Garden Memories of an Illustrious Past: A Weekend Visit to Suzhou

As everyone knows, Suzhou is famous for its Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) gardens, built by wealthy families as retreats from busy urban life and cultural centers for them to meet with their fellow elites (the best English-language academic study of these gardens is Craig Clunas, Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China).  The name “garden” is a bit misleading.  These large walled-in compounds were designed to be both living quarters for urban elites and miniature worlds, with complex yet aesthetically satisfying arrangements of mountains, rivers, oceans, and forests represented by well-placed rocks, ponds, creeks, and bonsai gardens.  Thus, they represented the fantasy of man’s domination and control over the natural world, or if you prefer a more euphemistic term, man’s “harmony” with nature.  

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