Functional and Imaginative Gardens and Landscapes of Hangzhou and the West Lake from Song to Qing

2:00 pm – 5:45 pm
Room A

  • Organised by Silvia Ebner von Eschenbach, Antonio José Mezcua López
  • Chaired by Roland Altenburger
  • Silvia Ebner von Eschenbach, “Function and Management of the Imperial Parks of the Southern Song Capital Lin’an”
  • Benjamin Ridgway, “The Emergence of the Geo-Poetic Collection: Dong Sigao’s Hundred Poems of West Lake”
  • Antonio José Mezcua López, “Landscape Culture of the West Lake in the Late Ming Period. Li Liufang 李流芳: Painting, Poetry, and Garden Design”
  • Desmond Cheung, “Hangzhou’s West Lake as Both Cultural and Functional Landscape”
  • Xiaolin Duan, “Fashioning the Chinese Landscape: West Lake Scenery and Garden Design”
  • Roland Altenburger, Discussant

The panel focuses on the development of concepts of gardens and landscape design in relation to its social and political function from the Song to the Qing. The lines of this tradition can be elucidated using the gardens and the landscapes of the city of Hangzhou and its West Lake as an example since they command a large amount of multiple source material, mainly local gazetteers, poems and paintings. The Southern Song imperial parks that were situated in the city and on the lake shore were managed according to political prerogatives and assigned to each other according to function (Ebner von Eschenbach). At that time, the evolving scenery of the West Lake stimulated the emergence of geo-poetics as a new literary form in the poems of Dong Sigao (Ridgway). After a period of decay, efforts were undertaken by mid-Ming prefect Yang Mengying to restore the West Lake to its former function, drawing on Tang and Song models and emphasising its public importance and place in the cultural landscape (Cheung). In the late Ming new individual gardens were built after a concept of landscape culture as the garden of Li Liufang and his activities as poet and painter reveal (Mezcua López). The reification of the garden as an idealised landscape led to the imitation of Southern Song model gardens and the fashioning of the West Lake landscape as such into a public garden during the late Ming and Qing (Duan). The panel will be concluded with a final roundtable discussion.

Silvia Ebner von Eschenbach, “Function and Management of the Imperial Parks of the Southern Song Capital Lin’an”

As Hangzhou underwent a transformation from a commercial city to the new capital of the Southern Song Empire, new villas and palaces with parks were built for the imperial family inside and outside the city wall and on the shores of the West Lake. As time went by, emperors bestowed the parks and villas also on important politicians, some of them related to the empresses’ families. In the case of downgrading or death of politicians, the emperors confiscated the parks and villas and transferred them to others or recovered them for the members of the imperial family.
Apart from their political function, parks were assigned to specific uses, be it for the recreation and amusement of their owners, for the entertainment of guests of honour or for ceremonial purposes. It happened that some parks came to be neglected or rededicated as nurseries for the provision of other parks with plants or timber. Yet most of them were famous not only for their horticultural accessories but also for their rock arrangements and artificial lakes in imitation in miniature of the West Lake scenery, requiring adequate management of their water supply system.
The paper intends to bring to light the interdependency of the imperial parks within a functional and managerial network. Information on the imperial parks is mainly found in the Song local gazetteers and the Yuan and Ming private compilations. Now that some Song building structures and supply facilities are being excavated, textual sources can be complemented by the archaeological findings.

Benjamin Ridgway, “The Emergence of the Geo-Poetic Collection: Dong Sigao’s Hundred Poems of West Lake”

The poetry collection, Hundred Poems of West Lake 西湖百詠, compiled and published in the late 13th century by Dong Sigao 董嗣杲 (fl.1260–1276), represents the emergence of new literary form, the geo-poetic collection, defined by its unique synthesis of tropes and techniques from poetry and local gazetteers. I argue that Dong employed this new genre to define the identity of the new capital of the Southern Song (1127–1279), Hangzhou, as a “city in a garden” and that his work became, in retrospect, the first poetic tour-guide to the city.
On the one hand, Dong borrowed the discourse on “substance” (shi 實) prominent in local gazetteers by adding geographic prose notes before every poem. These resemble place entries in gazetteers and function to spatially situate readers using factual details on locations, distances, and the local lore of urban gardens. On the other hand, Dong rejected the hierarchical organisation and division of space typical of local gazetteers. In contrast to the distanced, elevated, and seemingly omniscient view projected by the editors of local gazetteers, Dong Sigao’s poems take on the perspective of a walking participant in an urban tour, encountering different sites serendipitously in a counter-clockwise movement around the lake.
Methodologically, this paper systematically compares the sites of West Lake Dong found in Dong’s poems to entries on the same sites found in the 1268 Xianchun Reign Gazetteer of Lin’an and in 13th capital journals to clearly define Dong’s borrowings and departures from contemporary geographic genres.

