Chinese gardens

Chinese gardens (園林/园林 yuán lín) have traditionally been popular among the scholar class to study and contemplate the meaning of life, and these were often built as part of the mansions of the Chinese royalty, court officials and other rich Chinese. These began to appear outside China with waves of Chinese emigration starting in the late 19th century, though China is of course the place to be if you want to view of the most historically significant examples.

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Chinese gardens are usually designed based on traditional Chinese geomancy, and to evoke contemplation of traditional Chinese philosophical concepts. This is usually done through a combination of water features and rocks to mimic natural landscapes. Chinese gardens also include traditional pavillions where the owner could entertain guests with tea, and perhaps listen to a guqin performance while contemplating philosophy.

Chinese gardens can be broadly divided into four different styles; Northern Imperial gardens built for the Emperor and his family in what is today Beijing and Hebei, Jiangnan gardens from what is today Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, Lingnan gardens from the Pearl River Delta area of Guangdong, and Bashu gardens from what is today Sichuan and Chongqing.

Map of Chinese gardens

As China’s capital during the most recent Ming and Qing Dynasties, Beijing is home to numerous imperial gardens that were used by the emperor and various other members of the royal family. One of the more notable ones in Zhongnanhai adjacent to the Forbidden City, which today is the main seat of power of the Chinese government and hence, not accessible to tourists.

  • 39.9975116.26891 Summer Palace — perhaps the most famous surviving imperial garden in China, a favourite retreat for Empress Dowager Cixi, who rendered two emperors puppets while she held actual power towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. Most notably, she had diverted funds intended for modernising the Chinese navy to renovating the Summer Palace instead. Today, the Summer Palace is one of Beijing’s main tourist attractions, and its defining feature is a marble boat on the lake.
  • 40.9875117.93751 Chengde Mountain Resort — a favourite summer retreat of China’s emperors during imperial times to escape the heat of the lowlands

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. . . Chinese gardens . . .