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Chinese Garden Philosophy

HIGHLIGHTS:
  • Two major philosophies that originated in ancient China: Confucianism and Taoism.
  • Confucianism, with its rigid and hierarchical conception of social organization, was the main philosophy that dominated and regulated traditional Chinese architecture.
  • Taoism, which summoned people back to nature from mundane interests, has greatly influenced the layout of Chinese gardens.

Chinese Garden [an error occurred while processing this directive] Chinese philosophical traditions also played an important role in the molding and regulating the Chinese architecture and Chinese garden form. There were two major philosophies that originated in ancient China: Confucianism and Taoism. Each made important contributions to Chinese architecture and Chinese garden art. Confucianism, the “art of the living”, influenced the character of Chinese architecture. Taoism, as the “law of the nature”, is regarded as the main principle of Chinese garden making. There was a saying that “A Chinese is a Confucianist when he is inside the building; but A Chinese is a Taoist when he enters the garden.”

Confucianism
Confucianism was a whole system of moral-political-religious philosophy of ancient China. It was defined by Confucius, and then was carried on and developed by his disciples and later scholars. The whole Confucian system of philosophy and morality my be summed up in one Chinese word “Ren”, which is a composite character made up of two simple characters “Man”, and “Two”. “Ren” basically tells us that the central theme of Confucianism is chiefly concerned with man as an individual living in social relations. Confucianism is called the art of the living in China. According to Confucianism, everybody must fulfill his right function and maintain the proper relationship to the society, wherein the saying of “the king is kingly, the minister is “ministerly”, and the father is fatherly.” Loyalty to the emperor and filial obedience to the patriarch were the basic tenets of the Confucianism. As the life companion and life guide of the ancient Chinese people, Confucianism, with its rigid and hierarchical conception of social organization, was the main philosophy that dominated and regulated traditional Chinese architecture. It produced an extremely restricted, formal, axial, and symmetrical traditional Chinese architecture style. Each building was regulated by the rank and social status of its occupant in the ancient Chinese society, with the parent rooms definitely in a better position, with more space and luxurious ornamentation, than those of their sons.

The king is kingly, the minister is “ministerly”, and the father is fatherly.

Taoism
Taoism was the philosophy about the “truth” of the universe, or the law of nature. Tao, the essence as well as the sum and substance of Taoism, is a composite word made up of two Chinese word characters: the character “Shou”, meaning “first”, “beginning” or “leader” and the character “Zhou”, meaning “to walk”, or “to pace”. Taoism is the philosophy suggesting the idea of the “Way” or the “Path” in which we should walk – the one path of life. Tao is the eternal law of nature, it never changes, but witnesses and withstands all changes. It is sublime and majestic, but it is formless, nameless and indefinable. According to Taoism, in order to have the “happiness” and “long life”, one must follow the Tao, or the law of nature and must harmonize his own rhythm to the pulse of the nature, to the changing of the seasons, to the flow of the things. Taoism, which summoned people back to nature from mundane interests, has greatly influenced the layout of Chinese gardens. Contrasting with formal axial and symmetrical system of classical Chinese architecture, the Chinese garden expresses the formless, indefinable, asymmetry with a curvilinear layout derived from the nature.

Tao has greatly influenced the layout of Chinese gardens..

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