Between Dream and Shadow: The Aesthetic Change Embodied by the Garden of Lion Grove


  • Hui Zou


During the late 18th century, the Chinese emperor Qianlong ordered the construction of the Garden of Lion Grove and the Western Garden within his garden complex of Yuanmingyuan in Beijing. His Garden of Lion Grove was an imitation of the original Garden of Lion Grove in Suzhou, which was well known for its rockery labyrinth. Comparing the original Lion Grove and its replicas through poetry and architectural representation, Qianlong sought for truth of the cosmic world. My previous research has uncovered the cross-cultural history regarding the design of the Western Garden within the Yuanmingyuan. This essay translates and interprets the poems and garden records of the Lion Grove in Suzhou to reveal the aesthetic change of the garden from the original Buddhist Chan (Zen) idea of the Yuan dynasty to the secular labyrinthine ecstasy of the Qing dynasty. The labyrinthine theatricality of the Lion Groves, including the original one and its replicas, was well documented by Qianlong through his poems and his frequent reference to master painter Ni Zan’s painting scroll of the Lion Grove in Suzhou. The essay draws a conclusion that the aesthetic transition from Buddhist Chan (Zen) to labyrinthine ecstasy at the Lion Grove in Suzhou took place in a particularly historical age, namely the Ming dynasty, when the philosophical issues of dream and fantasy became trendy in Chinese gardens and garden literature.