A Paradise Lost: The Imperial Garden Yuanming Yuan by Young-tsu Wong

By Young-tsu Wong

Famous for its magnificient structure and heritage, the Yuanming Yuan is China's most famed imperial backyard. the writer brings "the backyard of excellent brightness" to lifestyles as he leads readers on a grand journey of its structure and heritage.

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It is surely through symbolism that the feeling of grandness rather than smallness communicated. The islet on the north-south axis in the Nine Continents accommodated three architectural units in a row from north to south, namely, the seven-column-wide Nine Continents in Peace Hall (Jiuzhou Qingyan), the Honoring Three Selflessnesses Court (Feng | Figure 5. Jiuzhou Qingyan (Nine Continents in Peace), the royal living quarters. Sketch by Joseph C. Wang and Xingbai Yue.   | Architecture Figure 6.

This piece of architecture was a replica of the imperial audience hall called Great Harmony Hall (Taihe Dian) in the Forbidden City. It was “well adorned exteriorly with paint and gilding, and netted with iron wire under the fretted eaves to keep the birds o¤ ” (Yu Mingzhong 1985, 2:1326). The hall had seven columns made of solid wood, 129 feet long and 63 feet wide, sitting on a 4–foot-high terrace of round stone pedestals, each 2 feet 9 inches in diameter. Inside, an “antithetical couplet” (duilian) written by Emperor Yongzheng himself was displayed on a pair of scrolls hanging on each side of the hall in symmetrical fashion.

The elegant-looking gallery behind the main hall was named the Imperial Orchid Fragrance (Yulanfen). Further back was an expansive complex of structures consisting of the Memorial Hall (Ji’en Tang) in the middle, the Nourishing Simplicity Study (Yangsu Shuwu) to the west, and the Resting Cloud Chamber (Qiyun Lou) to the east (Yu Mingzhong 1985, 2:1336; Yuanming Yuan sishijing tuyong 1985: 13). The central theme of this scene was the peony. The great Song philosopher Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) had designated this particular flower to symbolize riches and honor, and Kangxi identified ninety di¤erent kinds of peony in his imperial garden (Wu Zhenyu 1983, 278).

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