Lingering Garden is one of Suzhou’s four classic gardens and famous for the beauty of its buildings and grounds. Of all the gardens in Suzhou, Lingering Garden is my favourite because the central pond is beautiful, the grounds very well layed out and the performances held there add incredible character.
Lingering Garden was first built in 1593 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) by Xu Tai, a retired government official. Ownership of the garden was passed onto Liu Su in 1798 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) who reconstructed it extensively. In 1823 the garden was opened to the public which was a very unusual move at that time.
The garden changed ownership again in 1873 to Shang Kang who repaired damage the garden received during the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860’s. The garden was abandoned in 1911 by the son of Shang Kao and fell into disrepair. In the 1930’s the garden was almost destroyed by the Japanese who used it as a stable for their army’s horses.
Lingering Garden was restored to its present condition by the Suzhou government after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 who sponsored repairs and opened it to the public.
Garden Structure & Grounds
Lingering Garden is divided into northern, western, eastern and central sections with each section having it’s own building style. The central section of Lingering Garden defines the character of the entire garden and is the original part of the garden that dates back over 400 years. The other three sections were added later during the Qing Dynasty.
Northern Section – Interestingly the northern part used to be a vegetable garden and is now used to exhibit pot plants.
The rear of this section holds an art shop selling traditional scroll paintings and framed paintings. The prices ranged from 1000rmb to 2000rmb which was way over priced and some of the landscapes were magnificent.
Eastern Section – Is dominated by buildings such as the Celestial Hall of Five Peaks and the Old Hermit Scholar’s House. These buildings are laid out so the indoor spaces are in perfect harmony with the outdoor spaces. This perfection may have been too subtle for my unrefined tastes because I did not find this part of the garden very impressive.
The eastern section also contains a fascinating 6.5 meter tall lime stone formation called the Cloud Capped Peak that is over looked by a two story tea house.
Western Section – Is dominated by a large artificial hill covered in maples that holds two pavilions. To the south of the hill is a charming little creek lined with willow trees and (I heard) peach trees.
Central Section – The small lake that is the heart of Lingering Garden is in this section together with a number of impressive structures such as the Hao Pu pavilion and the Distant Green Tower. The central section is easily the most attractive and impressive part of the garden.
Exit – You will find with all of Suzhou’s larger gardens that the entry and exit are separate and the exit always channels tourist through shops. The Lingering Garden has two shops, one on either side of the exit. Both were very busy when I left just before closing time.
The Lingering Garden being a World Heritage site is common knowledge and in most travel literature. However very few people know that the garden hosts two World Heritage intangible arts. The Shuochang which is the singing of stories and the playing of the Guqin which is a musical instrument from the Zither family.
Shuochang originated from Suzhou during the ancient times and is normally performed by two people playing an instrument called the Pi-pad and the Chinese trichord.
The Guqin is also been played since the ancient times and is considered to be an instrument of great subtlety and refinement favoured scholars and gentlemen.
I have a weakness for the Zither and love watching and listening to a professional play. So when I was walking through the garden and heard/saw a performer playing in a quiet part of the garden with no other tourist around, it was like Christmas coming early. I must have sat outside the little enclosure dreamily listening and watching the performer play for at least 10-15 minutes. Absolutely magic!
Kunqu Opera is also performed in Lingering Garden. Kunqu opera has a history going back 600 years in Suzhou and is original opera that the famous Beijing Opera is based on.
You can see all of these performances if you visit the garden in the afternoon. The performances are fabulous and a must see if you visit the garden. They are also an integral part of the garden because the wealthy owners of the garden in ancient times enjoyed these types of performances in their garden.
The Lingering Garden is the only classic garden that is out of the historic inner city area. Getting there is easy and you can catch buses 22, 7 and 44 from train station and tourist bus 1 and buses 7, 44, 70 and 85 from the city.
Tickets, hours and times needed
The ticket price is 40rmb which is a little expensive but excellent value and money very well spent.
The garden is open from 8am to 5pm.
The performances are held in the afternoon. Enjoying the garden and watching some of the performances will take at least two hours so I recommend you arrive at around 2pm.