Lion Grove Garden House and Tree, Suzhou, China

Chris Millar

London, United Kingdom

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The Lion Grove Garden (Chinese: 狮子林园; pinyin: Shī Zǐ Lín Yuán) located at 23 Yuanlin Road Suzhou City, of Jiangsu Province of China (平江区园林路23号) is famous for the large and labyrinthine grotto of taihu rock at the garden’s center. The name of the garden derives from the shape of these rocks which are said to resemble lions. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“Of all the famous rock-gardens in history, only one has survived. This is the so-called ‘Lion Garden’ in Soochow.” The Lion Grove Garden was built in 1342 CE during the Yuan Dynasty by a Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru in memory of his teacher Abbot Zhongfeng. At that time the garden was part of Bodi Orthodox Monastery (Pinyn: Puti Zhengzong). The name of the garden refers to the lion shaped Tahihu rocks, which in turn were built as reference to lion symbolism in the Lion’s Roar Sutra. The name also refers to Lion Peak of Mount Tianmu in County of Zhejiang Province, where Abbot Zhongfeng attained Nirvana. At this time the garden was 6,670 m2 and covered in rock and bamboo. After Tianru’s death the garden fell into disrepair, but in 1589 another Buddhist monk, Mingxing, rebuilt the garden. The magistrate (Chinese: 知縣; Pinyin:zhixian) of Hengzhou bought the garden, and his son Huang Xi rebuilt the garden in 1771. At this time the garden name was changed to the Garden of Five Pines. Starting in 1850 the garden fell into disrepair. In 1917 Bei Runsheng purchased the garden and finished the restoration in 1926. Many buildings and rocks date from this restoration. According to official signs posted in the garden, the Bei family “donated” the garden to the People’s Republic of China government in 1949. This phrasing is curious since all private property was nationalized by the Communist Party in the same year. The garden was not opened to the public until 1956.

The garden’s design attracted the attention of notable visitors such as the painter Ni Zan in 1373 CE, who created Picture Scroll of Lion Grove painting. In 1703 CE Emperor Kangxi visited the garden and was followed in 1765 by Emperor Qianlong visited the garden and left the personally inscribed True Delight tablet as gift. He also had a copy of the garden made in the Changchun garden of the Summer Palace and at the Chengde Mountain Resort.

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