In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gardens

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies
  • Collected Writings
  • Collections of Photographs
  • Historiography of Gardens
  • Chengde
  • Lingnan
  • Designers
  • Garden Architecture
  • Plants
  • Gardens in Paintings
  • Fictional Gardens
  • Cross-Cultural Studies

Chinese Studies Gardens
Stanislaus Fung
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0099


“Chinese gardens” is a term of modern origin and refers to designed landscape settings that range from small courtyard gardens intimately connected to everyday living to more substantial gardens that can function relatively independently of the basic needs of a residence, and to imperial gardens that can occupy a large territory. In classical Chinese writings, the terms most relevant to “gardens”—e.g., yuan 园, yuan 苑, pu 圃—are semantically distinct but not used as strict categories. Thus, historians of Chinese gardens commonly regarded both the Cang Lang Ting (沧浪亭, Pavilion of Surging Waves), a private garden founded in the Song period, and Bishu shanzhuang (避暑山庄, Mountain Villa for Escaping the Heat), a Qing imperial garden of nearly 1,400 acres, as properly belonging to the study of “gardens.” The references to “pavilion” and “villa” in these names engage our imagination metonymically and metaphorically. Underlying these usages is the common understanding that “Chinese gardens” are not just open-air settings outside buildings; rather, architectural elements are integral to them. As places exposed to the vicissitudes of fortune (personal, environmental and political), most Chinese gardens have not survived; those that do largely date their current forms to no earlier than the 18th century and often much later. However, much can still be learned about earlier gardens by studying textual and visual sources. The sections on Historical Studies and Gardens in Paintings in this article give an impression of the state of research on gardens that are no longer extant. Studies of extant gardens in China are normally structured according to three cultural areas: (1) Beijing and Chengde in the North, (2) the Jiangnan area, including Suzhou, Wuxi, Yangzhou, and Shanghai, and (3) the Lingnan area in the South, centered on present-day Guangzhou. Documentation of extant gardens typically involves modern architectural drawings and photography. This work started in the 1930s, though progress and publication have sometimes been delayed for decades because of war and social upheaval, Meanwhile, the extant gardens have also been altered. Thus, images can be compared to gain a detailed understanding of changes over time.

General Overviews

Keswick 2003, Chiu 2010, and Han 1992 provide general overviews as well as discussions of significant topics, such as historical figures, gardens, and themes. More specialized publications listed elsewhere in this article often augment or correct some of the discussions in these general overviews. Chen 2008 is a series of informal discussions about design ideas and cultural understandings that have been widely influential among students of Chinese gardens. Nonspecialist readers will benefit more from this book if they have already read one of the three books discussed above. For Chinese readers, Peng 1986 deals mostly with extant gardens from the viewpoint of spatial analysis. Wang 1990 gives a detailed account in terms of the history of ideas.

  • Chen, Congzhou. On Chinese Gardens. Translated by Mao Xinyi, et al. Shanghai: Better Link, 2008.

    Written between 1978 and 1982, and first published bilingually in Chinese and English in 1984, the essays were presented under the generic title Shuo yuan (说园) and arranged as five sequential parts. This English edition contains an introduction by Alison Hardie and the five essays have newly acquired distinctive titles.

  • Chiu, Che Bing. Jardins de Chine ou la quête du paradis. Paris: Éditions de la Martinière, 2010.

    This is the best general introductory volume for French readers.

  • Han, Pao-Teh. The Story of Chinese Landscape Design: External Forms and Internal Visions. Translated by Carl Shen. Taipei: Youth Cultural Enterprise, 1992.

    Originally published in Chinese as Han Baode 汉宝德, Wuxiang yu xinjing: Zhongguo de yuanlin (物象與心境-中國的園林) (Taipei: Youshi wenhua shiye gongsi, 1980). Eight vignettes starting with a reading of Sima Xiangru’s “Shanglin fu” and ending with an account of merchants’ gardens in coastal areas.

  • Keswick, Maggie. The Chinese Garden: History, Art, and Architecture. Revised edition by Alison Hardie. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

    First published in 1978, Keswick’s book has become dated in some respects, but it remains the most useful one-volume introduction to Chinese gardens in English. Suitable for general readers and undergraduates.

  • Peng Yigang 彭一刚. Zhongguo gudian yuanlin fenxi (中国古典园林分析). Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 1986.

    Using modern architectural drawing techniques, the author structures the spatial analysis of extant gardens using pairs of terms, such as “introvert-extrovert,” that resonate with the primary terms yin and yang. Non-Chinese readers can consult this well-illustrated publication with profit. Discussed in Fung 1999 (cited under Historiography of Gardens).

  • Wang Yi 王毅. Yuanlin yu Zhongguo wenhua (园林与中国文化). Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1990.

    A wide-ranging study of the relationship between Chinese philosophy and Chinese gardens. An abridged edition was published by the same publisher in 2004 under the title Zhongguo yuanlin wenhua shi (中国园林文化史). The 1990 edition is the author’s preferred version.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.