The Garden of Pleasance
or The Garden of Joy
(Yi Yuan)
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The Garden of Pleasance
Source: Suzhou Gardens, China Architecture & Building Press

This was built during the Tongzhi and Guangxu periods of the Qing dynasty (1862-1908 A.D.); formerly it was Gu Wenbin's private garden. It is a representative and complete south-eastern gentry's private garden, comprising of garden, residence, artificial villages and ancestral halls.
The Garden of Pleasance is the most recently built of Suzhou gardens. It absorbs all strong points of other Suzhou gardens, representing the very best of garden arts. Its twisting and winding corridors are adapted from the layout of the Surging Waves Pavilion. Its rockeries refer to the layout of the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty. Its cavities add pools' art quite deep. It's lotus ponds are similar to those in the Master-of-Nets Garden clear and bright. Its marble boat copies the boat-like structure named Fragrant Isle of the Humble Administrator's Garden - exquisite and special. Thus its particular style is based on adaption of the best o other gardens.
In the arts of garden creation the Garden of Pleasance absorbs many good aspects of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Due to its small area, the garden's layout makes use of the methods of space division, opposite sceneries, view borrowing, etc. Rockeries, winding bridges and buildings are put together; forming numerous three-dimensional outlines, making the garden's views appear deep, twisting and without end. The results of small appearing big, few appearing many, and limited space yielding rich views are thus created. Rocks and stones have been collected from many places; some are placed in courtyards, some next to trees, with different and particular shapes. They can be enjoyed both raised vertically or laid horizontally, giviing the feeling of being amongst hills and pools, as if visiting a famous mountain. These comprise the Garden of Pleasance's main characteristics.

Pleasure Garden
Source: Classical Chinese Gardens, China Building Industry Press, Beijing

Originally part of the residence of Wu Kuan, Secretary of State of the Ming Dynasty, Pleasure Garden (Yi Yuan) was extended by Gu Zishan during the reign of the Qing emperor Guang Xu. Gu separated the garden into two parts with a double gallery. On the east side is the old garden of Wu Kuan while on the west side is the extension of Gu, the two parts totaling nine hectares.
As Pleasure Garden is the most recent of traditional Suzhou gardens, features of various older gardens were adopted in its construction. Its double gallery is modelled on that of Surging Wave Pavilion, the miniature mountain imitates that of Surrounding Beauty Villa (Huan Xiu Shan Zhuang) and its Lotus Pond takes Wang Shi Garden as exemplar. This garden provides an abundance of scenes within its limited space. To add to the garden's attraction, calligraphy by famous scholars and poets throughout history are displayed everywhere in an aura of elegance.
The west garden is the chief scenic region of the compound. In the center is a natural pond with meandering banks, and to its north is a miniature mountain on which the hexagonal Little Surging Wave Pavilion stands. Hanging on the columns of the pavilion are two wooden tablets inscribed with a couplet by the famous Ming poet-calligrapher Zhu Zhishan. The couplet goes:

"A world of bamboos brimming over with moonlight,
Pines sing together with the soothing wind."

Behind the pavilion is a rare stone called the Three Layer Screen because of its shape.
To the south of the pond is a hall compound with its platform extending over the pond. The hall compound is made of two parts: the north is the Lotus Pavilion, an ideal spot for enjoying the lotus in summer; to the south is the Plum Blossom Hall (also known as Ploughing Moon Pavilion) where one can leisurely admire the spring plum blossoms and peonies. In the Lotus Pavilion the archaic furniture is made of box-wood and cedar (Machilus nanmu). To its west is a small building called Biwu Qifeng (Emerald Green Parasol Tree Where the Phoenix Perches). Inlaid above the lintel of a moon gate to its east are the characters "dun ku", meaning the place for the hermit, by the Qing calligrapher He Shaoji. On the walls of the front and left galleries of the former Moonlight Pavilion are inlaid stone tablets inscribed with the calligraphy of the famous poet-calligraphers Mi Fei of the Song Dynasty and Tang Yin of the Ming Dynasty.
To the west of the pond is Hua Fang Study (Study of the Gaily-Painted Plesure Boat). Heavy Dew Hall, also known as the Peony Hall, is positioned further west.
In the east garden, Jade Pavilion (Yu Yan Ting), Free and Easy Throughout the Seasons Pavilion (Sishi Xiaosa Ting), Lute House of Poxian, Stone Boat and Jade Rainbow Pavilion form courtyards of different sizes, connected to each other by galleries. Inside Jade Pavilion is a stone inscription of a couplet by the Ming artist Dong Qichang which goes:

"Sitting in solitude, I mediate on the mysterious,
In peace and quiet, I am glad to reside."

