The Lion Grove Garden
(Shi Zi Lin)
Oroszlán liget

« back to the index of Suzhou Gardens
back to TAO (Terebess Asia Online)
« vissza Terebess Gábor keleti kertjeire

The Lion Forest Garden
Source: Suzhou Gardens, China Architecture & Building Press

This is situated in the north-east of Suzhou. It occupies 1.1 hectares, with an open area 0.88 hectare; it is rectangular in shape with its length stretching from east to west. A high wall surrrounds it; there are also numerous corridors around the garden. In the middle part a pond forms its centre. Piling of rocks, building of houses, planting of flowers and trees, streching of bridges and construction of pavilions comprise the garden's layout and give an artistic conception of mountains and trees being close by.
This garden was built for the Tianru monk Weize by his disciples in the second year of the Yuan dynasty's Zhizheng period (1342 A.D.). During early times it was called Lion Forest Temple; later its name was changed to Puti Zhengzong Temple and then to Sheng'en Temple. The monk Weize wrote a collection of poetry called "14 poems of the Lion Forest Garden sceneries" . He described the garden's scenery and the circumstanzes of life. The famous writer and painter Ni Yunlin of the Ming dynasty took part in the garden's construction; he wrote poetry and painted, thus adding to the fame of the Lion Forest Garden. It became a place for buddhist teaching and for scholars to write poetry and paint. The garden has seen both splendour and decay; temple, garden and residence have been divided and then united, and traditional garden construction methods and buddhist thinking have amalgamated, so that the Bei family of recent times has taken western garden construction methods and home temples as part of the garden, forming a temple garden of religious principles and garden joy.
The mountains of the Lion Forest Garden are not high, but contain many cavities, some high up, giving the feeling of magnificence. The ponds are not deep, but has multi-layered, curving edges and many waterfalls next to flower beds, and many old, famous trees of beautiful appearance. Halls, buildings and pavilions are even more refined; it is truly a famous garden of the middle Wu Kingdom.

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

Lion Grove Garden was first built in the Zhi Zheng period of the Yuan Dynasty. It was originally part of the Puti Zhengzong Temple. Inside the garden there are many rockeries in the shape of a lion (shizi), hence the name Lion Grove, or Shizi Lin in Chinese. The celebrated painter, Ni Zan, one of the four masters of the Yuan, captured the beauty of the garden in his famous Scroll of Lion Grove Garden, making the garden more renowned than ever. The Qing emperors Kang Xi and Qian Long visited the garden several times and they had a garden built modelled after it in the Imperial Summer Resort in Rehe (Jehol).
Carefully designed, the east part of the garden is decorated with many rockeries while the west part is covered by a vast body of water. The main structures are to the north, with the pavilions and halls all connected to one another by long galleries. Up and down, turning and twisting, these galleries are well-known for their unique format.
After entering by the gate in the southeast corner of the garden complex, one passes the Yan Yu Hall and Xiao Fang Hall (Small Square Hall). In the backyard of Xiao Fang Hall is a plum-blossom-shaped gate, and in the front of the gate are bamboo trees and rockeries, evoking a perfectly framed Chinese painting. To the north of the plum blossom gate is the Pavilion for Pointing to the Cypress which is the main structure of the whole garden. Looking south from the pavilion, one can see an expanse of rockeries with a forest of cypress trees standing high in their midst. To the southwest of the pavilion is Mountain View Mansion and Lotus Hall which, facing the lake, comprise a vantage point where one can admire the lotuses unobstructed. Further west is the Genuine Amusement Pavilion, Stone Boat and Faint Fragrance Dim Shadow Mansion (Anxiang Shuying Lou), all of which line the shore of the nearby lake. Turning south along the porch on the west, one comes to the Flying Waterfall Pavilion which is the highest spot in the garden. Under the pavilion is a hushi limestone rockery of three layers which drops steeply to join a brook at its foot. Further south are the Pavilion for Greeting the Plum Blossoms (Wen Mei Ting) and Double Fragrance Hall of the Immortals which is at the southwest corner of the garden. To its east, the Fan-Shaped Pavilion and the Pavilion of the Memorial Tablet of Wen Tianxiang (a loyal Song official) mark the southern border of the garden.
The specialities of Lion Grove Garden are its miniature mountains and peaks. The miniature mountain in front of Pointing to Cypress Pavilion has the most peculiar formation. Among its peaks, the Sunshine, Moon Rising, Black Jade and Sky Touching all have their own characteristics, with Lion Peak being the highest. Stone paths connecting the grottos and caves, which are located high and low over the mountain, form a labyrinth. The design of each cave and grotto is different and taken together they make up the famous Eighteen Scenes, with the Hall Sleeping on Clouds (Woyun Shi) situated in the middle. Constructed entirely with hushi eroded limestone, this miniature mountain looks grotesque and towering.

