The Master of Nets Garden is the smallest of Suzhou’s four classical gardens and regarded as the most attractive. The beauty of this garden is derived from the exquisite balance of shape, arrangement and form with the buildings, pond and rockeries perfectly arranged. The effect is that the garden looks and feels much larger than it actually is.
The garden was first constructed in 1174 during the Southern Song Dynasty (960-1279) by a government official Shi Zhengzhi after he retired from court life. The garden held Shi ZHengzhi’s private collection numbering in the thousands so it was initially called the Hall of 10,000 Volumes.
After Shi’s death the owner ship of the garden changes many times and gradually degraded into a state of disrepair. The garden was not restored until around 1765 when it was bought by another retired government official Song Zongyuan who enlarged it and added a large number of buildings while still maintaining the garden’s original character and spirit. Song thought of himself as a simple fisherman so he had the garden renamed as Master of Nets Garden. He obviously had no idea that real fishermen were poor and could never afford their own private garden and residence.
The owner ship of the garden changed again and it passed through the hands of more government officials, generals and warlords to its last owner He Chang in 1940. Following the instructions of her father, He Chang’s daughter donated the garden to the government in 1950. Given the prosecution of land lords that soon followed, the donation was a very insightful move. The garden was finally opened to the public in 1958.
Grounds and Layout
The garden is roughly divided into the residential section in the east and the garden section in the west. In the garden section has a large pond surrounded by path ways and a number of buildings.
The Hall of 10,000 volumes – This hall is the main structure in the garden and was mainly used as a reception hall for guests and dealing with family affairs. It apparently once held approximately 10,000 books. A collection that large would have been incredibly rare and priceless collection at that time.
The Washing Hat Ribbons Pavilion Over The Water – The name of this structure is much shorter in Chinese but does not translate into English well. The actual name comes from an ancient song where reference was made to washing a hat ribbon in a clean river.
This pavilion was built next to a rockery, is the best building for watching the pond and houses some very impressive wood carvings.
Art Exhibition – 4 to 5 of the buildings in the garden are use to exhibit and sell paintings and artwork by well known local artists. Prices range from 40rmb to just under 10,000rmb depending on the size and elaborateness of the work.
Tea House – The Hall of Paeonia Suffruiticosa (another victim of translation) to the west of the pond is used as a tea house. The hall does not have any pond views so I recommend you take your tea to Moon Comes with a Breeze Pavilion or the Washing Hat Ribbons Pavilion Over The Water to drink
The Master of Nets Garden is in the southern part of Suzhou’s inner city and little far to walk to from most of the city’s hotels. No tourist buses go near the garden so you need to catch the 47, 55, 202, 501, 529, 811 or 931 public buses.
Tickets, hours and times needed
The basic ticket is 30rmb and the garden is open from 7:30 to 5:30. Despite its small size, the Master of Nets Garden has a lot to take in and appreciate so I recommend you plan to be there for at least two hours and enjoy some tea in quiet contemplation.
A performance is held nightly in the garden starting at 7:30pm and the ticket cost is 100rmb.