The Yi Pu Garden（艺圃）is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Classical Gardens of Suzhou on the World Heritage List. It is one of the best-preserved examples of a Ming Dynasty classical garden in Suzhou. Students and staff of Silk Road School (SRS) were fortunate to visit the garden on the 20th October 2019 with Mr David Yan as the guide.
Figure 1: Mr Yan explaining the meaning of the character 忙, which means busy in Chinese
Mr David Yan, Chairman of the SuzhouTourism Board, with over 20 years of experience in the tourism fieldgave a lecture on the culture and history of the gardens in Suzhou before giving a tour in the gardens. During the lecture, he gave insights to the meanings of Chinese characters such as閒, history and meanings to the structure of buildings such as the flying eaves on the roofs which resembled the hats that officials wore in the past as families hoped that their children would grow up to become officials too. He also explained a practical reason for the flying eave, which was that during the raining season, one could stand underneath the edge of the roof and not be affected by the rainwater. Also the flying eave resembles a bird ready to take flight against the backdrop of clear blue sky. As for the閒character, he explained that 閒is made up of 2 components, the 門(Simplified Chinese: 门，door) on the outside and 月(moon) on the inside, and it symbolises a man sitting in front of the door, looking at the garden cast by the moonlight, feeling peaceful.
The main reason of why Suzhou has many gardens is due to the good education background of the people in this area. In the Qing dynasty, nearly a third of the top scholars were from Suzhou. In the past, retired officials would travel and explore China, however due to the inconvenience in transportation, they would return to Suzhou, purchase a piece of land in the downtown area and build their own haven of peace, where they could enjoy the mountains, water and greenery while sipping tea in the pavilion without having to leave the comfort of their home.
Here are some meanings of plants, animals and objects that we usually see when visiting the garden, which were favoured by scholars.
Pine refers to evergreen and it holds the meaning of purity. It also signifies longevity as the lifespan of pine is 500 years. Bamboo means that a scholar has dignity and they would rather break than to bend over. Crane also signifies longevity as the lifespan of a crane is 60 years. As the pronunciation of bat in Chinese is “Bian Fu” （蝙蝠）, it is similar to happiness in Chinese which is “Xing Fu” （幸福）therefore in decorations there will be 5 bats. It is believed that there are 5 types of happiness in one’s lifewhich are longevity, wealth, being free from worry,great virtueand peaceful death.
The architecture of a traditional Chinese house unfolds the beauty that is enclosed within bit by bit to the guest. One would probably pass by a gate which leads them to a mini courtyard before unveiling the garden to the eyes of the visitor. The portrayal of the scenery differs along with the change in angle and position of viewing, and that is the beauty of the traditional Chinese architecture.
After the lecture, 38 students went on a 40-minute tour given by Mr Yan at the Garden of Cultivation. During the tour, we explored the rooms such as waiting room for the guest before the host arrives. We learned that back then, male and females had different hosting rooms with the female hosting room position behind the male hosting room. The female hosting room seemed to be smaller and slightly dimmer as compared to the male hosting room and that is also due to the traditional Chinese culture.The total area of the garden is 5 acres and one-fifth of it is made up of water.
Mr Yan shared more information on the traditional Chinese culture. He explained that females were seen to be of a lower status than men, and a woman would only get to experience an 8-person sedan once in her life which would have been during her wedding day. Besides looking at one’s family status when matchmaking, the time of birth and zodiac signs were also a consideration when finding a suitable partner.
Through this trip, students have gained deeper understanding of the Chinese culture and history.
Written by: LIM YIN RU