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Lion Grove Garden


Lion Grove Garden or Shizilin (狮子林) located at 23 Yuanlin Road, in the northeast of Suzhou, has a history over 650 years with a close connection to Buddhism of China. It is one of the four greatest classical gardens in Suzhou, together with the other three - Canglang Pavilion, Lingering Garden and Humble Administrator’s Garden. As a site of world cultural heritage UNESCO and a national key tourist attraction, Lion Grove Garden is famous for the Taihu Lake rocks in various shapes which are said to resemble lions, especially the large and labyrinthine grotto of rocks at the garden's center. Due to the peculiar stones under the thousands of bamboos, a forest of bamboo, looking like the lions, it is named Lion Grove Garden. By the way, there are the similar gardens built in the Old Summer Palace and Chengde Summer Resort. They were both learnt from the Lion Grove Garden.

The View of Lion Grove Garden in Suzhou

Lion Grove Garden is the typical representative of classical gardens of Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty by Monk Tianru and a group of Buddhists of the Zen Sect, in the memory of High Monk Zhongfeng, Lion Grove Garden has been changed hands and renamed several times. It was first given the name of Lion Grove, as the grotesque rocks of its man-made hill resembled lions. Later, in 1342, its name was changed to Puti Temple. Lion Grove Garden was a popular center for Buddhist, as well as literary activities. Many scholars created their paintings or lines after being inspired by the garden. Renowned as the Kingdom of Rockeries of China, there are many corridors, and the calligraphic steles of many famous great souls like Su Dongpo, Mi Fu, Huang Tingjian and Cai Xiang (they together historically taken as Four Calligraphic Masters of Northern Song Dynasty, 宋四家), as well as the stele of Wen Tianxiang’s plum blossom poetry.

After Monk Tianru's death, his disciples were dismissed. Lion Grove Garden was abandoned and became dilapidated. In 1371, Ni Zan(倪瓒) also known as Ni Yunlin, a great master of painting and calligraphy, visited Suzhou at the age of 73, and participated in garden construction, and created a panting named Shizilin Painting, which made this garden quite famous, and then the Lion Grove Garden became the scared place of Buddhists explaining the sutras and viewpoints and the scholars creating paintings and poems.

In 1589, in the reign of Ming Dynasty, Monk Mingxing collected a large sum in Changan, today’s Xian, to rebuild the garden and temple. The lost prosperity appeared again. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the two parts were separated. Huang Xingzu, the governor of Hengzhou, bought the garden and renamed it She Garden. His son, Huang Xi gave it a new name -- Five-Pine Garden in 1771, after a major renovation was carried out. The garden was again left in ruins due to the Huang family’s bankruptcy, until it was purchased by the Bei family in 1917., exactly Bei Runsheng (贝润生, the tycoon doing the color business in Shanghai, and the uncle of, I. M. Pei, the world-famous architect ) After the founding of the People’s Republic, the garden was donated to the government. From then on, it has been under good protection.

Covering an area of about 1.1 hectares, Lion Grove Garden is an ideal site for sightseeing as it has richly ornamental pavilions and towers in different styles, each having its own history and story. Zhenquting (True Delight Pavilion) is the most magnificent in Lion Grove Garden. Built in royal architectural style, it has a horizontal board inscribed by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, who visited the gardens six times. Lixuetang (Standing-in-Snow Hall) was named according to a Buddhist story which tells how a devoted Zen adherent stood in snow for a whole night to worship his master monk. Wenmeige (Pavilion for Greeting the Plum Blossoms) was a place where painters and poets gathered. In addition to the plum trees around the pavilion, all the furniture and utensils inside are all decorated or carved with designs of beautiful plum blossoms. Furthermore, many rare tablets and steles, paintings and calligraphy works are kept in Lion Grove Garden. Among them are precious Ming-dynasty artworks such as "Panoramic View by Ni Yunlin and the "Twelve Scenic Spots in Lion Grove Garden" by Xu Ben.

A representative garden of the Yuan Dynasty, the most noted attraction of the Lion Grove Garden is the labyrinthine rockery made of limestone from the Taihu Lake. Rocks in this "Kingdom of Rockery" are piled up skillfully and ingeniously, and most of them look like lions in different postures and verves: playing, roaring, fighting, sleeping, or even dancing. It is said that in the past, looking north from Xiaofangting (Small Square Hall), one could see nine stone lions standing in a row and that is the Nine-Lion Peak. Due to the changes and ravages of the time and the erosion of elements, the peak now only bears little resemblance to lions.

As the great combination of the gardening art and the Buddhism thoughts, as well as the western gardening knowledge absorbed and used in the modern reconstruction during the operation and reservation of Bei Family, the Lion Grove Garden has been a comprehensive artwork, in the form of the temple-style garden, actually, mingled with the Zen culture and gardening art.

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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