Humble Administrator’s Garden
The Humble Administrator’s Garden (Chinese name is 拙政园) was originally built in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was initially a private garden of a former government servant named Wang Xianchen. It was said that Wang was frustrated in his official career, so he intended to build a garden after retiring and just do some gardening work like planting trees and cultivating vegetables there. He thought that was a simple life led by a humble man like him, hence named Humble Administrator’s Garden. The garden was created upon the old relics of a residence and a Taoist temple. The water feature is the main background and its natural landscape includes small forests, hills, and rock formations. It also has man-made pavilions, halls, and parlors. Unlike the Grand View Garden and other famous gardens in Beijing, it is a representative work of the Ming Dynasty building style.
When you close your eyes and imagine a perfect Chinese garden, you’d be hard-pressed to dream up one more sublime than the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou. With its elegant arrangement of tranquil koi ponds, jagged rockery, overhanging trees, and scenic pavilions, the Humble Administrator’s Garden boasts a series of exquisite views that gradually spread out like the unrolling of a traditional scroll painting.
As the largest of Suzhou’s classical gardens, long recognized as one of China’s four most famous gardens, along with Summer Palace in Beijing, Mountain Resort in Chengde, and Lingering Garden in Suzhou, the Humble Administrator’s Garden was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
The garden is divided into three distinct sections: the expansive Eastern Garden, the distinguished Central Garden, and the Western Garden with its exquisite buildings.
Best Seasons: Spring/Summer/Autumn
Recommended Visiting Time: about 2-3 hours
Opening Hours: 7:30– 17:30 (Mar. 1–Nov. 15) / 7:30– 17:00 (Nov. 16–Feb. 29)
Tickets: Jan.–Mar., June, Nov.–Dec.: 70 RMB; Apr.–May, July–Oct.: 90 RMB
Address: No.178 Dongbei Street, Gusu District, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
Pass through the Spring Orchid Hall, and the Eastern Garden opens out before you. Marked by its spaciousness, this area of the garden features a large pond surrounded by lush greenery, delicate flowers, and jagged rockeries, as well as verdant hills and inviting pavilions.
Originally part of a Ming Dynasty estate called the GuiTianyuan Ju, or Return-to-the-Countryside Villa, the Eastern Garden was suffering somewhat from neglect by 1631, when a government minister named Wang Xinyi purchased it. Wang was an accomplished landscape painter and favored artificial mountains and water features in his extensive renovations. Even with all the changes to the garden’s landscape over the subsequent centuries, the Eastern Garden still evokes Wang’s paintings.
The latest renovation began in 1955 when the Eastern Garden was updated with a revamped pond, rock sculptures, and several new pavilions. The result is a blend of the traditional and contemporary, giving visitors a feeling of fresh serenity.
The main building is the Orchid and Snow Hall (Lanxue Tang), whose south wall has a panoramic map of the entire garden. Besides, there is a Lotus Pavilion (FurongXie) in the garden. Half built above water while half built on a terrace, the pavilion is an excellent place to admire lotuses in summer. Another impressive structure is the Heavenly Spring Pavilion (Tianquan Ting), which gets its name after an ancient well whose water tastes very sweet.
The heart of the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Central Garden is also the garden’s most scenic. It features a large lotus pond surrounded by pavilions, terraces, and rockeries. Most of the Central Garden’s landscaping imitates the terrain of China south of the Yangtze River, while the three islands in the center of its pond symbolize the land where the immortals of Chinese mythology live.
The Central Garden is the Humble Administrator’s Garden’s best-preserved garden, and its original Ming Dynasty design still inspires poetry. The expressively named Hall of Distant Fragrance, the Central Garden’s main building, takes its name from the nearby lotus pool. During the summer, you can still smell the scent of lotuses wafting into the hall. The garden’s original owner used to greet visitors and host banquets here because this pavilion provides the best views of the whole garden. The hall is designed with oversized glass windows on all sides for easy viewing. Nearby is the Small Flying Rainbow Bridge (Xiaofeihong), a rare type of bridge and the only one in the garden you can walk across.
The Central Garden also showcases the so-called “borrowed view from afar,” which frames distant landmarks to look like they’re part of the garden itself. Here the garden “borrows” the Beisi Pagoda, about a half-mile (1 km) away, creating the illusion that the garden extends to the horizon.
The Western Garden, the smallest of the Humble Administrator’s Garden’s three main areas, is the perfect distillation of Chinese classical garden design. Marked by a waterway that flows from the Tower of Reflection in the garden’s north to the Pagoda Reflection Pavilion in the south, many pavilions are beautifully arranged along its shores.
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the mid-1700s, the Central and Western Gardens were divided and a wall was put up. Then when a merchant named Zhang Luqian renovated the Western Garden in 1877, he added a roof and windows to the wall and refashioned it as the Wavy Corridor, which rises and falls in harmony with the landscape. Adding to existing structures like the Stay-and-Listen Pavilion and the Floating Green Pavilion, Zhang constructed the Western Garden’s major structure, a building that houses both the Hall of 18 Camellias and the Hall of 36 Pairs of Mandarin Ducks.
Just like it sounds, the Hall of 36 Pairs of Mandarin Ducks houses 36 of the world’s most beautiful ducks, which can be seen swimming in front of the hall in the summer. The Hall of 18 Camellias features 18 kinds of camellias that blossom in the winter. Also of note is the Bonsai Garden, located in the west of the garden, which boasts more than 700 Chinese-style bonsais, with some as much as 400 years old.
In recent years, the Humble Administrator’s Garden has been the site of many floral exhibitions. Every spring and summer, the Azalea Festival and the Lotus Festival are held here. There are bonsai shown in the aptly named Bonsai Garden (Penjing Yuan) in the Western Section while precious Chinese stones are shown in the Elegant Stone House (Yashi Zhai) in the Central Section.
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