Suzhou Travel Guide
The Master of Nets Garden
China Tours including trips to The Master of Nets Garden in Suzhou:
The Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou is among the finest gardens in China. It is located at Canglang District, Dai Cheng Qiao Road, No. 11 Kuo Jia Tou Xiang. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden demonstrates Chinese garden designers' adept skills for synthesizing art, nature, and architecture to create unique metaphysical masterpieces. The initial garden was first constructed over 800 years ago and even though its physical form has changed drastically since, the name and spirit of the garden still remain intact. The Master of the Nets is particularly regarded among garden connoisseurs for its mastering the techniques of relative dimension, contrast, foil, sequence and depth, and borrowed scenery. While the garden's primary uses have varied over time, its ability to inspire visitors intellectually and spiritually remains unchanged. Keen physical architecture combined with poetic and artistic inspirations makes the Master of the Nets garden a unique and incredible garden experience that has stood the test of time.
The Master of the Nets garden, then called Ten Thousand Volume Hall, was first constructed in 1140 CE by Shi Zhengzhi the Deputy Civil Service Minster of the Southern Song Dynasty government. Shi Zhengzhi was inspired by the simple and solitary life of a Chinese fisherman depicted in philosophical writings. After his death the garden passed through numerous ownership and subsequently fell into disarray until around 1785 CE when it was restored by Song Zongyuan, a retired government official of the Qing Dynasty. He drastically redesigned the garden and added multiple buildings, but retained the spirit of the site. He often refered to himself as a fisherman and renamed it the Master of the Nets Garden, as an allusion to the simple life of a fisherman.
Ownership passed to Qu Yuancun, a scholar well-versed in the classics and literature, in 1795 CE. He added and remodeling buildings, planted trees, and arranged stones. The garden aquired the nickname of Qu's Garden during this period as well as its first acclaim by critics. Ownership passed to Li Hongyi, a imperial offical and master calligrapher in 1868. About half of the steles in the garden are inscribed by him. Ownership passed to He Chang in 1940, who restored both the garden and returned the name back to Master of Nets Garden. He stipulated in his will the garden should be donated to the government. In 1958 his daughter He Zehui gave the garden to the Suzhou governement.
During the late 18th century it was recognized for its herbaceous peonies. In his Notes on the Master of Nets Garden, Qian Daxin stated, "A good integration of the delights of the village and town." and during the early 20th century it served as the studio of the celebrated landscape painter Zhang Daquin. Modern critic Chen Congzhou feels the Master of the Nets Garden is best representation of classical Chinese garden art, as stated in Famous Classical Gardens of China.
The 5,400 m² garden is divided into east and west sections.The eastern part consists of residential quarters, while the gardens are located in the western part.
This garden is the residential area it is a linear sequence of four halls one tower and three courtyards..
- Beauty within Reach Tower It is the final hall of the entry sequence. It is a six bay and two level tower without portico. It was used as the women's meeting area. The name refers to the view of distant hill and suburbs from the top level.
- Grand Reception Hall The third hall in the sequence. Also called the Hall of Accumulated Benevolence, and Ten Thousand Volume Hall, it is a three bay hall with front portico. It was used for meeting guests. A carved brick gate at the rear depicts scenes from two Kunqu operas; Guo Ziyi Presents Birthday Gifts, and Wen Wang visits the Talents.
- Cave of Cloud Hall a three bay hall with front portico opening to courtyard decorated with a penzai collection.
- Cloud Stairway Room Named after a verse from Xuan Shi Zhi by Zhang Du, "Zhou Sheng fetches the moon in after ascending to the clouds with a rope at the Mid-Autumn Festival". It opens onto the a courtyard called the Back Garden. A modern extension was built on the rear of this hall to house a collection of ceramics.
- Sedan-Chair Hall The second hall in the entry sequence. A three bay hall with portico front portico. In is named for the sedan chair used to carry imperial officals.
