Southworth Lecture #2

11:15–12:15am Alison Hardie, University of Leeds
“Professional Garden Designers and the Aesthetic Turn in 17th C China”

Author’s abstract: In the late Ming dynasty (mid-sixteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries), the concept of the garden changed from being a primarily productive to a primarily aesthetic space, as Craig Clunas demonstrated in Fruitful Sites (1996). Concomitantly, this is also the time when we first find records of the names and life stories of professional garden designers from the artisan class or the lower levels of the literati class, particularly in the Jiangnan region of south-east China (approximately present-day Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces), the most culturally and economically developed part of the country. Examples are the garden theorist Ji Cheng, author of The Craft of Gardens (Yuanye), and the artisan designer Zhang Lian. My paper will outline what we know of these designers and their connections with garden patrons from the literati and merchant classes, before discussing how their design ideas relate to significant changes in garden aesthetics, traceable in visual and written evidence from the early seventeenth century. These changes include that from the ‘productive’ to the ‘aesthetic’ garden, as argued by Clunas, and also a change in rockery style from ‘massive structure’ to ‘spacious naturalness’, as described by the owner of one such garden.

My comments:

Alison Hardie’s paper discusses class, social change, and the emergence of aesthetic gardens in 17th C China. (I assume productive gardens also flourished, but garnered less literary attention.) This is a fruitful era to study, because records of professional garden designers from the artisan class and the lower levels of the literati class proliferated and are preserved. The aesthetic turn of this time and the “democratization of sagacity” went hand-in-hand with economic prosperity, yet were accompanied, it seems with considerable status anxiety and shuffling of positions.