Along the double gallery are lattice windows of rich patterns, and through the windows, the scenes on both sides can be observed.

Yi Yuan (Garden of Joy)
Source: Sights and Scenes of Suzhou, Zhaohua Publishing House, Beijing, 1983

Yi Yuan* was built as a private garden by a man named Gu Wenbin during the years of Emperors Tong Zhi and Guang Xu (1874-1908) of the Qing dynasty. The eastern part of the garden was once the site of the residence of Wu Kuande, a Ming minister who served under Emperor Hong Zhi (1488-1505); the western part was added to it by Gu. A double corridor divides the two sections.

*Take Bus No. I and get off at Guanqian Street, and then head south for half a stop. Yi Yuan is situated on the western side of the street.

Since Yi Yuan was the latest of the famous gardens to be built in Suzhou, it assimilated the best features of all its predecessors. The double corridor was modeled on Cang Lang Ting; the rockeries were laid out according to those at Huan Xiu Shan Zhuang; the lotus pond is similar to one in Wang Shi Yuan; and a "land boat" was built in the same way as the one in Zhuo Zheng Garden. The garden is full of variety in spite of its small size.

The best scene in the eastern part of the garden is Sui Han Cao Lu (Evergreen Cottage), which has two facades facing north and south respectively. Scattered about in the small courtyard north of the house are a number of oddly-shaped rocks. Thus the cottage is also called Bai Shi Xuan (House of the Worshipper of Stones), a name derived from a legend about the painter Mi Dian* who is said to have worshiped stones.

The southern courtyard of the house is overgrown with pines, cypresses, wintergreen, camellia, and bamboo. All these plants are evergreens, hence the name of the house.

In the western part of the garden stands a building with two facades. The side facing water is called Ou Xiang Xie (Lotus Fragrance Pavilion), or He Hua Ting (Lotus Blossom Hall). The south side of the building is called Chu Yue Xuan (Hoeing-the-Moon Veranda), and is the best place in the garden. In spring visitors here are regaled with the sight of flowering plum trees and peonies.

*Mi Dian (1051-1107), whose real name was Mi Fu, was a famous painter and calligrapher of the Northern Song dynasty. He was called Mi Dian (Mi the Madman) as his behavior was considered odd. Emperor Hui Zong of the Song dynasty summoned Mi to the court to serve as a high-ranking artist. Mi wrote poetry, excelled at calligraphy and painting and was also skilled at appraising paintings and calligraphy. Mi, Su Dongpo (Su Shi) and two others were called the "Four Experts of the Song Dynasty."

West of Lotus Fragrance Pavilion stands Mian Bi Ting (Facing-the-Wall Pavilion). On a wall of the pavilion hangs a large mirror in which can be seen an interesting view of Luo Ji Ting (Spiral Hairdo Pavilion) on a rock hill across the garden.

Proceeding westward along a corridor from Facing-the-Wall Pavilion, the visitor comes to Han Chuan (Land Boat), the first story of which is called Hua Fang Zai (Picture Boat Studio), and the second, Song Lai Ge (Soughing-of-the-Pines Building). A wooden tablet over the door bears eight characters written by Yu Yue* of the Qing dynasty. Translated, they read:

Melody of green ravines,
Shade of ancient pines.

This inscription is an apt summary of the scenery in this garden.

*Yu Yue (1821-1907), a scholar of the Qing dynasty, excelled at poetry and devoted much attention to novels and drama. The notes he made contain an abundance of data. He wrote Examples of Doubtful Points in Ancient Books and other books totaling 250 volumes.