A survey of Some Qing Private Gardens

The ancient private gardens of Beijing exhibit the same high level of artistry and distinctly Chinese genius as the famous gardens in other parts of China.

There are more than 50 extant private gardens within the old city limits. Each of these gardens exemplifies the consummate skill of their designers who, with a limited space at their disposal, created a seemingly unlimited number of constantly changing vistas that not only imitate nature in miniature, but also surpass it. Four such gardens will be introduced here.

Lotus Garden

The Lotus Garden is one of the best-preserved gardens in Beijing. Situated at 19 Hongyan Alley in the East City District, it has a total area of about 3,600 square meters. The residence stands on the west side, and the rectangular garden on the east side is 60 meters long and 40 meters wide. The main hall, with its hump-ridged gabled roof, stands in the northern part of the garden and faces the south. In front of it is a spacious brick terrace less than half a meter high, which adds an air of refinement to the surroundings. There are also two side halls connected to the main hall by covered corridors. The ground gradually rises to the south and the corridors follow the contour of this rise. At the highest point and in the extreme southern end of the courtyard and its front overlooking a small pond, the pavilion's dominating poison in the courtyard exaggerates the height of the incline and makes it seem as if it were standing on a "distant mountain."

The garden also contains two small pavilions with peaked roofs. The one in the center is surrounded on three sides by a meandering stream has its source in a rockery to the north of the pavilion and flows past it before collecting in a pond. It then continues southwest where it passes through a carved white marble bridge and disappears among some large stones.

Lining the sides of the pond are several large rock formations, which together with the artificial hill give an impression of a vast mountain range with a gorge winding through it. At first glance, this arrangement of stones appears as an unbroken fagade, but a closer look reveals a flight of stone steps winding through it. Just as in a Chinese painting in which "A downward stroke three inches long represents a height of 10,000 feet; a line a few feet long forms a path of 100 miles," the vistas in this tiny garden appear as a vast panorama of majestic mountain peaks.

The six large locust trees in the garden seem to spread out their branches to welcome visitors to the garden. In front of the hall, lilacs, dwarf crabapple and walnut trees shade the courtyard with their rich foliage.

Sufficiency Garden

Sufficiency garden is located at 9 Mao' er Lane, near the northeast corner of the Imperial Palace. It was built in the 1850s by Ring Yuan, an official who served in the Qing court, as part of his residence. Rong Yuan described his ideal garden as follows:

"Islets for ducks and cranes are most attractive when they are small. Miniature pavilions and flower beds can also add to the subtlety of a garden Mine will never achieve the magnificence of Du You' s villa or Hong Jing' s mountain retreat, but if I can have a garden for strolling about and fishing, and a few places to stop and rest, it will be sufficient. Hence I have chosen the name Sufficiency Garden."

Located in the eastern part of his residence, the garden occupies an area of about 3,000 square meters. It is rectangular in shape, 100 meters long and 26 meters wide. The buildings are the principal items of interest here, with the artificial landscapes playing a secondary role. The principal structures are laid out along a central axis, allowing the garden to be divided into front and rear sections. The front section is characterized by its brightness and spaciousness, while the rear section is more peaceful and secluded. Side galleries connect the two sections. Entering the garden from the residence, one will notice that the important buildings all face west, and that the buildings on the west are large in size but few in number, while those on the east are small but numerous. Each the arrangement of buildings is consciously casual and random in order to avoid monotony.

The pillars in various buildings in the garden are carved with designs of pines, bamboos and plums. Cypress trees predominate in the garden, but there are also locusts and elms. Recent owners of the garden also planted persimmons.

Sufficiency Garden' s rockery hills also deserve mention. The two examples in the rear Beijing. One lies along the central axis of the garden and breaks up the rear garden into a number of separate sections, which cannot be viewed in their entirety from any one point in the garden. The other hill stands near the terrace and features a section, which appears like the entrance to a cave.

Sufficiency Garden has a strong northern Chinese flavor and is a well-preserved example of the naturalistic gardens of the late Qing period.

Half-mu Garden

Half-mu Garden, located at 9 Huangmi Alley in the East City District, is one of the most famous Qing Dynasty gardens in Beijing. It is repeatedly lauded in a number of old local histories for its complex structure, classical elegance and scholarly atmosphere.

The main hall, known as the Hall of Cloud shade, has a wooden model of a cloud formation dating from the Kangxi period erected in its center. This peculiar decorative structure is designed to resemble purple clouds floating through the branches of trees. To the side of the main hall is the Chamber for the Appreciation of Stones, the Pavilion for the Display of Paintings, the Study of Approaching Brilliance, and the Study for Withdrawn Contemplation, the Room for Enjoying Spring, and the Room of Congealed Fragrance. Each room had its own special purpose, as their names suggest: The Room for Preserving Zun and Yi was reserved for displaying ancient bronzes; the Langhuan Fairland was a library; the Chamber for the Appreciation of Stones held exotic stones; and the Study for Withdrawn Contemplation contained various qin, or ancient Chinese Zithers. To the south of the main hall is a pond with a small kiosk called the Flowery Residence of Flowing Ripples in its center. The kiosk may be approached by either of two bridges, which connect it to the sides of the pool.

The garden was built by the Qing writer Li Yu (Li Liweng, 1611-c.1679) and the noted landscape architect Zhang Lian and his son. At the time, the artificial hills in the garden were known as the finest in Beijing.

In early Qing Dynasty, the Half-mu Garden served as the residence of a number of officials, and later was used as a meeting hall and a theater. In the Daoguang period (1851-1850) it was renovated, and certain features of southern Chinese gardens wee incorporated.

Nuotongfu Garden

The Nuotongfu Garden at 1 Jinyu (Goldfish) Lane was the official residence of Nuo Tong, a senior Manchu official who served right up until the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Originally the garden contained a goldfish pond, after which Goldfish lane was named.

Nuotongfu Garden is one of the best-preserved residence gardens in Beijing. The western part of the grounds is taken up by the residence and the eastern part by the garden, A roofed gallery flanks the garden on the north, south and east sides, separating the garden itself from the living quarters but also linking the two together. Atop a high terrace at the western end of the garden is a small pavilion with a fine view of the entire premises. In the middle of the garden near the pond is a rockery hill, to the east of which is a six-sided pavilion. Another fine view of the garden may be obtained from a terrace built on top of the rockery hill. The garden is planted with elm, locust, silk and cypress trees, along with a great variety flowers.

In addition to these four gardens, mention must also be made of Maguitang Garden at 44 Weijia Lane, which, with an area of 7,000 square meters, is one of the largest private gardens in Beijing. Maguitang Garden is best known for its rockeries.

Finally, Liu Garden at 129 Lishi Lane should be noted for its fine landscape gardening.

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