Grand residence of salt merchants, elegantly decorated with bamboo and rockeries
Geyuan Garden located in No.10 Yanfu East Road, Yangzhou city, a key national cultural heritage conservation unit and one of China's four famous Parks, is a typical private Park in South China. During the years ruled by Emperor Renzong of Qing Dynasty (1796-1820), Huang Zhiyun , general salt merchant of the ancient regions to the north and south of Huaihe River, expanded the Shouzhi Park of the Ming Dynasty. The construction took 10 years. As the owner was fond of bamboos and their leaves looked like the shape of the Chinese character “个”, the park was named as "Geyuan Garden".
“Bamboo Whisper of Geyuan Garden” is an elegant Geyuan-garden-themed song typical of Jiangnan-style music based on lines of couplets inscribed on pillars in the garden, rhythm of Peking Opera and the singing of Yangzhou-style Storytelling (Yangzhou Tanci).
Exiting the northern end of the West Fire-exit and walking a few steps to the left, one would be facing a white wall with adorned windows and a moon-shaped door in the middle, above which there is an inscription of two Chinese characters “Ge Yuan”, the only calligraphy left in the garden by its owner Huang Zhiyun (1770-1838 AD). This is the entrance to the first scenery—spring view—of the Four-season Rockeries.
In the flowerbed flanking the moon door grows long, straight bamboo with so much vitality that the stems seem to be striving toward the sky. Moss-covered stone bamboo sprouts are arranged among the bamboo, creating a typical spring scene of bamboo sprouts growing energetically after a shower in spring with a simple pairing of bamboo and stone, visualizing the household Chinese idiom “bamboo sprouts cropping up after the spring rain”.
The spring charm would be more intensely felt when one passes through the moon gate and looks to the right, where locates a series of rockeries under a sweet olive tree. A scene that everything has gained renewed energy when the spring comes is presented in front of the eyes of viewers, with the rockeries arranged in the shapes of a dragon with curled tail, roaring tigers, oxen striving forward, naughty monkeys, etc.
From fragrans hall along the Xuan Gallery walk west, through a thick forest, they came to the pool, the water to the north, see blue sky, a towering stand with a pale old rich, Ling Zheng clear Taihu stone rockery, against the mountain cave, mount Shitai, changeable shape posture, shape like the clouds in the sky, it's summer hill. Piedmont is a limpid pool, water has a curved bridge, leading to the entrance, cleverly hide the water tail, give a person with " how deep is the courtyard ". Pool planted lotus, look, " bright red lotus ", highlighting the " summer " theme of artistic conception.
While an incomparable delight in summer would be watching the moon by a lotus pond at a cool summer night, Geyuan Garden offers the viewers an opportunity to enjoy the moon view even in daylight. The secret lies in the “Fishbone Rock” that erects in the lotus pond. Named after its shape similar to fishbone, this rock resembles the Chinese character “yue” meaning “moon” when its base is not counted. As an epitome that embodies all the features of “slender, creased, porous and transparent” of Taihu Lake rocks, this Fishbone Rock has been regarded as one of the “Top Treasures of Geyuan Garden”.
Built with yellow stones, and paired mainly with maple trees and occasionally appearing pine and cypress trees, the magnificent, towering autumn rockery presents a visually appealing scene with the yellow stone color combined with the red of maples and green of pines. What’s even more ingenious is the design of the crisscrossing and intertwining routes inside the rockery, showing an amazing autumn mountain scene with every possible real-life element such as stone buildings, bridges, caves, valleys, cliffs, etc.
An eye-catching building named “Living-in-autumn Pavilion” erects on the rockery to the east of the above-mentioned autumn rockery. Why would anybody be willing to “live in the autumn”, a season usually known as bleak and depressing? The answer lies in the life experience of Huang Zhiyun, the garden owner. Born into an impoverished family, Huang took decades of arduous efforts to register high achievements in his midlife, namely, the autumn of his life. Therefore, to Huang, the autumn is the most beautiful season to reap fruits thanks to the nourishment accumulated during the spring and summer.
