UNESCO.org says, “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.”
The city of Suzhou has more than 2,500 years of history and was once part of the empire of Wu. The empire occupied the area in eastern China around Nanjing. Wu was one of the three major states that competed for supremacy over China after the Han Dynasty fell. The Three Kingdoms period of China took place between 220 – 280 AD.
Suzhou is located in the southern portion of Jiangsu province about fifty miles from Shanghai along the old Grand Canal. By the 14th century, Suzhou was established as the leading silk producer in China. Suzhou is also known for Kun Opera with roots in folk songs from the mid-14th century.
The Japanese art of bonsai originated in the Chinese practice of penjing (盆景). Penjing is known as the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature.
Suzhou’s famous gardens were destroyed three times. The first time was during the Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864). Then the Japanese invaded China during World War II, and the gardens were destroyed a second time. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, many of the gardens were destroyed a third time.
It wasn’t until 1981, several years after Mao’s death, when Deng Xiaoping ruled the Communist Party, that the gardens were rebuilt.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.