The Suzhou garden known as Canglang Ting ("Surging Waves Pavilion"*) has the longest history, and the deepest cultural roots, of all of Suzhou's justly famous classical gardens (aka scholar gardens). Covering an area of roughly 10,000 square meters, or 2 1/2 acres, the simple and tranquil garden is designed in a seemingly unsophisticated manner, yet this exquisite garden is a product of careful refinement and deliberate planning, for it is built in the best Chinese tradition of 'man imitating nature'.
The site on which Canglang Pavilion was built during the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty was a garden that had been built by a certain Sun Chengyou during the Five Dynasties (CE 907-960) Period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (CE 907-979) Era, the unstable interregnum between the Tang (CE 618-907 ) and the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasties.
The former garden of Sun Chengyou was rebuilt into the garden known as Canglang Pavilion when a government official, Su Sunqing, of the then Northern Song Dynasty was banished from court in the fourth year of the Qingli reign (CE 1041-1048) of Emperor Renzhong - who ruled from CE 1022-1063 - or in CE 1044. Su Sunqing was disgraced due to alleged wrongdoings which Su denied having committed (the reader will perhaps recall that another famous Suzhou garden, the Garden of the Humble Administrator, was also built by a disgraced government official, albeit, a government official from a much later period, namely, the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty period).
The uniqueness of Canglang Pavilion derives partly from the fact that the garden is built around the body of water that was already present from the former garden, though the rebuilt garden has an entirely different layout than the original one, and partly - or perhaps mainly - from the attention to detail, where every effort has been made to make the illusion of sea and mountains (i.e., the garden's pool and rockeries) look like miniaturized, or "bonsai", versions of the real thing. Another aspect that sets Canglang Pavilion apart is the fact that it is not surrounded by a wall that "privatizes" the view of the garden; one can catch glimpses of the interior of the garden from the street (was this perhaps a metaphor for the accused government official's claim that he had "nothing to hide"?).
The Main Features of Canglang Pavilion
The center of the garden, both in a figurative as well as a literal sense, is a series of connected pools. On the eastern side of the garden is an imitation mountain, or modified rockery, made of earth and yellowish stone, on which grow both pine and bamboo trees, enhancing the illusion of a mountain. On the western side is a similar imitation mountain, replete with trees, and made of earth and grayish sandstone from nearby Lake Tai, whose eroded stones also form the basis of Suzhou's Lion Stone Garden. A roofed corridor links the various parts of the garden - the pools, the mountains, the pavilions and the buildings. Canglang pavilion itself is a quaint, square pavilion whose beams have intricate carvings depicting birds, flowers, animals, and fairy figures.
The primary buildings at Canglang Pavilion include: Mingdao Hall, the present-day garden's main building (there have been several additions to the garden since its inception during the Northern Song Dynasty, Mingdao Hall being one of them, having been constructed during the Ming Dynasty); Facing Water Veranda, where the visitor can sip a cup of tea while relaxing and enjoying the surroundings; Fishing Terrace, a square pavilion beside a pool where fish cruise about aimlessly; Five-Hundred Famous Ancient Sages Hall, an art gallery which displays the stone statues of some 600 ancient sages of the city of Suzhou; and Mountain-Watching Building, whose quintessentially Chinese "flying eaves" (i.e., eaves with upturned corners) is one of the garden's most exquisitely constructed buildings - it offers a panoramic view of the entire garden complex.
Three Chinese characters, written on a stone boat near the garden's pool by Yu Yue (1821-1907), the famous Qing Dynasty scholar and poet, and rendered Cang Lang Ting ("Surging Waves Pavilion") in Pinyin, as well as the couplet that Yu wrote on one of Canglang pavilion's columns
The cool wind and the bright moon are priceless,
While the faraway water and the nearby hill both engender affection
best reflect the scholar-garden spirit of Canglang Pavilion. This tasteful garden was added to UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage List in the year 2000.
* Note that in Chinese (Pinyin), a multi-storeyed pavilion (those tall edifices with layer upon layer of upturned, or "flying", eaves, and which remind one of a multi-layered birthday cake, perhaps Chinese style) is called a ge, while a single-storeyed pavilion is called a ting.