The Lion Forest Garden

Compactly yet harmoniously spaced, the Lion Forest Garden has a prominent part for series of man-made mountains with various buildings around the lake, and an artificial waterfall and cliffs at the edge of the lake on the west. Remains of the 14th century man-made mountains, covering 1,152 sq. m. and being the largest of all at Suzhou, can be still seen today. Noted for its labyrinthine mountains with winding pathways and caverns, old pines and cypress trees, awesome peaks and jogged rocks of grotesque  shapes resembling dancing lions with striking and unusral poses, it possesses with pride the true delights of mountain and forest scenery in limited space with a flavor of Zen Buddhism.

The Hall of Peace and Happiness,one of the principal buildings in the garden,is a master-piece of typical mandarin ducks'hall at Suzhou. Divided in halves, the northern half of the hall differs from the southen half in many particular aspects, such as beam-framing systems, furnishings, pavements, carvings, window designs and so forth. With painted patterns and beam carvings and looking splendid in green and gold, the True Delight Pavilion in the royal style with the "True Delight" tablet inscribed by the Qing Emperor Qianlong is a main viewing place in the garden and differs from the other plain and elegant gardens of Suzhou. Other buildings include the pointing at Cypress Trees Hall, the Asking Prunus Mume Pavilion and the Stone Boat, etc.

The Lion Forest Garden boasts 22 buildings of varied types, 25 tablets and plateaux, 71 steles inscribed with the famous Calligraphy Collection of the Listening to Rain Tower, 23 brick carvings, 5 carved wooden screens, and 13 valuable old trees such as gingo biloba L., pinus bungeana Zucc ,etc.

Shi Zi Lin (Lion Grove)
Source: Sights and Scenes of Suzhou, Zhaohua Publishing House, Beijing, 1983

Lion Grove*, situated on the road to Loumen Garden, is famous as a representative garden of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Construction on it started in the second year of Zhi Zheng (1342), more than 600 years ago. Originally named "Bohdi Orthodox Monastery" it was built by the monk Tianru**

*Take No. 2 or No. 3 bus to Zhuo Zheng Garden. A few steps along Yuanlin Road brings one to Lion Grove.
**The founder of the garden, Monk Tian Ru, wrote in a poem, "People say I am in a city, but I suspect I am among thousands of mountains."

for his teacher, the monk Zhong Feng. Later it was renamed Lion Grove Monastery because Zhong Feng once lived at Lion Cliff at the Xitianmu mountains in Zhejiang province, and in the garden were a large number of rocks shaped like lions. Its name was again changed to Huachan Monastery in the twelfth year of Qian Long (Qing dynasty) in 1747. Lion Grove is the garden behind the monastery. Rebuilt many times during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, it is small but exquisite in design and famous for its rockeries. Most of its hills are in the southeastern part of the garden while the streams and ponds are in the northwest. It is one of the more unique gardens in Suzhou.

The rockeries here are built of rocks from Taihu Lake and cover half the garden's surface. The highest among them, Shizi Feng (Lion Peak), is pierced with a labyrinth of caves. People unfamiliar with these caves may easily lose their way in them.

