Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats

August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013

Literary Gatherings

One of the primary social functions of a Chinese garden was to serve as the setting for literary gatherings where like-minded friends might celebrate the season, enjoy music, or view rare antiquities, afterward composing poems to commemorate the event. Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden, attributed to the court artist Xie Huan, documents a historical event that took place in Beijing in 1437. On that occasion, nine of the most powerful officials in the realm gathered to enjoy painting, poetry, and other refined pursuits. Rather than be portrayed wielding emblems of political or military power, these men chose to emphasize their standing as scholar-gentlemen, highlighting the fact that, in China, status derived from one's command of cultural accomplishments. These same men were also responsible for calling a halt to Admiral Zheng He's voyages of exploration, thus underscoring their belief that inward-oriented self-examination was more important than outward-looking exploration. Surrounded by oceans and deserts, and countries whose cultures they regarded as inferior, they saw China as a great walled garden, sufficient unto itself.

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