Classical Gardens of Suzhou (1997, 2000)

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Classical Chinese garden design, which seeks to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, is nowhere better illustrated than in the nine gardens in the historic city of Suzhou. They are generally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Dating from the 11th-19th century, the gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture in their meticulous design. 

Sometimes the smallest package can contain the most magnificent gift. The Garden of the Master of the Nets is a clear example of this. It is the smallest of the Suzhou residential gardens, yet it is the most impressive because of its use of space which creates the illusion of an area that is much greater than its actual size. Even more than the architectural achievement is the mood of tranquility and harmony that this humble garden embodies. 

This exquisite garden was first designed during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) as part of a residence that was used until the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860's. It was later restored and became the residence of a government official from whom the garden gets its name. It is said that in a moment of frustration with bureaucracy he declared that he would rather be a fisherman than a bureaucrat. 

China 1984. Views of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Stamp #1 of four. China 1984. Views of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Stamp #2 of four. China 1984. Views of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Stamp #3 of four. China 1984. Views of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Stamp #4 of four.

The garden is divided into three sections: a residential section, the central main garden and an inner garden. The main garden has a large pond that is surrounded by pathways and a variety of buildings such as the Ribbon Washing Pavillion, and the Pavillion for the advent of the Moon and Wind. There are many more buildings that are situated so that there is never a sense of crowding, but always of spaciousness. As is common in Suzhou gardens, the pond has a small pavilion in it. Here the pavilion is accessible by a bridge that is less than one foot wide.

The Master-of-Nets Garden is a famed classical Chinese garden on Shiquan Street by Fengmen Gate in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. It was originally Shi Zhengzhi's Hall of Ten Thousand Volumes during the Southern Song Dynasty, known as "Fisherman's Retreat", and later abandoned. It was reconstructed during the reign of Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, and renamed the Master-of-Nets Garden to imply "fisherman's retreat". This ancient and well-preserved private garden is divided into residences in the east and a garden in the west. The two parts are harmoniously united to express an integral whole. The wooden buildings, doors, windows, and partition boards were all crafted with great care and artistic flourishes. Every hall has lattices with semi-transparent panes, with artificial hills outside. The pond at the center, surrounded by flowers, trees, artificial hills, rocks and buildings presents the main vista in the garden. The late Spring Cottage in the northwest of the garden, a masterpiece in garden design, is known for its exquisite, graceful courtyard and plain, neat buildings.

China 2003. Master-of-Nets Gardens, Suzhou. Four se-tenant stamps in a composite design.

This set exists also as a souvenir sheet with two strips of stamps, and Chinese scriptures in the left margin.

China 2003. Souvenir sheet of the Suzhou Gardens.

As you walk about the gardens and along the walkways, there are often views through windows onto beautiful flowers or plants framing them from a distance and drawing you to a single sight, a moment of peaceful natural beauty. 

As you walk through the buildings, it is easy to imagine the life that the original residents lived in a feudal society where these gardens were solely for their pleasure and the pleasure of their guests. 

  • China 2003. Souvenir sheet of the Suzhou Gardens. 

The various buildings are constructed so that you can always access the main garden from any room. The rooms themselves are quite impressive in design and ornamentation and well represent the style of the Song Dynasty. The inner garden which is only about 660 square feet, has the distinction of being used as the model for the Ming Hall Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and also completely miniaturized for an exhibit in the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1982. This garden is reputed to be the most well-preserved garden in Suzhou and should not be missed. It is small in size, but is like a beautifully cut diamond whose beauty is of never ending fascination and pleasure.  

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in China (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section China for further information about the individual properties.  

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Revised 20 jun 2007  
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