As one enters the garden, a corridor leads one north to Yanyu Hall and a small square hall behind it. On the back wall of the latter is a door leading to a rockery. On the front porch of Yanyu Hall, a door opens on Lixue Tang (Standing-in-the-Snow Hall). Another door on the back porch takes one to Wo Yun Shi (Sleeping Clouds Chamber).

Looking north from the small square hall, one sees a couple of Taihu boulders shaped like lions. It is said there were altogether nine stone lions standing in a row, but the ravages of time and the elements changed their shapes until those that remain now bear little resemblance to those animals.

Yifeng Zhibo Xuan (Bowing-to-Peaks-and-Pointing-to-the-Cypress Veranda) is a parlor used by its former owner to entertain guests, close relatives and good friends. "Zhibo" (pointing to the cypress) comes from a line of poetry by Gao Qi (1336-1374)* of the Ming dynasty: "Instead of greeting his guest, (the host) smiles and points at a cypress before the hall." "Yifeng" comes from a poem by Zhu Xi: "Bowing to Lushan, a peak of unique charm."

Toward the south, a stone bridge arches across a small stream. As one leans against the railing and gazes into the distance, one sees a forest of rocky promontories, cypresses and several stalagmites picturesquely arranged to form the garden's [lain scenic attraction.

West of Yifeng Zhibo Xuan lies a bamboo garden, and next to it the Wu Song Yuan (Five-Pine Garden). These are part of the old Lion Grove.

He Hua Ting (Lotus Pavilion) overlooks a lotus pond and is a good place for those who like to look at lotuses in bloom in the summer.

Inside Zhen Qu Ting (Real Interest Pavilion) hangs a horizontal board inscribed with the characters "Zhen" and "Qu" (real interest) in the handwriting of emperor Qian Long of the
Qing dynasty. It is said that when Qian Long came sightseeing it Suzhou, he had a minor official named Huang Xinzu take him on a tour of this garden. Qian Long found the rocks interesting, and on the spur of the moment wrote three characters "Zhen You Qu" (really interesting). Huang thought it in poor taste and felt it could be improved by deleting the character "you". But he did not dare say so directly. Instead, he said to Qian Long, "Your Majesty, please give the middle character

*Gao Qi (1336-1374), a poet of the Ming dynasty, ranked in fame with Yang Ji, Zhang Yu and Xu Lai. In fact, the four were known as the "Four poets of Suzhou". Gao Qi's poems satirized the Ming imperial Court. For that he was sentenced to death by Zhu Yuanzhang (Tai Zu), founder of the Ming dynasty.

'you' to me!" Qian Long at once understood what he meant and struck out the middle word, leaving "Zhen" and "Qu".

Following a corridor to the top of an earthen hill, one comes to Feipu Ting (Flying Waterfall Pavilion), from which the visitor can watch and listen to the rushing of a waterfall.

Wen Mei Ge (Plum Tower) used to be a place where scholars painted and wrote poetry. In addition to the many plum trees planted around the building, all the floors, windows, tables, chairs and utensils inside are decorated or carved with plum blossom designs.

Shan Ting (Fan Pavilion) is so named for its fan-shaped windows and steps. From here one has a good view of all the buildings in the garden.

Li Xue Tang (Standing-in-the-Snow Hall) is situated on the eastern side of the corridor. It is said that a studious scholar of the Yuan dynasty once came here to seek instructions from his teacher. But his teacher happened to be sleeping, so he stood outside and waited until his teacher woke up. When the latter got out of bed, he saw his student standing in the snow. Moved by the young man's conduct, he had the building renamed "Li Xue Tang".

In the small yard in front of the building one sees several piles of Taihu rocks shaped like lions, frogs, crabs or ox heads. These have given rise to some fanciful names and stories such as "The Ox Eats the Crab".

Wo Yun Shi (Sleeping Clouds Chamber) stands among rockeries. Coming here, one feels as though one has entered a forest of stone.