Thursday, 22 April 2010

Chinese garden: Yuan

The characters of the word Yuan symbolize the organization and components of a garden: An enclosure, a plant of rock, a pool or lake, a building or pavilion.

In the China of the past, when politics were corrupt, commerce was sordid, society was disorderly and life was harsh, a Chinese could always seek solace in his own garden, where he enjoyed life freely, happily and artistically. Making gardens was among the things that the Chinese did best at their leisure. 

The garden a man built was always an integral part of his house. Traditionally a huayuan (flower garden) is composed of trees, rockeries, a pond or lake, zigzag footpaths, winding corridors, bridges and other garden structures for habitation, quiet viewing and merrymaking. These elements are arranged in such a way that they are often more artistically designed than nature itself. A garden is the artistic recreation of nature and considered a landscape painting in 3 dimensions. For the Chinese a garden is an outdoor living room, not only designed for the necessities of life but for the art of living as well.

Creative Solitude and cultivated socializing:

Seeking a good life in the company of their own kind (similar to a poetry club today)
scholar hermits regularly met in gardens and indulged themselves in activities that may have included quiet meditation, abstract philosophizing, composing and reading poetry, painting, playing the zither, concentrating on a game of chess, sampling tea, drinking wine, fishing, boating, picking herbs for medicine, and making pills of immortality .
Chen Fuyao, a Qing scholar produce by far the most memorable narratives in his Huajing (Flower Mirror), published in 1688. His accounts, which read like an autobiography of a leisurely life, register the fullest extent of his seasonal itinerary in the setting of his naturalistic house garden.

Getting up in the morning and after drinking a cup of juice made from plum flower petals, I went on to supervise servants cleaning garden paths and the house. Afterwards, I read some books on seasonal planting and did maintenance work on the moss on the steps. Approaching noontime, I washed my hands
with rose scented cologne before lighting the delicate yu rui incense to refresh the house and also read some passages from the popular literature Chiwen liuzi.
At noon, I went out in the garden and picked bamboo shoots and bracken as fuel to heat the spring water for the new tea leaves. In the afternoon, with a jug of wine and two oranges in hand, I rode my old horse to the bird sanctuary to hear orioles singing. Later in the afternoon, I set under the willow tree and enjoyed the breeze while casually composing a few lines of poetry on my colourful personal stationery. My favourite pastimes in the evening were taking a walk along the garden path, supervising the gardener’s work on flower-beds, and feeding the storks and fishes.

As soon as I get up in the early morning, I put on a lotus leaf quilt as clothing and breathed the moist fresh air of the blossoming trees, at the same time singing and reciting verses of poetry, as a way to teach the parrot to speak. During late morning, I casually read parts of Laozi and Zhuangzi, or practised brush strokes patterned after famous calligraphers of the past. At noon, I took off my head scarf, hung it over a cliff, and then sat around a bamboo couch with close friends to discuss the scholarly work of Qi xie and Shanhai jing. When tired, I took a nap and enjoyed a good dream. Thereafter, we had coconut and other fruit as a snack and lotus flower wine as a beverage. After taking a bath in the evening, I went boating and fishing amongst the vine-lined winding rivulet.

Rising up early in the morning, putting down the window curtain, I carefully picked up with toothpicks the morning dew from flower petals to be used in red ink mixture for punctuation marks on literary writings. As noontime was nearing, I played some music on a zither, trained the storks, and played with my curious collection of stones and metal pieces. At noon, I washed the ink stand with a lotus “head”, tidied up the tea set, and dusted wutong and bamboo trees in the courtyard. I dressed up in hermit attire with a white casual hat in the afternoon and went outdoors to enjoy the colourful autumn leaves, jotting down some verses when so inspired. I then was served crab and perch, and conch soup, together with newly fermented wine. When drunk, I listened to the nearby insects singing, the chanting of the boatmen and Shepherd boys which come from faraway places. At dusk, I lit bah yue incense, cared for the chrysanthemums, watched the big yen birds flying by, and played some music.

Getting up, drinking a cup of fragrant wine before I did my wash up near a fire. Near midday, cushions for seats were set up, and a fire made up of coal was prepared for the gathering of a scholarly game hei jing she. At noon, I opened a bookcase and organized it contents, full of manuscripts that I had previously composed, watched the slow moving tree shadows on garden steps, and enjoyed washing my feet in hot water. In the early afternoon, I took the birds in a cage and walked up the mountain cliff full of pine trees. There I enjoyed tea brewed in cracked ice from the field. Later I wore a coat made of sheepskin and a hat of sable, and fully appreciated the plum blossoms while riding on donkey back.  Evening hours were spent around a fire with friends discussing the magic of Zen Buddhism while munching on charcoal baked yams. At night, I indulged myself in the reading of novels on martial art and supernatural beings, regretting the loss of “sward art “forever.

