s Garden available. According to the original, the area of the garden was larger, and in total comprised of 31 scenic sports like Fanhuawu, Yiyuxuan and Furongwei. In depiction of Wen Zhengming’s Wangshi Zhuzhengyuan Ji(王氏拙政园记, the article of the Humble Administrator’s Garden of Wang Family), he wrote down the whole process of construction. Firstly, he found this land was not suitable for building lots of houses due to the soft geology and heavy humidity. Mr. Wen then borrowed the water to be the center of the whole garden with some designed plants. He designed each scene in garden in accordance with his personal aesthetics of tradition. And actually, as the soul of ancient art of China, Wen Zhengming’s mind represents the mainstream. Everything came out from his heart would be the classic. Today, there are plenty of sites rthe poems and couplets of Wen Zhengming left, and the representative is the couple of Wuzhu Youju Pavilion (梧竹幽居亭, pavilion of secluded living among the parasol trees and bamboos ) :

爽借清风明借月- Borrowing the coolness from the refreshing breeze, and brightness from the moon
动观流水静观山- Viewing the floating of the running water, and the motionlessness of the hill

wen zhengming
The Portrait of Wen Zhengming

This couplet absolutely releases the most vivid characteristic of building this garden – borrowing the scene(借景), all the scenes in garden are all shaped by the nature and plants. In 31 scenes of the Humble Administrator’s Garden, there are more than a half is connected with plants.

After 120 years, when China was reigned by Emperor Chongzheng(崇祯帝, 1610-1644), the whole garden was ruined, and the east garden was owned by Wang Xinyi(王心一, 1572-1645), the student of Chen Huan(陈焕, a great Confucian master) and a famous scholar-official specialized in calligraphy and painting and an assistant minister of the administration of the late Emperor of Ming Dynasty. Wang Xinyi was good at the painting of waters and mountains leant from Huang Gongwang, the painter of Fuchun Shanju Tu(富春山居图), and he restored the garden and named it to be Guiyuan Tianju(归园田居), a meaning form the poem of Tao Yuanming(陶渊明) so as to relieve his depression in politics.

In early Qing Dynasty, Chen Zhilin(陈之遴, 1605 - 1666, a great patriotic official of late Ming Dynasty) purchased this garden. In 1662, the garden was confiscated. In early reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty, it was a mansion of generals of Qing Dynasty. Later on, the garden was given back to the son of Chen Zhilin, and then sold to Wang Yongning(王永宁), the son-in-law of Wu Sangui(吴三桂, the No.1 betrayer of Ming and was crowned to be the Yunnan King by Qing government), and Wang largely built architecture in garden, and the original layout was seriously broken. In 1738, this garden was transfer to Jiang Qi(蒋棨), and the layout was partially changed, and the east part was divided into the middle and the west sections. In 1860, during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, it was the important base of Li Xiucheng in Suzhou. In 1877, the rich businessman named Zhang Lvqian(张履谦) took over this garden and changed the name to be “补园”(Garden of Supplement), and he largely decorated many details of garden, which shape the current condition of garden. In the subsequent years, the owners were Li Hongzhang(李鸿章), Zhang Zhiwan(张之万), Cheng Dequan(程德全), Chen Zeming(陈则民) and so on.

In 1937, the bombers of Japan bombed Suzhou for several times, and the Hall of Yuanxiang was destroyed and Nanxuan was burnt down. All in garden was ruined. In 1952, the whole garden was resurfaced in line with the original design.

The Layout of the Humble Administrator’s Garden

The whole garden is comprised of three sections: the east garden, the middle garden and the west garden.

The east garden generally features the design of Wang Xinyi with the theme of Guiyuan Tianju. The center is Hanqing Pool(涵青池). The north of the pool is Lanxue Hall(兰雪堂) screened by plums, bamboos and cinnamon. The south is Zhuiyun Peak and Lianbi Peak, and under the peak, it was a cave called Little Land of Peach Blossoms. The east is a lotus pool with a tower named Linxiang Tower in the middle. The current attractions mostly are the newly established, and the important sites include Mansion of Shuxiang(秫香馆), Pavilion of Lotus(芙蓉榭) and Tainquan Pavilion(天泉亭). The east garden entrance is on the south. Through the corridor, front-yard and the Lanxue Hall, visitors enter the east garden.

