“The Splendid Chinese Garden: Origins, Aesthetics and Architecture” by Hu Jie (Better Link Press, Tuttle Publishing, $34.95)
For many, there is nothing more beautiful than a garden. For some, there is no greater beauty than a Chinese garden.
And for those people, there is “The Splendid Chinese Garden” by Hu Jie.
“In line with the essential philosophies of Chinese Taoism, Chinese gardens are the imitations of natural landscapes,” says Hu. The garden “combines the beauties of natural creations and human creation, and unifies the realm of art and those of real life.”
His book is an in-depth look at China's gardens and the architecture. The first chapters are a history of China, starting about 3,000 years ago, and how it relates to the building of gardens.
In many ways, it was the first emperor, Qin Shihuang (221-206 B.C.), who started it all when he unified the country. He built several gardens, but it was the successor dynasty, the Han, that went into grand imperial gardens — and palaces to accompany them. A few centuries on, the Tang dynasty (618-907) arose, “a glorious time of cultural development,” with landscape poetry and paintings rising to new heights. The gardens followed suit.
At a certain point in “The Splendid Chinese Garden,” you descend into the weeds of too much information. “As a man-made landscape garden, Gen Yue Garden placed a huge rockery hill, the Wansui Mountain (Mount Longevity), in the center of the overall blueprint, and set up Wansong Ridge (Ridge with Ten Thousand Pines) and Yanchi Pond (Wild Goose Pond) as its wings.”
Then step back and look at the photographs. Not only are the reproductions of historical Chinese nature paintings gorgeous, but the book includes diagrams of gardens lost in history.
By the time you reach the section on the Art of Classical Garden construction and carved doors and windows, you're in love with the book.
For example, a window is not just an opening in China. It could be a frame for a beautiful garden, tree or rockery outside. The windows have carved stone frames, and are latticed with designs. For example, in the Lion Grove Garden, one window has a stone harp caught in a spider's web of stone. When “lit by sunlight from different angles, the patterns in the carved windows (brings) about changing and diversified shades” as the shadows become part of the inner room's decor.
Two other outstanding parts in the book are a glossary, with pictures, of the Chinese gardens and, more important, a map of eastern China that tells you which of these gardens are open to visitors.
Just remember to take this book along.