Assessment of the World Heritage Committee:
The four gardens in the historical city of Suzhou top all others in reflecting the ideal design philosophy for Chinese classical gardens, which is creating stunning sceneries in limited spaces. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are considered to best reflect this design philosophy. Being built during the 16th century and the 18th century, the Suzhou gardens with their elaborate design shows the profound Chinese cultural conception of being from but beyond nature.
Chinese name: Su Zhou Gu Dian Yuan Lin
English name: The Classical Gardens of Suzhou
Classical Gardens of Suzhou
The Lion Grove Garden, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lingering Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden in the Classical Gardens of Suzhou were listed as world heritage sites in 1997 according to world heritage selection criteria C (I) (II) and (VI). The Surging Waves Pavilion was also included in the World Heritage List in 2001.
Suzhou, located in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, is a renowned Chinese historical and cultural city and is well-known worldwide for its beautiful scenery and classical gardens. An old saying goes, "the gardens south of the Yangtze River are the best under Heaven, and among them, the gardens of Suzhou top them all." The history of Suzhou gardens can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period in the 6th century B.C., when the emperor of the Wu state built his garden in Suzhou. The Pijiang Garden was recorded as the earliest private garden dating from the 4th century during the Eastern Jin Dynasty. Private gardens then became a popular trend and many renowned gardens were built afterwards. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, Suzhou became one of the most flourishing areas in China and private gardens were built in and outside the city. The Suzhou gardens entered their prime between the 16th century and the 18th century. Now in Suzhou, there are more than 200 gardens, dozens of which have been well preserved. Therefore, Suzhou enjoys the fame of “Heaven on Earth.”
The Surging Waves Pavilion, the Lion Grove Garden, the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lingering Garden represent the artistic styles of the Song Dynasty (between 960 A.D. and 1278 A.D.), Yuan Dynasty (between 1271 A.D. and 1368 A.D.), Ming Dynasty (between 1368 A.D. and 1644 A.D.) and Qing Dynasty (between 1644 A.D. and 1911 A.D.) respectively. They are called Suzhou's four most famous gardens. The Master of the Nets Garden also enjoys great fame.
Located in the south of Suzhou, the Surging Waves Pavilion is one of the oldest gardens in the city. It was originally constructed during the reign of Emperor Qingli (1041-1048) in the Northern Song Dynasty. During the Southern Song Dynasty, the site was taken over by the famous general Han Shizhong as his residence. The design of the Surging Waves Pavilion is different from others. A pool is found outside the garden. Rock hills form the major sceneries in the garden and the Pavilion of Surging Waves is made of stones and built on a rock hill. A pool was created under the rock hill and a double corridor was built connecting the hill and the pool. The Mingdao Hall in the southeast of the rock hill is the major building in the garden. Other buildings include the Temple of 500 Sages, the Mountain-in-view Tower, Elegant Bamboo house, the Reverence Pavilion and the Imperial Stele Pavilion.
Located in the northeast of Suzhou, the Lion Grove Garden was built in the second year of the Zhizheng reign period in the Yuan Dynasty (1342 A.D.). The name of the garden derives from the shape of the rocks which are said to resemble lions. The Lion Grove Garden covers a rectangular area of 15 mu. Inside the garden there are many delicate lakes, stones and rockeries, and all the buildings are arranged in an orderly manner. The main buildings include the Yanyu Hall, Mountain View Tower, Flying Waterfall Pavilion, and the Plum Blossoms. With a clear theme, the Lion Grove Garden shows beautiful sceneries and reflects profound meaning. The rockeries, and even the grass and trees look extremely charming.
The Lingering Garden is located outside Changmen Gate in Suzhou and was originally built during the Ming Dynasty. During the Qing Dynasty, the garden was named Hanbi Mountain Resort or Liuyuan, and later renamed to the Lingering Garden. The Lingering Garden covers an area of about 50 mu, and water and rockeries cover a large part of its central area and are the essence of the whole garden. The major buildings in the garden are Green House, Bright Clear Mansion, Distant Greenery Pavilion, Zigzag Stream Tower, and Refreshing Breeze Pavilion. The Lingering Garden tops other Suzhou gardens in the number of buildings. In the Lingering Garden, the significant way of dealing with spaces between various kinds of architectural forms fully shows the superb techniques and wisdom of ancient garden designers.
Located within the Loumen in Suzhou, the Humble Administrator's Garden was built during the Zhengde reign period in the Ming Dynasty (1506-1521 A.D.). It is the largest garden in the city and also a representative masterpiece of the Suzhou gardens. The Humble Administrator's Garden covers an area of 62 mu, and most of its current sceneries were formed during the late Qing Dynasty (at the beginning of the 20th century). Water is the main structural theme of the Humble Administrator's Garden and about one fifth of the garden is covered by water. Various kinds of pavilions, terraces, halls and towers were also built surrounding the water. The major buildings in the Humble Administrator's Garden include the Hall of Drifting Fragrance, the Pavilion of Snow Fragrance and Colorful Clouds, the Pavilion of Waiting for Frost, the Stay and Listen Pavilion, the 18 Stramonium Flowers' Hall and the Hall of 36 Pairs of Mandarin Ducks. The layout and design of Humble Administrator's Garden is superb, and the garden also boasts an elegant and natural artistic style.
Located in the southeast of Suzhou city, the Master of the Nets Garden was originally built during the Southern Dong Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), when it was called the Fisherman's Retreat (Yuyin). The garden was reconstructed during the Emperor Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty and renamed to the Master of the Nets Garden. The Master of the Nets Garden covers an area of about half a hectare and is the smallest of the Suzhou gardens. The main buildings in the garden are the Osmanthus and Fragrance Pavilion, Zhuoying Shuige, Watching Pine and Appreciating Paintings Pavilion, and the Peony Study. All the pavilions, terraces, halls and towers in the garden were built near water. Water is the main theme of the Master of the Nets Garden and the architecture in the garden is arranged in an orderly manner. The Master of the Nets Garden has an exquisite layout and fully shows the classical garden architectural style during the Ming Dynasty.
The Suzhou garden designers and builders created stunning natural landscapes within limited space by adopting unique techniques. They integrated lakes, rockeries and trees, as well as pavilions, terraces, halls and towers into one beautiful picture, and skillfully combined the natural beauty with creative art. The Suzhou gardens allow people to appreciate the natural scenery of hills and forests without leaving the city. Moreover, they also reflect the rich Chinese cultural background. The garden art and architectural features, as well as various masterpieces created by poets and men of letters under the inspiration of the garden sceneries, all epitomize the essence of the traditional Chinese culture.