Chinese Garden Elements - Water
[an error occurred while processing this directive] There was an old saying in China: “Where there are mountains, there is bound to be water in the same place.” Mountains and water are complement each other in the Chinese arts. Water serves as peaceful opposition and balance to mountain scenery, and is regarded as the absolutely necessary element to represent the totality of nature in perfect harmony. In the Chinese landscape painting, although water was rendered simply by leaving the picture ground bare, or by a light, even wash of ink, these blank areas, the “void” areas, are as important as those “solid” objects, such as mountains, and occupied plenty of areas. Not only did water offer a balance to the mountains in the composition, but they also served as a means of the spatial separation of landscape elements. Like in the Chinese painting, water surfaces boldly dominate areas exceeding more than a half of entire area in the private Chinese garden. For example, in the Unsuccessful Politician Garden in Suchou, water occupies almost three-fifth of the total garden, and over 80% of the buildings were constructed along the watercourses. Through reflecting rocks, architectural structures as well as the changing sky, and nourishing the plants, water brings movements and life into the private Chinese gardens. In China, a garden without water could be considered dead.
Water is used in the Chinese private garden, not only because of its physical beauty but also for its important symbols. Water is one of Taoist’s favorite symbols. Lao Tzi had decreed that “the highest virtue is like water,” which may yields, but can course over any obstacles, and which takes the lowest place, but will wear way rock. In addition, water reflects like a mirror without any egotistic distortions. It is not surprising that the Chinese scholars, who were usually also Taoists, liked to sit down by the lakeside pavilions watching the water reflections, especial the full-moon reflection, and thereby cleanse their soul. Many names of the scenes in the Chinese garden, such as: Willow-shaded Winding path, Linger and Listing Pavilion etc., suggest visitors to “linger” or “loiter”, along the serpentine paths or the zigzag bridges, to behave like the water.
While making their gardens, Chinese used to check to find out first if the site had a natural water source. It would be best that the garden site itself had the water source. If not, an artificial water source could be used as a represent, but it must be hidden behind the man-make mountain to be made like a “natural” water source. Watercourses were never shaped into any unnatural geometrical patterns in the Chinese private garden. A water fountain is never found in the private Chinese garden, although it may be the central interest in a European garden. In order to make the watercourses appear larger and more attractive, Chinese gardeners used rockeries and architectural elements to break the water into many scattered but interconnecting areas. Each area of water seemed quite unlike the others. Some private Chinese gardens are almost the water-labyrinths. It is much more difficult to unravel them when one is actually inside those gardens than it is in their plans.
Besides serving visual pleasure, water was also used for providing listening satisfaction in the Chinese private gardens. Water makes pleasure sounds as it gurgles over rocks, dashes down gullies and trickles from the leaves.
Water, much loved and extensively applied in the private Chinese gardens, are not only for its aesthetical function, physically, it absorbs the heat and adjust the microclimate during the warm seasons. This is particularly important for the Chinese gardens in southern China. In addition, because almost all the traditional buildings were made of wood, the watercourses inside the Chinese gardens fitted the requirement of the fire protection.
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