The west garden was basically designed by Zhang Lvqian. And the whole part centers on the water. The buildings include Taying Pavilion(塔影亭, the pavilion of the tower shadow), Liuting Pavilion(留听阁, the pavilion of remaining the hearings), Fucui Pavilion(浮翠阁, the pavilion of floating the green), Li Pavilion(笠亭, the pavilion of bamboo-made hat), Yushuitongzuo Pavilion(与谁同坐轩, the pavilion of whom will be seated together) and Yiliang Pavilion(宜两亭, the pavilion of double suitability). The extended new buildings include Thirty Six Mandarin Duck Pavilion and Eighteen Flos Daturae Pavilion. Both were well decorated. The whole garden is delicately designed for all-season viewing

The middle garden is the highlighted section. Via several transfers, it has been largely different from the original look. But the basic layout is inherited – centering on the water, and the rockeries standing in the center of the pool. The surrounded of the pools are the halls, pavilions, and towers. From the ancient paintings, the architectural site locations are roughly the same as today. Like the Haitang Chunwu (海棠春坞), Tingyu Pavilion(听雨轩, pavilion of hearing the rainfall), Lingxi Hall(玲戏馆), Pipa Garden(枇杷园), Little Flying Ranbow(小飞虹, the only corridor in the Humble Administrator’s Garden), Little Canglang Pavilion(小沧浪), Site of Hearing the Pine-Tree Wind(听松风处), Fragrant Islet(香洲) and Yulan Hall(玉兰堂).

Yuanxiang Hall of The Zhuozheng Garden The Gate of The Zhuozheng Garden
The View of Suzhou Zhuozheng Garden The View of Suzhou Zhuozheng Garden
The View of Suzhou Zhuozheng Garden The View of Suzhou Zhuozheng Garden

Yuanxiang Hall(远香堂, Hall of Fragrance From Afar) is the main architecture of the middle garden, as well as the whole garden. Diversity of scenes is all extended from this site. Yuanxiang Hall is a four-side hall built on the original base of Ruoshu Hall(若墅堂). It was a site built in the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The inside display is quite exquisite. The middle of the hall is a board with three huge characters of the name, which was said to be written by Wen Zhengming. The south side of the hall is a little pool, rockery and a bamboo forest. The north side is a broad platform connecting to the lotus pool. The north side is the main scenic part of the Humble Administrator’s Garden. In the pool, there are two rockeries, east one and the west one. On the west one, there is a pavilion named Xuexiang Yunwei Pavilion(雪香云蔚亭, the pavilion of snow fragrance and cloud gathering). The middle of the pavilion is the board inscribed with characters: 山花野鸟之间(among the mountainous flowers and wild birds), written by Ni Yunlin(倪瓒, 1301-1374, whose courtesy name was Yunlin), one of top four painters of Yuan Dynasty. On the east rockery, there is a pavilion called Daishuang(待霜亭, the pavilion of awaiting the frost). Two rockeries are connected with the Stream Bridge. On the east side of Yuanxiang Pavilion, there is a hill, on the hill, a pavilion called Lvqi(绿绮亭)

The Museum of Suzhou Gardens

The msuem of Suzhou gardens was origianlly located in the Humble Administrator’s Garden and opened officially in 1992. It is China’s first museum themed with gardens. The new museum is lcoated on the west side of the Humble Administrator’s Garden, and it was built in 2005. The museum is divided into the preface hall, the hall of garden history, the hall of the garden art, the hall of the garden culture and the closure hall. It professionally exhibits and explains the arts of gardening. Exteriorly seen, the new museum keeps the architectural tradition of Suzhou and in harmony with the architectural styles of the surrounding gardens like the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lion Grove Garden. The usage of the internal space strictly keeps the tradition of re-building the world in the limited room. This museum was commented to be the textbook of Suzhou gardens.

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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