Stunning Gardens in China
For over three thousand years, the Chinese have been perfecting the art of creating the most beautiful, tranquil, and impressive gardens on earth. In ancient China, large gardens were built for the emperors and their families as both a place to relax, and an impressive display of their wealth and power. At the same time, smaller gardens were created by scholars, artists, and government officials in an attempt to find reprieve from the outside world. These gardens are miniature versions of an ideal world – where the balance of man and nature leads to tranquility. While many of the gardens have been modified, broken up, or even destroyed over the last three millennia, there has been a resurgence of interest in the last half century leading to the restoration of many gardens. Today, visitors have a chance to view plenty of gardens in China, and we’ve picked out some of our favorites!
Spreading over 1.1 square miles – three quarters of which is water – the Summer Palace is a haven of rolling hills, vast lakes and gardens, and beautiful palace structures located outside of the bustling city of Beijing. Built in the 12th century, it is one of China's most famous and beautiful palaces and gardens and originally served as a summer retreat for the emperor and his household. The rolling scenery is almost entirely man-made: for example, the dirt dug to create Kunming Lake was used to build up Longevity Hill. The area features an impressive array of different temples, palaces, pavilions, and more. The Summer Palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, with the foundation noting it as “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.” Visitors can spend the day exploring the beautiful space through long walks and boat rides across the lake. Other highlights include authentic Chinese performances in the complex’s theater and unique little shops featuring traditional goods.
Originally built in 1559 as a gift from government official Pan Yunduan to his aging father Pan En, Yuyuan Garden was the largest and most prestigious garden in Shanghai – so large that its expenses eventually led to the ruin of the Pan family. The garden remained in the family for a couple generations before it was sold and divided among separate owners. Throughout the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, the garden was occupied and destroyed by different forces. Finally, the Shanghai government gained control of the grounds in the 1950s and restored them to their original splendor before opening the garden to the public in 1961. Today, the Yuyuan Garden covers over five acres divided into six general areas each with a different beautiful focus. Visitors should be sure to see the Exquisite Jade Rock which is one of three porous jade rocks in all of China, and then head to the neighboring City God Temple or Yuyuan Tourist Mart!
Garden of the Master of the Nets
The Garden of the Master of Nets is a classical Chinese garden featuring a curated combination of art, nature, and architecture, for viewing pleasure. Although this is the smallest of the Suzhou residential gardens, it uses illusions to make itself seem much larger than its actual size. The garden is noted for its mastery of techniques such as relative dimension, contrast, and borrowed scenery. First constructed in 1140 by Deputy Civil Service Minister, Shi Zhengshi, the garden passed through many hands before it fell into disrepair. It was restored in 1785 by Song Zongyuan, a retired government official who referred to himself as a fisherman – hence the garden’s name. The final owner of the garden left the beautiful property to the government in his will and it was opened to the public in 1958. Today, the garden is considered one of the finest examples of a private garden in China, and travelers who visit from July to November can also experience an evening of music performed in the garden.
Humble Administrators Garden
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Humble Administrators Garden is considered to be the most elegant of Suzhou’s gardens, embracing nature’s abundance for a less rigid design. The garden was constructed in the 1510s by Wang Xiancheng, an Imperial Envoy and poet of the Ming Dynasty who wanted to retire from politics and adopt a hermit life. The garden changed hands, divided, and developed over the centuries until 1949 when the garden was joined back together and opened to the public by the Chinese government. The tranquil garden combines terrestrial and aquatic life beautifully, featuring multiple bridges and pavilions for scenic engagement. It is divided into three sections – Eastern, Western, and Central – each of with centers around their own pond. Since the garden is small, it can become crowded, so visitors should aim to tour the space earlier in the morning to avoid crowds and then stop on the tea house for a relaxing break before heading to the next activity!