The Humble Administrator's Garden
(Zhuozheng Yuan)
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The Humble Administrator's Garden
Source: Suzhou Gardens, China Architecture & Building Press

The Humble Administrator's Garden is the most famous of the south-eastern gardens; the very best of the East Wu Kingdom, and one of four great Chinese gardens-a classical Suzhou garden.
The Humble Administrator's Garden is situated in Dongbei Street, Inner Dongbei Loumen, in the old city area of Suzhou. The garden occupies 4.1 hectares (not including administration area and flower nutsery, which occupy approximately 0.67 hectare). In the fourth year of the Ming dynasty's Zhengde period (1509 A.D.), the Emperors' envoy Wang Xianchen started to build it. During the next 400 years, following dynastic changes and different owners,through splendour and decay, the garden developed from formingone entity into separating into three gardens all with their own style.
The Humble Administrator's Garden during the early times of Wang Xianchen's ownership has been documented by Wen Zhengming; he made sketches and notes which exist today. These notes describe in some detail the garden's appearance and style. At that time the garden's area was approximately 13.4 hectares-quite large. There were 31 scenic spots altogether, with a lot of bamboo, mountains, waters and trees, etc.; resemling nature and giving an air of naturalness.
120 years later, in the fourth year of the Ming dynasty's Chongzhen Period(1631 A.D.), the already slightly decayed eastern part of the garden was owned by the aide Wang Xinyi. Wang was very good at mountain and water painting, and he therefore designed and arranged such landscapes. He named the garden "the Pastoral Garden Home".
During the early Qianlong period, the western part of the Humble Administrator's Garden split into a middle and a western garden.
The present West Garden was established during the third year of the Guangxu period (1877 A.D.); it was rebuilt by Zhang Luqian; he named it "Rebuilt Garden". This garden contained the sceneries of the Stay and Listen Pavilion, the "With Whom Shall I Sit?" Pavilion, the Floating Green Pavilion, etc. There were the 36 Pairs of Mandarin Ducks' Hall and the Hall of 18 Camellias newly built; beautifully and exquisitively decorated.
The Middle Garden is the most distinguished part of the Humble Administrator's Garden. It has experienced many changes throughout the dynasties and is now different from the early Humble Administrator's Garden; the garden is based on water, and there are many rockeries grounded in the ponds. Surrounding the ponds there are numerous pavilions, terraces, halls and studios. Basically it has preserved its structure from the Ming dynasty, and the sceneries have not gone through many changes. The appearance of the Middle Garden took shape in the Xianfeng/Guangxu periods of the Later Qing dynasty.
The art of the Humble Administrator's Garden has a prominent position in the history of China's garden creation. It represents the historical characteristics and achievements of south-east China's private gardens.

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

Representative of a traditional Suzhou garden, Zhuo Zheng Garden, or Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician, is located at the Northeast Street of Lou Men, Suzhou. It was built in the Jia Jing period of the Ming Dynasty by Wang Xianchen, Censor of the Throne. The name comes from a line in the "Xian Ju (An Idle Life)" rhyme-prose composed by the famous scholar-official Pan Yue of the Jin Dynasty. Once when Pan was disappointed in his political life, he retired to live in a farmhouse and led an idle life planting trees and growing vegetables. In the "Xian Ju" rhyme-pose he writes "This is the way of ruling for an unsuccessful politician." The garden frequently changed its owners and with each new owner, much reconstruction was done. During the time of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, it served as the residence of the Loyal Prince, Li Xiucheng.
The whole garden complex is composed of three parts, with the Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician at the center, flanked by the Affiliated Garden (Bu Yuan) to the west and the Hermit's Farmhouse (Gui Tianyuan Ju) to the east.
The Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician is the essence of the complex. With a lake as the center of the whole layout, the main structures all stand along the shore. Carved into portions of different shapes by bridges and islets, the lake offers a rich variation of views. The main building is the Distant Fragrance Hall (Yuan Xiang Hall), from which one can leisurely enjoy the surrounding scenery. To the west of the hall, the Leaning Jade Pavilion (Yi Yu Xuan), Fragrant Island, Jade Wave Hall, True Spirit Pavilion (De Zhen Ting), Little Surging Wave Pavilion, Small Rainbow Roofed Bridge, each with a distinctive style and form, compose a rich scene. Looking north from the Distant Fragrance Hall, a vast surface of water with a mountain in its background comes in sight. On the mountain perches the Pavilion of Fragrant Snow and Azure Sky (Xuexiang Yunwei Ting). Running from the east to the south of the Distant Fragrance Hall is a miniature mountain constructed with earth and rock, and on a mountain to the east is the Embroidery Pavilion (Xiu Yi Ting). To the south of the pavilion is the Loquat Garden (Pi Pa Yuan). The garden, an area enclosed by a cloud wall, is paved with colorful pebblestones which form beautiful patterns. In the cloud wall is a moon gate which makes a frame for the Pavilion of Fragrant Snow and Azure Sky.
Passing through the Pavilion Leading to a New World (Bieyou Dongtian) is the Affiliated Garden. To the west, the organizational plan again uses a lake as the center. The main built structure is the 36 Mandarin Ducks Hall (Sanshiliu Yuanyang Guan) to the south of the lake. To the north is the miniature mountain with a pavilion on its peak. In the southwestern corner is the Pagoda Shadow Pavilion (Ta Ying Ting). Together with a brooklet and a water corridor, it constitutes a most perfect landscape garden creation.
From the Pavilion of Haitang Flowers Blossoming in Spring (Haitang Chunwu), one can pass on to the eastern garden, which was the old site of the Hermit's Farmhouse (Gui Tianyuan Ju). After the establishment of the People's Republic, the government had the eastern garden extended. With a vast lawn and a square grove of pine trees, the garden combines the features of both the traditional and the modern.