The western garden is an ensemble of buildings around the 334 m² Rosy Cloud Pool. Plants and rocks are used to create views which represent several seasons. It also includes three side courts to the east and south. The two dominant elements of the composition are the Barrier of Cloud grotto, a cypress tree dating from the Ming Dynasty, and pine several centuries old. The areas to the south of the Rosy Cloud Pool were used for social activities and the areas to the north were used for intellectual activities. The buildings are laid out in a style called close to the water which is used to give the Rosy Clouds Pool the illusion of great size. Small buildings are set on rocks or piers directly over the water surface while large buildings are separated from the pool by yards planted with trees to obscure their size.
- Peony Hall – Also called The Hall of Dewy Grace, a three-bay structure named for a Li Bai verse, "The spring breeze is stroking gently the balustrade and peony is wet with dew".
- Five Peaks Library – Named after verse by Li Bai, "There are five peaks south of Mount Lu which look like lotus flowers cut by nature".A tower attached to the Meditation Study, the bottom floor is a three bay hall. A small grotto of scholar stones is in front of the library and individual scholar stones are located behind it. It is built on the site of the former Ten Thousand Volume Hall of the Song Dynasty garden
- Meditation Study – Named after a quote by Zhuang Zi, "Tao is in agreement with emptiness, a state of emptiness is mentality". A three bay hall under the library tower used for Buddhist meditiation.
- Duck Shooting Corridor A boat shaped pavilion in front of the Meditation Study, also called the Prunus mume Pavilion. Shooting ducks was game played during the Ming Dynasty.
- Watching Pine and Appreciating Paintings Studio A five bay hall used as an art studio. The yard in front of this hall is planted with several pine and cypress trees from the Ming Dynasty.
- The Moon Comes with the Breeze Pavilion Named for a verse by Han Yu, "The twilight brings the Autumn and the breeze sends the moon here".It is a hexagonal pavilion structure attached to a covered walkway. It is was used for moon watching.
- Washing Ribbon Pavilion over Water – Named from a verse by Chu Ci in The Fishermen, "If the water of Canglang River is clean I wash my ribbon, if the water of the Canglang River is dirty I wash my feet". It is a three-bay terrace with a hipped gable roofline and flying eves. The doors are decorated with carvings which depict scenes from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
- Barrier of Clouds Rockery A yellowstone rockery meant to resemble a bank of fog.
- The Small Hill and Osmanthus fragrans Pavilion – Named for a verse from Little Hill Appeals to the Hermit by Yu Xin, "Many sweet Osmanthus fragrans trees are growing at the foot of the mountain". A three-bay hall with portico on three sides and hipped gable roofline with flying eves. The yard in front this hall holds a grove of Cassia trees and scholar stones.
- Music Room – A pavilion structure attached to the back side of the Truth and Harmony Guest House. It was used as a stage for perfornmances.
- Truth and Harmony Guest House - A three-bay hall with portico used as a guest house. It is named after a proverb, "To conduct yourself harmoniously and support the truth."
- Cool Springs Pavilion – Named for the adjacent Azure Spring, which was named after a verse by Zhu Xi, "A spring inside is full of clean water". It is a square pavilion with hipped gable roofline and flying eves attached to the wall of the Inner Garden courtyard. It houses a valuable scholar stone called The Goshawk.
- Branch Beyond Bamboo Porch It is also called the Belvedere of Magnificent and Bright Waters. An orthogonal Pavilion structure with a hipped gable roofline and flying eves, beside the Shooting Ducks Corridor. This pavilion was used for tea ceremony.
- Late Spring Cottage – Named after a verse by Su Dongpo, "Only the peony is still flowering in the late spring". It was used to model the "Ming Hall" in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This Ming Hall is used in creating an area of display for Ming Dynasty artifacts. This hall is contained in the Inner Garden courtyard.
- Inner Garden A 667 m2courtyard connected to the main garden by the Fisherman's Retreat Gate. It was used as a women's area. It is built in the style of a Ming Dynasty courtyard decorated with rockerys and scholar stones.