The Garden Treatise Yuan Ye

Garden design theory made great strides during the Ming and Qing periods, and the definitive treatise among the many works produced at this time on landscape garden­ing in the Chinese tradition—essential to any study of yuanlin—is Yuan ye (The Craft of Gardens), written by Ji Cheng in the late Ming dynasty.

Ji Cheng was a landscape designer from Jiangsu Province, and was renowned throughout that region for his consid­erable experience in garden planning, and also for his work as a poet and painter. His Yuan ye consists of a compre­
hensive guide in three volumes to garden-making tech­niques in the Jiangnan region, on the basis of which the reader can deduce the framework and essential points of yuanlin garden-making techniques. The following is an outline of the topics which his work covers:

Volume I. The theory of construction; on gardens: Comments on the overall principles of garden making

1. Situation (choice of site): Sites among mountain forests, urban sites, village sites, sites in the uninhab­ited countryside, sites beside mansions, riverside and lakeside sites. A guide to selection and excavation of each type of site.

2. Layout (positioning of buildings and artificial mountains): [Laying the foundations for] the great hall, towers, gate towers, etc. Positioning, scale, and characteristics of buildings within the garden envi­ronment.

3. Buildings: Gate towers, halls, chapels, living-rooms, chambers, lodgings, towers, terraces, belvederes, cov­ered walkways, etc.—dimensions and characteristics of each. Five-pillared structures, seven-pillared struc­tures, etc.—structural principles.

4. Fittings: Description and diagrammatic illustra­tions of the decorative features of all these types of buildings, including latticework, windows, etc. Volume II. Description and diagrammatic illustrations of decorative balustrades

Volume III. [Structural and scenic features]

1. Doorways and windows: Description and dia­grammatic illustrations of doorways and windows.

2. Walls (exterior walls and hedges): Whitewashed walls, polished brick walls, unworked stone walls, etc.—exterior wall types and their attributes. Description and diagrammatic illustrations of open­work windows.

3. Paving (decorative pavements): Garden path ideals, paving materials, and diagrammatic illustrations of paving patterns.

4. Raising mountains (artificial mountains): Moun­tains in private gardens, mountains in courtyards, mountains beside towers, mountains beside studies, mountains beside ponds, mountains in women’s apartments, precipitous mountains, mountain rock pools, goldfish tanks, sharp peaks, rounded peaks, overhanging cliffs, caves, mountain torrents, mean – derings, and waterfalls. Artificial mountain types— their features and related compositional elements.

5. Selection of Rocks: Rocks from Tai hu (the Great Lake), rocks gathered from Kunshan, rocks from Xuanxing, etc.—sixteen varieties of rocks from dif­ferent regions for use in the yuanlin primarily for the purpose of creating the mountain features cited above. Types of rocks and the characteristics of each.

6. Borrowed scenery: distant scenery, scenery near at hand, scenery above, scenery below—ways of using these types of borrowed views and the effects they produce.2

Note the relative importance the author gives here to buildings and their location in the yuanlin, the details of their composition and decoration, and the types of door­ways and walls and their decoration. The primary empha­sis in garden making is on architectural features, with types and features of artificial mountains (rock moun­tains) and paved paths playing a secondary role.

The emphasis in Yuan ye is on buildings—their posi­tion and decoration—and fantastic rocks. One has only to compare the Japanese Heian-period Sakuteiki, which con­centrates on water and rocks in its description of the definitive features of a garden, to perceive the fundamen­tal difference in the approach taken to garden making in Japan and China. This difference is again confirmed by Edo-period garden manuals that expound at length on

rock arrangements, ponds, and running water features, while ignoring buildings altogether. Relevant passages of these Edo-period texts include the section “Complete illustrations of artificial hills, and how to build them” in Tsukiyama teizoden, “Constructing mountain and water Landscapes” in SagaryUniwa kohohiden no koto, and “Methods for the construction of artificial hill mountain and water landscapes” in Tsukiyama sansuiden.

Updated: October 6, 2015 — 2:24 am