The Humble Administrator's Garden

Covering 51,950 sq. m, the Humble Administrator's Garden is the largest of all classical gardens in Suzhou. It is centered upon the broad expanse of a lake, making up about one fifth of the total area. With well spaced buildings, the garden landscape and water scape are simple, extensive and natural, possessing the traditional appearances of the Ming Dynasty. It is divided into three parts; the eastern, middle, the western parts. The house lies in the south of the garden.

The middle part is the cream of the garden  with marvellous mountains, clear water, exquisite buildings and exuberant trees and flower reminiscent of the scenery in the south of the Lower Yangtze. Lying here and there to the south of the lake are garden buildings and  courts in cluster. On an east-west axis  there's  the Hall  of  Drifting Fragrance in the middle, flanked by the Loquat Garden Court, the  Malus Micromalus Makina court, the Poeny Pavilion, the Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion, the small canglang, "A Pure Mind Thinks Deep", and the Magnolia Hall. Rising from the lake are the east and west hills made from a mixture of earth and rocks, and covered with trees. The Prunus Mume Pavilion and the Orange Pavilion stand atop of the hills. By the side of the lake there are forsythias gently stroking the surface of water, and bringing about delightful effects of nature. Much of the surprise comes from the disposition of the Fragrant Isle, the pavilion in lotus breezes and the Mountain-in-View Tower to the west of the lake. From the secluded pavilion of Firmiana Simplex and Bamboo one is able to catch sight of the pagoda of paying debts of gratitude in distance. The picturesque scene of the pagoda mirrored in water is an example of the garden technique called "borrowed view from afar".

The buildings in the western part of the garden are properly arranged by the lake. To the south of the lake is a big mandarin duck's hall with two halves. The northern half is named "the Hall of 36 pairs of mandarin ducks" and the southern half "the hall of 18 camellias". Built to the west of the lake are the Inducalamus Pavilion, the "With Whom Shall I Sit?" Pavilion, the Floating Green Tower, the Stay-and-Listen Pavilion, the Pagoda Reflection Pavilion. Going up and down and in a zigzag, a unique veranda over the water is a stucture built along the wall to the east of the lake. The Good-For-Both-Families Pavilion on the top of the hill overlooks the middle and western parts, another example of the garden technique called "borrowed view from near".

Decorated with the Cymbidium Virens Hall, the lotus pavilion, the Celestial Spring Pavilion, the Far Away Looking Pavilion and the All blue Pavilion, the eastern part of the garden has verdant hills with pine and bamboo, distant islands encircled by winding streams, and an extensive area of grass, flowers and trees.

Glowing out of the mud, lotus blooms still keep themselves pure and clean. The farther theirsmell drifts the purer it becomes. A good number of buildings in the garden are named after lotus blooms, often known as "a true person of the virtue "among flowers, such as the Hall of Drifting Fragrance, the Lotus Pavilion, the pavilion in the Lotus Breeze, and the Stay-and-Listen Pavilion, expressing the theme of the whole garden - to be pure as lotus blooms.

