All the world’s dust is blown out of one’s mind: a Ming Garden

Yuyuan Garden: Shanghai

If you go to the old Temple area in Shanghai you may think that you have been transported into Disney China. It certainly looks like it.

The old Temple area has been madly spruced up with much gilt paint and polishing of wood and has become a major shopping and tourist destination for trinkets and so on. It is very crowded with Chinese tourists and there is lots to eat and lots of the ‘traditional’ items to buy. But still you must bargain and watch what you are given.

What is not so apparent is that there is a rather magical place hidden right behind it. The Yuyuan Garden. Yuyuan literally means Happy Garden.

This is an old Administrator’s garden approximately 400 years old and was created by an administrator in the govt of the area and time. Many of the old Chinese gardens seemed to have been created by administrators – perhaps because they had the money and also the time?

It covers about 5 acres behind tall walls that mean that until you get inside you have no idea what is in store for you. If has some high areas where, originally, there were great views of the surrounding mountains, but now the high rise buildings obscure much. At the time we visited it was raining very hard which is why some of the photos may seem a little blurred.

The garden is built in what is known as the Ming style. Ming gardens follow – largely – the work of The Yuanye : The Craft of Gardens published in 1631 which was written by a Ming Dynasty Chinese garden designer: Ji Cheng (c1582 – c. 1642). Ji Cheng was a calligrapher, a landscape painter and of course a garden designer:  in my view he was also a poet, and so I am just going to quote you some extracts from the Yuanye and leave you to ponder on his words and as to whether or not the photos show such a garden. By the way the details from this book are extracted from http://www.gardenvisit.com/history_theory/chinese_garden_design_history/yuanye_discourse_on_chinese_gardens

If you want know which gardens you should visit when you are in a new country – go to this site – gardenvisit.com – as it has a wonderful selection and also gives good background to the gardens, and is the first place I visit when planning a trip abroad and it often dictates our itinerary… Please re-blog this if you like what I have written.

The Yuanye says:

When making a garden, whether in the town or in the country, one should preferably select a sequestered spot. The prospects are arranged according to the nature of the site. The garden should be made to last for a thousand years.

The surrounding wall may be hidden by creepers. The buildings are disposed in such a way as to be partly concealed by the trees. From a high building on a hill one can see a great distance.  The steep rock formations are built up of rugged stone blocks, jagged and split as in Ta-ch’ih’s paintings. 

In the cool pavilion one may drink one’s ice-chilled wine while the breeze plays among bamboo canes and trees. In the heated room one may sit by the coal basket and melt snow for tea-water. One quenches one’s thirst and all worries soon vanish.

The raindrops of the night, which fall on the banana leaves, are like the tears of the weeping mermaid like pearls.  When the morning breeze blows through the willow trees they sway like the slender waist of a dancing girl. Before the window one plants bamboo, and pear trees between the courtyards. The moonlight lies like glittering water over the countryside. The wind sighs in the trees and gently touches the lute and the book that lie on the bed. The dark undulating mirror of water swallows the half moon. When day dawns one is awakened by the fresh breeze that reaches the bed. All the world’s dust is blown out of one’s mind.

In such a garden one may live as a hermit even in the city, which is better than living in a bird’s nest. If one can thus find stillness in the midst of the city turmoil, why should one then renounce such an easily accessible nearby spot and seek a more distant one? 

As long as the body still lives in this world one should not look around with critical eyes. One can, true, create something that will last for a thousand years, but one cannot know who will be living in a hundred years. It is sufficient to create a spot for pleasure and ease, which envelops the dwelling with harmonious stillness.

Views of the Yuyuan Garden, its ponds, buildings and plants

Views of the Yuyuan Garden, its ponds, buildings and plants 

Yuyuan garden 2 Yuyuan garden 3 Yuyuan garden 4 Yuyuan garden 5 Yuyuan garden 6 Yuyuan garden 7 Yuyuan garden 8 Yuyuan garden 9 Yuyuan garden 10 Yuyuan garden 11 Yuyuan garden 12

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2 thoughts on “All the world’s dust is blown out of one’s mind: a Ming Garden

  1. ukgardenfiend Post author

    thank you! I really loved the description of a Ming garden – the feeling of peace was there in this garden, even though it was pouring with rain and absolutely heaving with tourists… Chinese garden design is great I think.

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