Classical Chinese garden design, which seeks to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, is nowhere better illustrated than in the nine gardens in the historic city of Suzhou. They are generally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Dating from the 11th-19th century, the gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture in their meticulous design.
The city of Suzhou is situated in the Lower Y angtze Basin alongside Lake Tai. It was founded in 514 BC as the capital of the Wu Kingdom, and has remained the political, economic, and cultural centre of the region since that time.
The earliest gardens in Suzhou date back to its foundation in the 6th century BC, but it was during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and in particular the 16th to !8th centuries, that the city’s prosperity resulted in the creation of as many as two hundred gardens within its walls. Their quality and profusion earned Suzhou the title of the “Earthly Paradise.”
The oldest of the four gardens that form this nomination is probably the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, whose origins go back to the end of the 16th century, when it belonged to the Royal Academician Shen Shixing.
The Humble Adrninstrator’s Garden has been the site of the residence of Suzhou notables since the 2nd century AD. It was the Ming Imperial Inspector Wang Xianchen who built the present complex, when he retired from public life in 1509 and returned to his native city.
The Lingering Garden dates from the end of the 16th century and is the work of Xu Taishi, also a high Imperial official. Its present name was given to it in 1873 by the Zhengs, who paid a graceful tribute to the former owners, the Liu family, since the Chinese word for “lingering” is similar to the name of this fami1y. When Deputy Minister Shi Zhengzhi lived in Suzhou in the late 12th century he called his house “The Fisherman’s Retreat,” and this idea was picked up in late 18th century by Song Zongyuan when he created the Garden of the Master of the Nets.