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t uisi y ua n GARDEN OF RETREAT AND REFLECTION The Garden of Retreat and Reflection, sometimes referred to as the Garden of Meditation, is located in the canal village of Tongli, about twenty kilometers southeast of Suzhou. Although it is the youngest garden included in the guide, built in 1885 during the last decades of the Qing Dynasty, it is renowned for the highly successful relationship between the pond and the surrounding buildings (see Pause and Observe). Ren Lansheng, a government official, built the garden and named it after a passage in the classical Chinese volume Zuozhuan, “working to dedicate myself to my country, and retreating to meditate on mending my ways.” Jiang Kui, a Southern Song poet, is the source of many of the named views in the garden. ENTERING THE GARDEN The outer precinct contains six courtyards, each with its own gate and twostory residences. Entry to the garden is made from a garden courtyard with a boat-shaped pavilion into the western side of the pond where a small pavilion immediately brings one out over the water. 120 the gardens of suzhou The Thatched Hall of Retreat and Reflection Walk clockwise around the pond to the main building of the garden, a south-facing hall overlooking the pond. Although called Tuisi Cottage, the Thatched Hall of Retreat and Reflection, it does not have a thatched roof and its elegant proportions and scale belie its humble moniker. As you stand on the stone terrace of the hall and scan the garden from right to left like a scroll painting, your gaze will take you from a small waterside pavilion where you entered the garden to a boat-shaped pavilion “docked” on the pond’s edge, a two-story hall, a flying bridge partly concealed by a columnar rock formation, a one-story cottage, and a rockery mountain. A walk around the garden will take you on a metaphorical journey across the water into the mountains. Heavenly Prospects Heavenly Bridge, a double-sided flying bridge on the south side of the pond, climbs over the small Xin Terrace (with its collection of Tai Lake 1 2 3 4 5 Figure 83. Plan of the­ Garden of Cultivation and Reflection 1. Courtyard with boat-shaped hall 2. Entrance 3. Thatched Hall of ­ Retreat and Reflection 4. Heavenly Bridge 5. Gathering Beauty Pavilion 1 2 3 4 5 garden of retreat and reflection 121 limestone rocks) to provide a lofty prospect over the garden. Looking out from the bridge toward the deep northwest corner, one can see a second ideal place to survey the garden from above—the small Gathering Beauty Pavilion. PAUSE AND OBSERVE: PONDS The Garden of Retreat and Reflection is generally recognized for the way that the pavilions in the garden sit in very close proximity to, or seem to float over, the pond. A second layer of smaller studios or corridors are positioned further away and above the water to provide views down and across the pond. A comparison of the pond and pavilion relationship at Tuisi Yuan and that of Wangshi Yuan, the Garden of the Master of the Nets, is useful. At the Garden of Retreat and Reflection, the pavilions are low and, in the words of the Chinese garden scholar Chen Congzhou, “nestle among the waters.” The pavilions project out into, float just above, or sit in low repose alongside the pond. At the Master of the Nets Garden, which has a similarly sized pond, the pavilions are more remote from the water and reside high above the pond—and there are no lofty perches to scan over the garden from above. Most ponds in the Suzhou gardens have a remarkably consistent square or rectangular shape. Corners are stretched and pulled to suggest water sources or streams—and in most instances to connect to the water from ­ adjacent canals. These streams often appear to have a source in the­ northwest and an outlet in the southeast in accordance with feng shui beliefs . One of the few other late Qing gardens of high merit is Guozhuang Villa on the shore of West Lake, Xihu, in Hangzhou. The villa is centered around gardens on two ponds. The south garden is compact, dense, and lively. The north garden is a spare proto-modern water garden with horizontal lines, a superb zigzag bridge, and well-selected plant specimens. 122 the gardens of suzhou Figure 84. The Gathering Beauty Pavilion in the northwest corner of the garden provides...


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