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Home is where the art is

Updated: 2024-01-06 09:46 ( China Daily )
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"When a Jiangnan native was appointed to office elsewhere, they took with them the region's cultural traditions and memories," Yang says. Or, they may even try to re-create a miniature version of Jiangnan in their own backyard, whether they were in or outside of the region. It was especially true during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the heydays of garden building in Jiangnan.

"A Jiangnan garden, complete with man-made mountains and lakes, was a condensed, manicured version of the landscape and a world unto itself, where one could, presumably, be intimate with nature and be free," says Yang.

So the idea was: No matter where you were and how elevated you became socially, you need bamboo groves to recline in and fish ponds to gaze upon.

Let Sima Guang (1019-86), a Northern Song (960-1127) period statesman, tell you. The man, after retirement, built a garden for himself that would become so famous that half a millennium later it lent its name — Garden for Solitary Enjoyment — to a Ming-Dynasty painting, which in turn became the template for numerous Suzhou workshop copies.

"I channel streams to water flowers, or trim bamboo," Sima wrote. "I know of no joy between heaven and earth that could take its place."

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