Poetic Charm and Imaginary Space: Exploring the Chinese Garden (55+)

Chinese garden design reached its zenith in the 17th through 19th centuries. Once private spaces, gardens are today among China’s most visited attractions, and many are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

We will focus on the philosophy, aesthetics and design principles of the Chinese garden, including the symbolism of its elements, the political role of the vast imperial park-preserves and the culture of secluded retreats for scholar-officials. Throughout, we will enjoy works of art, calligraphy and poetry to enrich our study and appreciation of gardens and to better understand the relationship of garden design to these important art forms. One class will be held at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver.

The tour to Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden will be in week 5 of the course. Students will be responsible for paying the $6 admission fee.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2013.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Mountains, water and caves

We begin by reviewing the geography of China and the notion of the garden as a symbolic landscape. From this foundation, we will discover the origins of the deep reverence for nature in Chinese culture and contemplate its expression in art.

Week 2: Farm, paradise and monastery

Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism each contributed to the development and appearance of Chinese gardens. Notions of simplicity and refinement in balance, and rationale of the garden as a place for self-cultivation, renewal and experiencing unity with nature emerged from these philosophies.

Week 3: Vital spirit and harmonious vibration

Gardens embody “the sentiment of the poet and the eye of the painter,” portray mood, evoke a spiritual atmosphere, and allude to great moments in aesthetic history. We explore the practices of poetry, painting, and calligraphy as they relate to and intertwine with garden culture.

Week 4: Parties, banquets and contemplation

Historic Chinese gardens were outdoor living spaces, where owners held court, entertained guests, curried favour with officials, played games, read, drank tea, chanted verse, recited poetry and painted. Far from solely functioning as private retreats, gardens were lively, noisy places full of people.

Week 5: Avoiding the obvious and seeking the unexpected

Garden design begins with the environment and the relationship between style, form, colour and texture. Ideally, natural elements and architecture combine with a sense of unforced accumulation. This session will be held at The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown to help experience these qualities in person.

Week 6: Symmetry and disorder

We will consider alternative expressions of Chinese gardens, including historic European interpretations, restoration projects, and Chinese gardens constructed outside of China. Finally, we conclude our exploration by revisiting the private retreats, public parks, temple precincts, and imperial park-preserves that are expressions of the Chinese garden.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Tour to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (admission fee not included in course cost)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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