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  • Seeds of a Different Eden: Chinese Garden Ideas and a New English Aesthetic Ideal
  • Qingyun Wu (bio)
Seeds of a Different Eden: Chinese Garden Ideas and a New English Aesthetic Ideal. By Yu Liu. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008. 218 pp. Cloth $39.95.

Yu Liu's book provides an informative study of China's influence on the formation of early Western modernity from the significant impact of China's garden ideas n the English landscaping revolution to the germination of new [End Page 393] concepts in Western philosophy and aesthetics in the eighteenth century. The book contains an introduction and six chapters. Apart from offering an overall plan of the book, the introduction attributes the transplantation of Chinese gardening ideas to Europe to Christian missionaries and travelers and celebrates Sir William Temple, who coined the word sharawadgi for the Chinese type of natural irregularity, as the transmitter of the Chinese idea of beauty without order and the source of English horticultural naturalism. But it vehemently objects to Horace Walpole, who never set foot outside Europe yet who nevertheless deliberately confused Chinese gardening ideas with chinoiserie, a denigrating term referring to superficial garden embellishments and ornaments that were based on English or European fantasies about China. Liu attempts to challenge the Eurocentric study of English history of horticulture as well as other related fields. The first chapter, "The Impetus for Change," emphasizes the role Matteo Ripa, an imperial Chinese court painter with intimate knowledge of China and a set of thirty-six engravings depicting the Chinese imperial palaces and gardens at Zehe, played in turning Chinese sharawadgi into an English aesthetic principle and illustrates how, under his influence, Burlington and Kent at Chiswick made crucial alterations. The second chapter, "Ambiguous Contrast," explicates how and why Matteo Ricci translated the European zhu [deus] or tian zhu [lord of heaven] into the Chinese words 天 [heaven] or 上帝 [lord on high] but was unable to accept the Chinese notion of a 天人合一 [union between humanity and heaven], a hesitancy that reveals "the Far East and the West as being simultaneously similar and different in philosophical thinking as in landscaping" (65). The third chapter, "In the Name of the Ancients," argues, through textual as well as historical analysis, that although the ideas of Alexander Pope, who fixated on asymmetries or irregularities in his landscaping and poetry, are conventionally linked with the classical European notion of concordia discors, or discordant harmony, they were actually inspired by the Far East or by China. Pope was directly influenced by Temple's 1685 talk about the natural irregularity of the Far East. This notion of natural irregularity inspired his landscape description, which elaborated a different kind of ethical and political order that would subvert any power-based classical notion of concordia discors. The fourth chapter, "Landscape and Freedom," explores Joseph Addison's affinity with nature. Strongly condemning topiary, Addison argued that a spectator could feel restrained when a pleasure ground was restricted by geometry and symmetry. According to Liu, Addison was "merely recycling things within his European heritage" in promoting open and expansive landscapes and in advocating the symbiosis of horticulture and agriculture (pleasure plus profit) (109). [End Page 394] But his interest in horticultural naturalism and Chinese irregularity helped him to appreciate the quality of things being careless or undetermined and to discover the possible reciprocity of man and nature as well as of nature and art, which influenced the aesthetic thoughts of Immanuel Kant. The fifth chapter, "The Call of the Wild," starts with the controversy over the apparent contradiction between the Anthony Ashley Cooper's call for natural wildness and his geometrical garden as revealed by a portrait of him engraved by Simon Gribelin. Liu believes that the contradiction indicates that England horticultural naturalist theory came before practice. However, the source of Shaftesbury's Chinese garden ideas is secondary. If Shaftesbury had had deeper insight into Chinese garden ideas and philosophy, he would have seen that this philosophy emphasizes the mediation between art and nature and so refrained from overcelebrating the creative power of the artist. The last chapter, "The Paradigmatic Shift," explicates how these important figures and their ideas that were influenced...


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pp. 393-396
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