Lying to the south of the garden is the house, which is the typical residence in Suzhou. On a north-south axis there are four successive buildings, namely the Sedan-Chair Hall, the Reception Hall and two two-storeyed buildings. To the east of the axis are the Mandarin Ducks' Hall with flower-basket decoration, the Flower Hall and the Four-Sided Viewing Hall.

The Humble administrator's Garden boasts altogether 48 different buildings, 101 parallel couplets and door plateaux, 40 stelae, 21 precious old trees, namely Wistaria, Sabina chinensis, Pterocarya stenoptera, etc., and over 700 bonsai (potted  landscape) kept in the Bonsai Garden in the western part of the garden, representing the Suzhou style bonsai, one of the four leading bonsai styles in China.

Zhuo Zheng Yuan (Garden of Inept Administration, or Humble Administrator's Garden)
Source: Sights and Scenes of Suzhou, Zhaohua Publishing House, Beijing, 1983

Zhuo Zheng Yuan is situated on Northeast Street between Loumen and Qimen gates (buses Nos. 2 or 3 take one there). In the reign of Emperor Jia Jing of the Ming dynasty (1522-1566 A.D.), imperial historiographer Wang Xianchen resigned from his post, returned to his hometown and built this garden on the site of Da Hong Monastery. The name of the garden conies from a line - "administration by the inept" - in Idler's Prose by Pan Yue of the Jin dynasty. Pan Yue (247-300) was a man of letters of the Western Jin dynasty and magistrate of Heyang county. He wrote poetry and prose in flowery and flamboyant language, mostly about his sentiments concerning love and nature's scenes, and to eulogize the rulers of those times.

The principal element in Zhuo Zheng Garden's layout is water, which accounts for three-fifths of its area. Most of the maojor buildings were built beside water. Notes on Zhuo Zheng Garden by Wen Weiming says, "In the northeast area of the prefectural capital between Loumen and Qimen gates lies a good deal of unoccupied land covered with ponds. These will be dredged and surrounded with trees." This tells us that the garden was designed in such a way as to make use of the original topography. Zhuo Zheng Garden, the largest of Suzhou's gardens, takes up more than 4 hectares of land and consists of three sections - east, middle and west.

East Garden:

The East Garden lies right inside the main entrance. Originally an adjunct of the Ming dynasty Gui Tian Ju (Return-to-the-Countryside Villa), it had long been neglected. Reconstruction started in 1955. Ponds were dug, rockeries built and trees planted against a setting of low mounds and lawns. Shu Xiang Guan (Fragrant Sorghum Hall), Lan Xue Tang (Orchid Snow Hall) and other buildings were added to the original layout. The construction carried forward the traditional style and brought forth new ideas, producing a feeling of freshness and clarity.

Middle Garden:

This is the quintessence of the garden. Walking westward from Fragrant Sorghum Studio and traversing a long corridor with windows in different patterns, one comes to Yihong Pavilion. Most of the garden's scenery can be seen from here. Another pavilion, Bieyou Dongtian (A Different Universe) and Yihong Pavilion beyond the ponds set each other off from a distance. The towering Beisi Pagoda a kilometer away also seems to be in the garden. This is the method of "borrowing scenes" used in the art of garden construction in Suzhou. It gives the garden an air of depth and serenity.

Yuan Xiang Tang (Hall of Distant Fragrance) lies beyond a stone-balustrade bridge of archaic simplicity dating from the Ming dynasty. The hall, where the owner of the garden used to give banquets and meet visitors, is the main building in the middle garden. A Ming structure, it has windows on all four sides but no walls. The hall is three bays wide and has entrances both front and back, providing a good view of the surrounding scenery. In summer, soft breezes waft the scent of lotus flowers into the hall, reminding one of the line "distant fragrance is all the more delicate and fresh" from a prose piece On Loving Lotus by Zhou Dunyi, a writer of the Song dynasty. To the south and north of the hall are a terrace, pools and rockeries, each with its own secluded delights. This is the best scenic area in the garden.

Hehua Simian Ting (Lotus-Flowers-on-Four-Sides Pavilion) stands where the pools meet. Here, in midsummer, luxuriant willows provide a cool shade, lotus flowers thrust upward from the water, and lotus-scented breezes caress the visitor's face. On the main columns of the pavilion hangs a couplet:

Lotus on four sides and willows on three,
Half a pool of autumn water reflects a hill.

Southwest of the pavilion two winding bridges lead to the long corridor "Winding Path under the Willows" in the west and Yiyu Veranda in the south. Both bridges are of light and airy construction and have low balustrades. They have the effect of separating and integrating the pond water and the surrounding scenery.

