Majestically beautiful Lingering Garden is one of the 4 renowned gardens in the immediate vicinity of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, and in fact, one of the most famous gardens in all of China. In 1997, Suzhou's Lingering Garden, together with other classical gardens of Suzhou, was officially registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
The garden was originally constructed under the name of East Garden as a private garden (all gardens were "private" in feudal China, of course, either being the domain of an emperor, a member of the noble family, a high-ranking government official, or a wealthy merchant) in 1593, the 21st year of the reign of Emperor Wanli (1572-1620) of the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644). East Garden fell into a state of disrepair but was eventually rebuilt as the "Cold Green Village" during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The renovated garden thereafter came to be known after its new owner, Liu Shu, and therefore it was referred to as Liu Yuan, or "Liu's Garden."
In more recent times, the garden again fell into disrepair—not once, but twice—and was only finally restored to its former beauty by the government of the People's Republic of China. Between 1873 and 1876, Lingering Garden was renovated and expanded by a new private owner not belonging to the Liu family, though the name Liu Yuan was preserved. This is because in Chinese, the pronunciation of the name Liu and that for "lingering" are almost identical. That is, the garden was in fact referred to as the "Lingering Garden," though the official name was written as "Liu Yuan". Under the rule of the People's Republic of China, the local government of Suzhou took over the garden and had it refurbished. The "Lingering Garden," as it again became, was reopened to the public in 1954.
Covering an area of 23,310 square meters, Lingering Garden is renowned for the measured, rhythmically-spaced manner in which its various elements are laid out in a labyrinth fashion, delighting the mind as well as the eye, and in harmony with the partly natural and partly man-made topology, all of which contributes to the serene ambiance that has made this garden world famous.
The garden is divided into 4 parts: a central part, an eastern part, a western part, and a northern part. In fact, one might rather say that the garden is divided into 2 main parts, a central part and a northern part, with the central part subdivided into a central section (corresponding to the original, or core, garden) and an eastern and a western section.
A 700-meter winding corridor connects all the parts of Lingering Garden. On the walls of this corridor hang some 300 steles on which are engraved the works of famous calligraphers of former dynasties. This exhibit is called “Lingering Garden Model Calligraphy." The corridor has ample, ornamentally-framed windows offering excellent views of the surroundings.
The section of the corridor corresponding to the middle entrance offers views of the east and west sections of the central part of the garden. When one reaches the end of this section of the corridor, one arrives at a lake, the original garden's dominant feature.
On either side of the old garden are the added sections: the eastern section with its classical Chinese architecture, and the western section with pools, hills, and other enchanting man-made scenery including rock-like landscapes fashioned of mud and rock. There, visitors can also find the Shade Porch and another corridor constructed in harmony with the topography of the area, The western side of this porch is made of stone, on which are engraved famous calligraphic texts originally written by Wang Xizhi (303–361), the Sage of Calligraphy, and his son, Wang Xianzhi. The engravings were done much later, by Dong Qichang, during the Ming Dynasty.
Elsewhere, Wenmuxixiang Porch is the summit of the central part of Lingering Garden and thus overlooks Quxi House, Qingfengchi House, and Yuancui House below. The main buildings of this central part of the garden are the Mingse Building and Hanbi Villa.
The eastern part of the garden, the part distinguished by its "quintessentially Chinese architecture" style, consists of Return-to-Read Study, Jiyun Hill, Jigudegeng House, West House, Crane House, and finally, Wufengxian Hall (Celestial Hall of Five Peaks), the largest hall of the garden and renowned as the foremost hall of the Jiangnan region. The essence of present-day Lingering Garden, according to experts, is Wufengxian Hall, Linquanjishuo Hall, and the Stone Forest Yard that connects them.
The western part of the garden is remarkable for its blend of natural and man-made scenery, including the aforementioned rock-like landscapes fashioned of mud and rock. Maple trees cover much of this terrain, and when their large leaves begin to change colors in autumn, they offer a rare vista that is hauntingly beautiful.
Then there is the northern part of Lingering Garden, what hosts what was formerly a vegetable garden but is now a potted landscape, including a pensai ("bonsai" in Japanese) landscape of which the people of Suzhou are particularly proud.
Other prominent buildings in Lingering Garden include Chuanjin Hall, Juanshishan House, Jujun Pavilion, Haopu Pavilion, Hanqing Building, Tingyu Building, and Banye Thatched Cottage. As well, there are many famous peaks nearby such as Guanyun Peak, Quyun Peak, and Ruiyun Peak, providing a stunning backdrop to the colorful scenery, both man-made and natural, that comprise this world famous garden.