How to create scenes of the freezing winter in a place where it seldom snows? The garden builders ingeniously selected Xuan rocks from Xuancheng city, Anhui province to create rockeries. Composed mainly of quartz, which would seem to be covered with a coating of white powder when seen in the shade though looking shining in the light, Xuan rocks are often used to create snowy scenes. Builders of Geyuan Garden arranged Xuan rocks in the shade at the foot of the wall to the north of the Windy and Moon-lit Hall (Toufeng Louyue Ting) to present a scene of unmelting snow covering mountains, the foot of which is decorated with alum stones imitating cracked ice, adding to the expressiveness of the cold winter scene.
In addition to visual elements of “snowy scenes”, the garden builders also employed audial factors such as “wind sounds” to express the winter view in Geyuan Garden. There are 24 Wind Sound Holes on the southern wall, which would make sounds like the blustery north wind when the wind from back blows through these holes.
Though at the end of the four season, winter doesn’t really mean the end. The two circular windows on the wall to the west of the Winter Rockery lead the viewers’ eyes back to stone bamboo sprouts arranged in the bamboo grove of the spring view, creating a feeling that “would spring be far away since winter is already here” and “a new cycle starts with the return of spring”.
The section that connects the summer and autumn rockeries is where the highlight of the rockery arrangement of Geyuan Garden lies. While linked by the Mountain-embracing Building (Baoshan Lou) which is actually named after the spatial relations that the building looks like embracing the rockeries arranged along its structure, the summer and autumn rockeries try to minimize the differences between each other at the transitional foot, by the lack rocks lying at this section of the summer rockery serving as flower terraces and bank reinforcement, and circular and thick yellow stone with vertical lines being selected to decorate the flower terraces at the transitional part of the autumn rockery.
The seven-room-wide Mountain-embracing Building (Baoshan Lou) serves as a connector of the Summer and Autumn Rockeries, on which there are many stone-stair routes leading to the second floor of the architecture. Like two arms that embrace the rockeries (hence the name of the building), the long corridor in front of the building is also nicknamed “space-time tunnel” as viewers strolling on the corridor would accidentally step into a totally different season.
Watching the Autumn Rockery along the corridor of Mountain-embracing Building, one would seem to be looking at endless, undulating, towering mountains, a well-designed view that has all the necessary visual elements, the primary, secondary, complementary, etc. When combining views of the Summer and Autumn Rockeries, one would definitely have a fascinating visual experience: several banana palms erecting elegantly under the dark shade of Chinese parasol trees against the background of the greenery-covering Summer Rockery and the Autumn Rockery dyed red by the maple leaves.
An inscription of the Travelogue of Geyuan Garden by Qing-dynasty scholar Liu Fenghao can be found on the southern wall of the corridor on the ground floor. It provides tourists an opportunity to know more about the garden’s history. Professor Chen Congzhou, an expert of ancient architectures and gardens, speaks highly of both the residential and garden areas of Geyuan, as in his eyes, the residential garden has developed its own unique style based on the combination of northern and southern architectural features, integrating elegance and magnificence, just as described by the literary term “create subtle affections with a powerful brush”.
After visiting the lively spring scene, the building in front of us is Yi Yuxuan, which is the centre part of the whole park, and flowers and other landscape scenery is arranging around it.
There is a couplet in the door of Ting Yuxuan. The first line means the scenery here is beautiful and arouses many kinds of emotions. It also implied the meaning of marital harmony and family harmony. The word “rain” in the second line comes from the story of Du Fu, a famous Chinese poet in Tang dynasty, and raining day is also a detaining day for guests. Later we compare rain to friends. The sentence means that there are many old friends and new friends in the house, which means that the host had many friends and valued friendship. Obviously, this is a reception and entertainment place for host.
The first thing of note when one is about to step into Joyful Rain Pavilion (Yiyu Xuan) would be the irregular stairs which were designed into the shape of clouds under the instruction of the garden owner, who wished that those who pass through the stairs would enjoy a meteoric rise in career, just as if stepping on the clouds.
