The first Chinese imperial gardens date back from the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050–256 BC) to more than 3,000 years. It had at first a mystic origin having for symbols the mountain, the sea and the islands according to a legend which put side by side the Chinese garden with the Paradise in the world; Paradise which thrones at the top of the big mountain, on the distant islands in the middle of the sea.
There is the elixir of life which allows reaching the immortality. This legend explains the main role that the mountain, the sea and the islands play in the symbolism of the Chinese garden.
The Chinese garden developed then under the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) being dedicated to the relaxation but without aesthetic exploration. From Tang (June 18, 618 – June 1, 907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties, the environment begins to play a dominating role in the design of gardens.
It is under Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties that it acquired its artistic dimension and attained its plenitude. Later, upper class Chinese appropriated gardens and accordingly added them a symbolic facet by considering them as a sanctuary of haven and meditation by recreating an idealized world.
The art of garden design belongs in the same way as the calligraphy or the poetry to the Chinese sacred arts.The Chinese gardens aspire to recreate the nature in miniature to celebrate the harmony between the sky and the human beings.
It is not a question of mastering the environment but rather of sublimating it; use the natural background to create rather than to master it. The symmetry is not set up as a principle as in the western garden.
The Chinese garden is a mirror image of the nature which favours the quality to the quantity in reference to the fundamental principle of Feng Shui: «less is better ".
This conception is characterized by four dominating elements: stones, plants (bamboo, cherry trees, magnolias, pines, and peonies), water and architecture ordered freely and without a distinct symmetry.
In any composition there is an opened space in which are set up the main places and the most important pavilions to contemplate them, in the heart of an interlacing of galleries, pathways and groves as well as doors in a cut structure (circle, amphora)and bridges.
Stone and water, the essential pillars of the aesthetics of the Chinese gardens, are expanding a big symbolic significance. The stone is represented either in the form of a rock, or chosen for their quirky form which evoke the uncertainty and the wei (precarious balance), or in the form of mountain which gives a certain perspective to the landscape. As far as the water is concerned, it favours a sagaciously well-being feeling and a meditative sensitivity pondering by the peace which it conveys.
It is an element which lives in the time. The garden must know how to take advantage of the alternation of the seasons and of the succession of blooming which accompanies it, lighting effects and shadows got by the solar cycle, the diurnal and night-alternations.
Through the ceaseless and multiple transmutations, the garden acquires a new dimension, where every moment defines itself by short-lived visions and fleeting impressions in a universe in perpetual movement.
A garden thus has to reflect two vital breaths. That of the nature which is staged through trees, rocks or extents of water which strew the garden but also that of the gardener which represents the creation which has to as close as possible the most perfect natural balance and serenity.
To fit out a garden, is as to compose a poem. Qian Yong des Qing
"The magnificent Yuan Ming Yuan (Garden of Gardens), China's largest and most luxurious imperial garden, stands with the Great Wall of China and the Mogao cave temples (Caves of the Thousand Buddha’s) near the desert town of Dunhuang in northwest China, as one of the worlds most magnificent and enduring treasures.
Located ten kilometres in the northwest of Beijing it is also called the Garden of the Perfect Brightness. It was elaborated in the 18th century by the Yongzheng Emperor, and then sustained by his son The Qianlong Emperor. It is a «place protected from the sky and penetrated by the spirit of the earth «according to the latter.
Ji Cheng (计成) was born in the Ming Wanli Reign 10th year (1582) in Tong Li township, Wujiang county, Suzhou. He died probably in 1642. Ji Cheng was a Ming dynasty garden designer. The gardens he conceived under the Ming dynasty Ming are historic references.
Lingering Garden in Suzhou
As a youth, Ji Cheng made a name for himself as a landscape painter and private garden designer. He drew in particular his inspiration from the paintings of Guan Tong (关仝) and Jin Hau (荆浩).
He designed many private gardens in Southern China and recorded his life experiences at the end of his life in a work remained famous: Yuan Ye (园冶), The Craft of Gardens, 1631. It was the first monogram dedicated to garden architecture in the world. Ji Cheng's thirty-five room former residence at Hueichuan Bridge, Tong Li, is now a tourist attraction.
Liu Lingering Garden in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province is classified as one of the four more beautiful gardens of China. It dates from the Ming dynasty (1593). It has been restored and enlarged in 1876; it consists of four gardens and each of them has its own character.
The vegetation is particularly rich: laurels, peach tree, peonies, magnolias and especially a very beautiful garden of Bonsai and 3 gigantic Ginkgoes of more than 250 years each.