Leaving the Hall of Distant Fragrance and following a short corridor past Yiyu Veranda one comes to the Xiao Fei Hong (Little Flying Rainbow), the only covered bridge in the gardens of Suzhou. Its reflection on the water looks like a rainbow; hence its name. To the south of the bridge is a three-bay pavilion on the water called Xiao Canglang (Little Blue Waves). With windows on its southern facade and banisters on the north, the pavilion faces water on two sides. Corridors on both its eastern and western approaches form a sort of courtyard on the water.

Turning northward from here and skirting the pond to cross a small bridge, one comes to a boat-like structure. Its lower section is named Xiang Zhou (Fragrant Islet). The characters "Fragrant Islet"on a horizontal tablet were written by Wen Zhengming. The upper section is called Cheng Guan Lou (Watching-Clear-Water Building). A large mirror in the "cabin" reflects the scenery around the Yiyu Veranda across the pond. This is a good example of the garden building technique of contrasting the real with the unreal and "borrowing" scenery.

The rear cabin of the boat-like building is surrounded by carved stone banisters dating from the Ming dynasty and faces water. South of the "boat" is Yu Lan Tang (Magnolia Hall) of Ming dynasty construction. Forming a quiet and secluded courtyard in itself, it is believed to have been Wen Zhengming's painting studio.

Following the "Winding Path Under the Willows" toward the northeast one sees Jianshan Lou (Seeing-the-Hill Building) standing apparently in the water. The building has water on three sides; and instead of steps, a rockery was built next to the building, providing access by means of a covered path winding through the rockery. Jianshan Lou stands across the water from Xue Xiang Yun Wei Ting (Snow-Fragrance-and-Rosy-Cloud Pavilion), Yiyu Veranda and Watching-Clear-Water Building, and together with them forms a lovely pictorial composition.

Crossing a winding bridge at the northeast corner of the building and following a small path eastward, the visitor comes to Lü Yi Ting (Green Ripples Pavilion). - Turning southward, the long corridor brings one to Wuzhu Youju (Secluded House of Bamboo). Moon gates on all four sides of this pavilion provide frames for some exquisite scenery. Grossing a flat bridge to the northwest, one sees Dai Shuang Ting (Waiting-for-the-Frost Pavilion) perched on the East Hills. Then, southwest across a small bridge with stone banisters, one comes to Xiu Qi Ting (Embroidered Silk Pavilion) in the shade of ancient trees on the small hills east of Distant Fragrance Hall. South of it is Pipa Yuan (Loquat Garden). Passing through a moon gate into a courtyard, the visitor arrives at Linglong Guan (Dainty Hall) and Jiashi Ting (Abundant Fruit Pavilion). A winding corridor leads from there to Haitang Chun Wu (Flowering-Crabap-ples-in-Spring Building) and Tingyu Xuan (Listening-to-the-Rain Veranda) in a separate courtyard.

West Garden:

West Garden lies beyond the Bieyou Dongtian Pavilion. At the end of the Qing dynasty it was the "subsidiary" garden of a family named Zhang. The western and middle sections were originally one garden before they were divided by a wall. Now the two gardens have been combined again and windows opened in the wall. When the garden was divided, small-scale reconstruction was done to give the western section completeness. A corridor was built along the wall over the water, This corridor, which rises and falls so that the visitor feels he is walking on waves, is one of the most exquisite in Suzhou.

Further west lie the main halls of West Garden - Thirty-six Mandarin Ducks Hall and Eighteen Camellias Hall. These structures, one behind the other, are separated by a glass screen with carved gingko frames. The north hall faces a pond in which mandarin ducks swim, and the south hall is named after the 18 kinds of camellias growing in its courtyard. Side rooms of unique construction adjoin the four corners of the halls. They were originally used by servants, and as make-up rooms for actors and performers when the garden's owner gave a banquet.

East of the hall is a rock hill topped by Yiliang Ting (Serve-Both Pavilion). The name comes from a poem by Bai Juyi of the Tang dynasty - "Green poplars serve to bring spring to both families."

A corridor stretches from Thirty-six Mandarin Ducks Hall southward to an octagonal pavilion in the middle of a pool. The reflection of the pavilion in the water looks like a pagoda. Hence, the name Ta Ying Ting (Pagoda Reflection Pavilion). One of the most exquisite buildings in the garden, the pavilion is octagonal in shape in all its components, even to the window lattices. Liu Ting Ge (Stay-and-Listen Pavilion) lies northwest of Thirty-six Mandarin Ducks Hall. Fronted with a terrace, the pavilion faces lotus ponds on two sides. Its name was inspired by a poem written by Li Shangyin of the Tang dynasty:

Autumn gloom does not disperse and frost flies late,
Leaving the weatherbeaten lotus leaves to listen to the sound of rain.