Walking to the end of a bamboo-flanking trail one would enter a courtyard with a two-story building featuring a tablet inscribed with “Book-collecting Building” (Congshu Lou) standing right in front of his/her eyes. This building was owned by the renowned scholar merchants the Ma brothers, Ma Yueguan and Ma Yuelu, whose ancestral home was in Qimen, Anhui province and moved to Yangzhou after they engaged in the salt trade.
The pursuit of pleasure and flashiness had become trendy back then in a business center like Yangzhou, in spite of which, the Ma brothers were unremittingly dedicated to collecting, proofreading books, and befriending scholars from across the country. In order to create a tranquil environment for reading and avoid interruption from outsiders, the owner, while allowing no stairs to be built inside the building, took the stone steps of the autumn rockery behind the building as route to the second floor, a perfect visualization of the household Chinese saying “diligence is the access to the mountain of books”.
The short film “Geyuan Garden in Dreams” tells the love story between a young couple Qizhu and Mengshi, combining the beautiful sceneries of Geyuan Garden, traditional cultures of Yangzhou such as Yangzhou paper-cutting, Yangzhou Qingqu ditty, Yangzhou-school painting, and folk customs and specialties of Yangzhou such as the street with lamps of Dongguan, stuffed toys and snacks.
Entering into the middle building, the first one room is the Sinology school, the Huang family’s reception hall. Its reception specification is higher than Qing Mei school what we have just seen. The wood used by Sinology school is cedar, and in particular made into square pillars, which means to be a upright person in Chinese.
Huang family’s second son Huang Qilin always makes friends through literature here. He is the famous Ji Yi expert in late Qing Dynasty. He made lifelong effort to collect the lost ancient books, and also edited and inscripted serious books, recollected 226 kinds of ancient books.
When we enter into western buildings, the first one we saw is Qing-Song hall, which is specially built for gathering and holding sacrifice and named for Mr. Huang Zhiyun’s great reputation in his later years. Furniture in the hall is decorated with exquisite ornament with Eight Immortals.
Standing in the hall, we couldn’t see the top beam column covered by plank, which is specially designed by host to remember his deceased mother. The host put his mother’s memorial tablet above the plank to remind himself not to forget hers love.
The hall is 12.3 meters long, with eaves of hall and corridor 5.2 meters high. This hall is not only the highest one in Huang’s house, but also the highest one in existing ancient dwelling in Yangzhou.
Located in NO.1, East Road, is Qing Mei Tang for the steward’s social work. Qing Mei is that purity equals to beauty, namely, free from corruption as an officer, upright as a man, which are the priciples Huang Zhiyun pursued.
Is it too generous to offer a special parlor to the steward? Actually, Huang Zhiyun did salt business widespread the country and the job of the salt commissioner so busy that it was impossible for him to take care of the family in every aspect.Therefore, the steward is indispensable, also with great power from meeting the guests that Huang didn’t intend to receive. The parlor is absoutly reasonable for his contributions of undertaking numerous affairs and solving all kinds of trivia.
Xihuo Lane features in its formation that is wide in south end while narrow in north. This typical structure in ancient China symbolized people resided there would be successful in both politics and business.
Stepping out of the last row of middle compound, we will arrive at Xihuo Lane. In old times, for rich and influential family XiHuo Lane is an essential passage for its high walls which can not only protect the host’s privacy, but prevent them from fire and burglary.
Xihuo Lane has different sizes in its two ends, that is, it’s wide in south end while narrow in north. This peculiar design can cause a visual effect, making the lane look longer and deeper than it is.
Classic Folklore About Salt Merchants of Geyuan Garden—Ginseng Eggs (It is said that the eggs eaten by Geyuan Garden owner Huang Zhiyun were all laid by hens fed with herbal medicines including ginseng, baizhu, dates, etc. They were worth 10 g silver each back then.)
Old City of Yangzhou, with Geyuan Garden and Dongguan Street as the center, provides you with an access to the typical daily life of residents of Yangzhou.