Antonio José Mezcua López, “Landscape Culture of the West Lake in the Late Ming Period. Li Liufang 李流芳: Painting, Poetry, and Garden Design”

The Late Ming Dynasty was a crucial period for the development of the West Lake landscape culture. Following the reforms of Sun Long, the amount of visitors to the area grew considerably, as well as the number of villas and gardens constructed during this period. Among them was the garden of Li Liufang, Nanshan Xiaozhu located on the Nanping Mountain on the south side of the Lake. Li Liufang also owned a boat known as Qiashou hang, in which he sailed across the lake with his friends Cheng Jiasui and Qian Qianyi. Liu Fang painted the West Lake in several occasions, some of these works survived to this day, as well as a collection of colophon paintings of the same subject. The relation of Li Liufang with the West Lake is particularly interesting for this area of study as his work comprises the three main activities that defined the concept of landscape culture in dynastic China: landscape painting, poetry, and garden design.
This paper parts from the compilation and analysis of Li Liufang’s activities in literary and visual records. Since other leading figures of Late Ming West Lake such as Wang Ruqian or Feng Mengzhen have been studied, the aim of this paper is to trace an itinerary of Li Liufang contributions to the West Lake landscape culture and to study the interactions between different areas of his work.

Desmond Cheung, “Hangzhou’s West Lake as Both Cultural and Functional Landscape”

West Lake is the most famous site in Hangzhou’s landscape and was imagined as a prime destination for refined scholars as early as the Song period. But while the lake was celebrated for its scenic beauty and its rich cultural associations, it was just as important as a source of water for the local people. Bai Juyi and Su Shi, the famous poet-officials who administered Hangzhou during the Tang and Song eras, had carried out major hydrological work at the lake as well as written verses praising its many delights.
This paper will analyse these dual representations of West Lake—as cultural and functional landscape—focusing on the efforts of Hangzhou Prefect Yang Mengying to dredge and restore the lake in 1508. Finding those powerful local families had taken over large parts of the lake and converted them to fields and ponds for their private use, Yang argued that it was vital to preserve the lake as a public good. Invoking the examples of his illustrious predecessors, Yang vowed to restore the lake to its former state and to protect it from future human encroachment, and thereby guarantee the area’s irrigation and agricultural needs. In this way, an activist official employed different images of West Lake to ensure that it benefitted the entire community of Hangzhou.

Xiaolin Duan, “Fashioning the Chinese Landscape: West Lake Scenery and Garden Design”

West Lake has been a cultural landmark since the twelfth century when the capital was relocated to Hangzhou and the lake witnessed an increasing number of visits from elites and commoners alike. Since then, the lake has become an icon for China’s landscape appreciation, literary, and visual creation, and tourism. The scenic beauty of the lake has always been both the result of human enhancement and inspired garden designs. This paper looks into the mutual influence and interaction between the appreciation of natural landscapes around West Lake and the building of gardens that in both cases contributed to the reification of an idealised concept of nature.
Southern Song emperors started to mimic the Cold Spring Pavilion in imperial gardens, extolling the reproduction of nature. Such practice continued into later times, as evidenced by the imitation of the Su Causeway in the Qing dynasty imperial garden and the borrowing of the Ten Views in seventeenth-century Japanese gardens such as Shukkeien. Meanwhile, the aesthetic and fondness of garden design also enhanced the lake scenery. Private gardens owned by noble families on the lakeshore added scenic and entertainment allure. The Ming dynasty municipal government added a garden-like island with pavilions at the centre of the lake, constituting a new scenic dimension and leisure activities for sightseers. The lake itself, therefore, became a public garden. This paper suggests that the idealised conception and rendering of the lake carried a unifying power of cultural geography, embodying the “Chineseness” in the interplay between human and nature.

Roundtable Discussion

After the panellists’ papers, a roundtable discussion will conclude the panel. The roundtable discussion may synergise the diverse disciplinary approaches to the subject that the five contributions take.
This may involve the issue of reverting private gardens to imperial parks as well as the connection between individual gardens and public landscape. Here it may be considered that imitations of the West Lake were reproduced in gardens, that gardens formed integral elements of the West Lake landscape while the West Lake and its landscape as a whole were also perceived as an entity.
In this context, the question of the renaissance of model gardens may arise, particularly discussing the divergent views in Ming and Qing on the Southern Song gardens as the gardens of a failing dynasty. The varying evaluations may be connected to the question of decay and the functional revival of the West Lake and the perspective of idealised imagination of gardens as it emerged in poems and paintings.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room A