Suzhou Walled Gardens－－ Landscapes in Miniature-part one
On December 4, 1997, at the 21st session of the UN World Heritage Committee held in Naples four masterpieces of Suzhou classical gardens were inscribed onto the World Heritage List. They were the Zhuozhengyuan (Humble Administrator's Garden), Liuyuan (Lingering Garden), Wangshiyuan (Garden of the Master of Nets) and Huanxiu Shanzhuang (Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty). On November 30, 2000, the 24th session admitted five more Suzhou gardens to the list -- the Canglangting (Surging Wave Pavilion), Shizilin (Lion Grove), Yipu Art Garden), Ouyuan (Couple's Garden Retreat) and Tuisiyuan (Retreat and Reflection Garden).
The committee commented that Chinese gardening pioneers world gardening and the classical gardens of Suzhou are outstanding examples of this applied art. It considered that "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 that are generally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Dating from the 1 lth-18th century, in their meticulous design the gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture."
Suzhou gardens originated in the Spring and Autumn Period when, in the sixth century BC King Helü of Wu, and his son Fuchai who succeeded him, built the Palatial View Garden, Changzhou Garden, Gusu Terrace, Hualin Garden and Guanwa Palace in and around their capital. But these were "prototypes," so to speak; gardens built by private citizens did not develop until many centuries later, during the Eastern and Western Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties Period (265-589). It was in Suzhou that Gu Pijiang of the Eastern Jin built the first private garden in the region and named it Pijiang Garden. Ancient records can also be found of a garden project at his Suzhou residence by Dai Yong of the Southern Dynasties: "He banked up rocks, channeled streams, planted trees and opened up land that soon flourished to resemble a natural landscape."
Suzhou's geography and its cultural environment were favorable for garden projects. Moreover, creating garden houses was a symbol of wealth and high social status for the many officials resident in Suzhou. According to historic documents, the Ming and Qing dynasties were the heyday of Suzhou gardens; they numbered 271 in the Ming and 130 in the Qing, brooking no comparison with other Chinese cities. Suzhou was unquestionably China's capital of private landscape gardens. Through centuries of evolution, garden techniques and design were matured and perfected. Within a limited space, their creators applied the concept of "using a small thing to represent the large" and, through meticulous design and exquisite application, making landscapes in miniature that allowed viewers to sense and envision their beauty in a natural environment. The mature craftsman-ship of Suzhou gardens exemplifies a fine combination of architecture, painting, literature and handicraft; this has rightly been likened to "poetry in physical form, a three-dimensional painting."