Classical Gardens of Suzhou

Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
N31 19 0 E120 27 0
Date of Inscription: 1997
Extension: 2000
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Property : 11.922 ha
Buffer zone: 26.839 ha
Ref: 813bis
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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 classical gardens of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China date back to the 6th century BCE when the city was founded as the capital of the Wu Kingdom. Inspired by these royal hunting gardens built by the King of the State of Wu, private gardens began emerging around the 4th century and finally reached the climax in the 18th century. Today, more than 50 of these gardens are still in existence, nine of which, namely the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden, Net Master’s Garden, the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, the Canglang Pavilion, the Lion Grove Garden, the Garden of Cultivation, the Couple’s Garden Retreat, and the Retreat & Reflection Garden, are regarded as the finest embodiments of Chinese “Mountain and Water” gardens. The earliest of these, the Canglang Pavilionwas built in the early 11th century on the site of an earlier, destroyed garden. Conceived and built under the influence of the unconstrained poetic freehand style originally seen in traditional Chinese landscape paintings, they are noted for their profound merging of exquisite craftsmanship, artistic elegance and rich cultural implications. These gardens lend insight into how ancient Chinese intellectuals harmonized conceptions of aestheticism in a culture of reclusion within an urban living environment.

Garden masters from each dynasty adapted various techniques to artfully simulate nature by skillfully adapting and utilizing only the physical space available to them. Limited to the space within a single residence, classical Suzhou gardens are intended to be a microcosm of the natural world, incorporating basic elements such as water, stones, plants, and various types of buildings of literary and poetic significance. These exquisite gardens are a testament to the superior craftsmanship of the garden masters of the time. These unique designs that have been inspired but are not limited by concepts of nature have had profound influence on the evolution of both Eastern and Western garden art. These garden ensembles of buildings, rock formations, calligraphy, furniture, and decorative artistic pieces serve as showcases of the paramount artistic achievements of the East Yangtze Delta region; they are in essence the embodiment of the connotations of traditional Chinese culture.

Criterion (i): The classical gardens of Suzhou that have been influenced by the traditional Chinese craftsmanship and artistry first introduced by the freehand brushwork of traditional Chinese paintings, embody the refined sophistication of traditional Chinese culture. This embodiment of artistic perfection has won them a reputation as the most creative gardening masterpieces of ancient China.

Criterion (ii): Within a time span of over 2,000 years, a unique but systematic form of landscaping for these particular types of gardens was formed. Its planning, design, construction techniques, as well as artistic effect have had a significant impact on the development of landscaping in China as well as the world.

Criterion (iii): The classical gardens of Suzhou first originated from the ancient Chinese intellectuals’ desire to harmonize with nature while cultivating their temperament. They are the finest remnants of the wisdom and tradition of ancient Chinese intellectuals.

Criterion (iv): The classical gardens of Suzhou are the most vivid specimens of the culture expressed in landscape garden design from the East Yangtze Delta region in the 11th to 19th centuries.  The underlying philosophy, literature, art, and craftsmanship shown in the architecture, gardening as well as the handcrafts reflect the monumental achievements of the social, cultural, scientific, and technological developments of this period.

Criterion (v): These classical Suzhou gardens are outstanding examples of the harmonious relationship achieved between traditional Chinese residences and artfully contrived nature.  They showcase the life style, etiquette and customs of the East Yangtze Delta region during the 11th to 19th centuries.

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Suzhou is a city in Jiangsu province, famed for its beautiful gardens and traditional waterside architecture. The town has many canals and has been called the Venice of the East. An older romanisation was “Soochow”. Suzhou is a prefecture-level city in the Chinese system of administration, which makes the name “Suzhou” somewhat ambiguous; it can refer either to the city or to the entire administrative area. This article covers the city; some towns within the administrative area, like Kunshan and Wujiang, have separate articles. Suzhou has always been a major center of Wu culture which developed in the region around Lake Tai; a Suzhou accent in the Wu language is still considered prestigious, even though the language is now often called “Shanghainese”. Suzhou was the capital of the Kingdom of Wu in the first millennium BCE and again the in first CE, but through most of history Wu has not been an… [read more].

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5 replies »

  1. Suzhou offers more than just canals and “diverse” foods. The Garden of the Humble Administrator dates back over 500 years to the early Ming dynasty and is considered one of China’s four great gardens. A leisurely stroll through this lush, sub-tropical garden can easily take two hours. There are also numerous scenic lakes nearby for recreational activities, and locals speak particularly highly of Jinji lake.


  2. These are not Western-style gardens. You will see strangely shaped rocks, disordered landscapes, well-tended bushes and artificial hills. This is the Chinese way of finding the perfect balance between the human world and nature.


  3. Walking in the Humble Administrator’s Garden is like taking a stroll through a painting. And the painting changes as the weather and season varies.


  4. In The Humble Administrator’s Garden, there’s a wonderful illusion of being surrounded by nature rather than design, even though the place is meticulously planned. While walking around the garden whose different parts are connected by winding pathways, bridges, passages and pagodas, I realised how brilliantly the area had been designed. One part links to the other and as you walk over a zigzag bridge or through a circular doorway, the vistas around you and awaiting you are constantly changing. The garden never feels boring. There’s a stunning variety of flora and fauna that will thrill the naturalist and the garden has been planned in a way that, despite the intensive landscaping, nature doesn’t seem restrained. There’s the illusion of the wild without the hassle or discomfort – thorns, undergrowth, and so on – of the real wild.


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