Yuan Ye (The Manual of Garden Design- 1634, Ji Cheng)

The principle of making use of borrowed scenery: Borrowing from one another the scenes in a garden are linked together in a sequence. A garden becomes related to the surrounding environment when it borrows scenery beyond the confines of its walls. (Borrowing scenes from the distance, near at hand, above you, below you, at certain times around the year)
The primary consideration is the view and it is all the better if the buildings can face south.
Built up mountains from the excavated soil and form embankments along the edges of the ponds. Water should be allowed to flow freely as if it had no end and when it blocks your path, build a bridge across it. The shape of the pond should be such that no end or source of the water can be seen along the main circulation route. Where the source of the water must reveal itself, one should build a bridge to cover it.
Importance of irregularity an asymmetry in design, and promoted elegance and simplicity in construction. Winding walkways and zigzag footpaths are unchanging conventions of garden design.
Showing the large in the small and the small in the large, providing for the real in the unreal and for the unreal in the real. Delight the beholder at the same time by revealing and concealing views alternately, making them sometimes apparent and sometimes hidden:

In the big open spaces plant bamboos that grow quickly and train plum trees with thick branches to cover them. This is to show the small in the large.
When the courtyard is small, the wall should be a combination of convex and concave shapes, decorated with green, covered with ivy, and inlaid with big slabs of stone with inscription on them. Thus when you open your window you seem to face a rocky hillside, alive with rugged beauty. This is to show the large in the small.
Contrive so that an apparently blind alley leads suddenly into an open space and the kitchen leads through a back door into an unexpected courtyard. This is to provide for the real in the unreal.  Let a door lead into a blind courtyard and conceal the view by placing a few bamboo trees and a few rocks. Thus you suggest something which is not there. Place low balustrades along the top of a wall so as to suggest a roof garden which does not exist. This is to provide for the unreal in the real.
Inside the gate there is a footpath and the footpath must be winding. At the turning of the footpath there is an outdoor screen and the screen must be small. Behind the screen there is a terrace and the terrace must be level. On the banks of the terrace there are flowers and the flowers must be fresh. Beyond the flowers is a wall and the wall must be low. By the side of the wall, there is a pine tree and the pine tree must be old. At the foot of the pine tree there are rocks and the rocks must be quaint. Over the rocks there is a pavilion and the pavilion must be simple. Behind the pavilion are bamboos and the bamboos must be thin and sparse. At the end of the bamboos there is a house and the house must be secluded.

Chinese Painting and Gardens- format

In Chinese painting conventional formats include the vertical and horizontal, the hand scroll and the juxtaposition of individual frames. In addition, fan shape, circular, octagonal, and other geometrical formats are also popular. These geometric forms are employed in the openings in architectural elements of the garden. A garden can thus be experienced as a three dimensional painting in which pictures and framed by a variety of devices, including windows and openings in the garden walls. As the visitor moves along a garden path, scenes will unfold in space and time much as if a hand scroll were being unrolled.

Chinese Painting and Gardens- scattered vanishing point in perspective

Chinese artists had the liberty of utilizing as many vanishing points as they deemed necessary to depict a particular scene.
Metaphorical parallels between the ever changing natural phenomena and the changing of human emotions. Believing that all things were endowed with sentiments and feelings:
Pine, bamboo and wintersweet are personified as three good friends of winter due to their perseverance and unconquerable spirit in the face of freezing cold a hardship. Plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum are considered the Four Virtuous Gentlemen. The lotus flower is respected for its purity and integrity because of its ability to survive the muddy world without being contaminated. The peony symbolizes wealth and prosperity with its brilliant colours and majestic appearance. They are not only useful for the”landscape” of the eye but also they are essential ingredients for the “inscape” of the mind. 
- Sitting of the main hall. Ideally in the northern section of the garden, facing south and overlooking the best scenes that the garden would provide 
- The garden is enclosed by high walls, ancient trees, and artificial hills.
- Skilful subdivision of space would make a small garden appear large and provide varieties of scenery in the garden.
- A pond is created as a final touch. Water not only gives contrast to rockery and provides a mirror image of scenic objects; it also gives life and mobilizes the static artificial hills in a garden scene.
- A variety of windows. A moon gate and other geometric openings were employed to frame garden scenes and to create depth of space. As a rule, no dead end was allowed in any garden space. The climax of a garden was reached only by following carefully designed sequences of hiding, leaking, and revealing scenes of enchantment, as the visitor is never allowed to see the panoramic whole of the Chinese garden at the outset.
- Hide the source of the pond and to conceal the footpath amidst mountains and valleys.

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