The pavilion is elegantly appointed. The cloud-and-dragon carvings on the partitions are of exquisite workmanship - and of no little cultural value, as they are left over from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (Zhuo Zheng Garden was part of the Taiping king's residence between 1860 and 1864). The arched partitions in the first room are from the Ming dynasty. Carved on them are gnarled pine trees, tall and straight bamboo, clusters of plum blossoms, oddly-shaped rocks and lifelike birds. In a garden west of Liu Ting Pavilion, there are hundreds of miniature potted trees, rockeries and azaleas. An elegant little building in the center of the garden provides visitors with a resting place.

On a hill behind Liu Ting Pavilion stands Fu Ciu Ting (Floating-on-Jade Pavilion) a two-storied building and the highest point in the garden. Looking around from the pavilion one sees a sea of luxuriant green vegetation. Nearby stands a smaller pavilion built in the shape of a bamboo hat; hence its name, Li Ting (Bamboo Hat Pavilion). Around a bend further south lies Yu Shui Gong Zuo Ting (Whom-to-Sit-With Veranda). This structure was built in the shape of a fan to suit the terrain. All the tables, stools here, and all the window lattices are fan-shaped as well. The veranda gets its name from a line in an ancient poem.

With whom can I sit?
The bright moon, a light breeze and myself.

This line was meant to convey the feelings of the lonely author who admired his own purity of spirit. But here the name stresses the tiny size of the veranda. Worth mentioning is the fact that when the visitor stands on the corridor-over-water near the garden's entrance and looks across the water, he will find that the roof of the fan-shaped pavilion overlaps the rounded top and ridge tiles on the roof of Bamboo Hat Pavilion to form an inverted fan.

Passing by the veranda, the visitor comes to Dao Ying Lou (Inverted Reflection Building), below which stands the House of Reverence for Wen and Shen, named in commeration of Wen Zhengming and Shen Shitian, two painters of the Ming dynasty. Inside the house are stone-carved portraits of Wen and Shen inlaid in two side walls. In the entrance of Zhuo Zheng Garden, now part of Suzhou Museum, there is a Chinese wisteria planted by the great painter Wen Zhengming. Although more than 460 years old, it still puts forth luxuriant foliage. Beside it the legend - "This lusty plant forms a grove all by itself" - is carved on the bricks of a whitewashed wall. A tablet nearby bears the inscription "Chinese Wisteria Planted by Mr. Wen in Person" written by Duan Fang, governor-general of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in the Qing dynasty.'s_Garden

Pan Yue 247-300

Illustrious poet and official of the Western Jin dynasty. Pan, born in what is now Hebei, came from a family of prominent officials, and he held offices both in the capital and the provinces. In his youth, he made a name for himself as a writer, and by the mid-290s was a member of the illustrious literary salon headed by Jia Mi. In 300, after Jia Mi was killed in a coup led by Sima Lun, Pan was arrested on the charge of plotting rebellion and was subsequently put to death along with close members of his family. Pan was renowned for his fu, eight of which are included in Xiao Tong's Wenxuan [Anthology of literature].


Nevét a kert Pan Jo (247-300) verse (Hsziencsü fu [Xianju fu] = Leíró vers a gondtalan életről) után kapta, másik hasonló verse magyarul:


A napok nőnek,
jő nyári hőség,
az éjek fogynak,
már forr a hőség:
reggel eső kell,
enyhülés este.
Izzadok, megyek
hűs vízbe lesve,
távoli szellő
rázza ruhámat.
Kertben gyümölcsök,
úton faárnyak,
s gyömbér dúsan nő,
a köles és rizs
sorokban termő.

Én rossz hivatalnok!
Rangom alacsony.
Kétszer voltam bíró,
gőgre nincs okom.
Négy éve élek
székvárostól távol,
nincs tehetségem
mely császárt szolgáljon;
akár a madár,
haza, délre vágyom.

Weöres Sándor fordítása


Polonyi Péter "Kína" útikönyvében Az Egyszerű Ember politikája kert-nek fordítja, Pan Jüe (Pan Jo) sorait idézve: "Kertjének művelése, hogy fedezze vele napi szükségleteit, ez az egyszerű ember politikája."