Known for stunning architecture, Lingering Garden in the historic city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, is among the best-preserved gardens in the city, and one of the four most famous in China — the others being the Humble Administrator’s Garden, also in Suzhou, Beijing’s Summer Palace and the Chengde Mountain Resort. The garden spans nearly nine square miles (or more than 23,000 square meters), and originally served as a classical private garden, with magnificent halls, various buildings and lush grounds that visitors can enjoy today.
History of Lingering Garden
Throughout its 400-plus-year history, Lingering Garden has changed hands several times. Situated outside of Changmen Gate, it was built in 1593 during the Ming Dynasty when a retired official named Xu Taishi commissioned it as his primary residence, with the help of well-known stonemason Zhou Shicheng. At this time it was called East Garden, but years later would be renamed Hanbi Villa — popularly known as Liu Garden — after Liu Shu purchased the property during the Qing Dynasty in 1794. As a lover of calligraphy, he carved masterpieces on both sides of the buildings’ corridors, and also collected stones of unusual shapes in the garden. New owners acquired it in 1873, renaming it Lingering Garden and continuing the previous owner’s restoration work.
Though almost demolished in the 1930s, government sponsorship eventually facilitated repairs and it opened to the public in 1954. Since then, it has remained a popular tourist destination and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Design and Features
As one of the classical gardens of Suzhou, Lingering Garden was created in typical Qing style, inspired by royal hunting gardens and featuring stunning natural landscapes within limited space. The domiciles, ancestral temples and private gardens blend seamlessly with their surroundings, built under the influence of a poetic freehand style that originated with traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Elegance, craftsmanship and rich cultural implications merge to lend insight into the aesthetics of ancient Chinese intellectuals.
Today, the garden is divided into distinctly themed central, eastern, western and northern parts, all of which are connected by a long, covered corridor bedecked with calligraphy carved into the walls of stone. The ancestral temple and house lie south of the garden. Of the four parts, the central area — which made up the original Lingering Garden — is the heart and soul of the whole complex, while the three others were added later.
The central section features a man-made mountain and lake scenery; the eastern part is noted for groupings of elegant buildings and gardens, including the Celestial Hall of Five Peaks; the western part is characterized by enchanting, woody hills covered with maple trees that turn bright red in autumn; and the northern part, a former vegetable garden, now boasts exhibits of potted plants and bonsai, idyllic scenes and cottages with bamboo fences.
Key Things to See
There is much to explore at Lingering Garden, but a major component of Suzhou gardens are artificial hills made of rocks from Taihu Lake. Here the 21-foot-high (6.5-meter) Cloud-Capped Peak — the highest of its kind — is a limestone collection believed to be from the Northern Song Dynasty. Flanked by the Auspicious Cloud and Mountainous Cloud peaks, it weighs about 5 tons.
Overall, the entire Lingering Garden possesses 42 rooms and halls, 200 lattice windows, 44 parallel couplets and stone carvings, and 373 stelae (upright stone slabs or columns) that are superbly inscribed with calligraphy works.
Don’t miss the vast Celestial Hall of Five Peaks in the eastern section, a chief structure inspired by a verse from Li Bai. Enter through a dramatic entrance to find interiors outfitted with sturdy beams and pillars made of nanmu, a highly prized Chinese wood. The expansive hall branches out into five rooms decorated with traditional period furnishings. One treasure to be seen is the Fish Fossil, a natural picture on a round piece of marble. In addition to the marble’s patterns resembling a stream surrounded by mountains, cliffs and sky, the bones of more than 20 fish are visible.
Also known as the Lotus Hall, the Hanbi Mountain Villa in the middle of the garden is another important building. Its tall, roomy farmhouse design demonstrates the idea of a rustic retreat and it enjoys picturesque surrounding landscapes and a nearby pool with various kinds of fish.
At the Pellucid Tower, you’ll find a structure built to resemble the form of a pleasure boat launching into the pond. At two and a half stories tall, the tower showcases a uniquely designed mountain path winding upward. Other prominent towers of the central area include the Distant Green Tower, West Tower, Mingse Tower and Quxi Tower.
Location: Lingering Garden is located at 338 Liuyuan Road in the Gusu District. There are several options for reaching the venue by public transportation, including the subway line 2 (getting off at Shilu Station), or tourism bus no. 1 (getting off at Liuyuan Station).
Hours: Open from 7:30am to 5pm. Plan to spend 1.5 to 2 hours for your visit.
Admission: Ranges from ¥45 to ¥55, depending on the season.