Gardens, Libaries, Studios

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As Pierre Ryckmans notes in ‘The Chinese Attitude Towards the Past‘, the Fifty-seventh George E. Morrison Lecture that he presented in July 1986:

… the vital strength, the creativity, the seemingly unlimited capacity for metamorphosis and adaptation which the Chinese tradition displayed for 3,500 years may well derive from the fact that this tradition never let itself be trapped into set forms, static objects and things, where it would have run the risk of paralysis and death.

In a sense, one of the best metaphors for this tradition could be provided by the description of a Chinese garden which a Ming scholar wrote in the 16th century. It was a fashion among intellectuals and artists to write records of beautiful gardens, but in the case of our writer, there was a new dimension added to the genre. The garden which he described was called the Wuyou Garden — which means ‘The Garden-that-does-not-exist’. [see 劉士龍《烏有園記》— Ed.] In his essay, the author observed that many famous gardens of the past have entirely disappeared and survive only on paper in literary descriptions. Hence, he wondered why it should be necessary for a garden to have first existed in reality. Why not skip the preliminary stage of actual existence and jump directly into the final state of literary existence which, after all, is the common end of all gardens? What difference is there between a famous garden which exists no more, and this particular garden which never existed at all, since in the end both the former and the latter are known only through the same medium of the written word?

Gardens, in words and images, feature prominently in the work of the Wairarapa scholars Geremie R. Barmé, Duncan Campbell, Lois Conner and John Minford. The following links provide access to some of that work:

Geremie R. Barmé

Duncan Campbell

Lois Conner

John Minford



When I was serving in the Metropolitan Library I came to know an eminent man who had in his possession a treasured autograph manuscript of his father’s writings that he kept stored away in his book trunks. Whenever anybody happened to enquire about it he would always reply that he still had the MS and that he had long intended to have it printed. Whenever anybody asked to be allowed to borrow it in order to have it copied, he would always reply that, once he had had it printed, he would be sure to give a copy to his interlocutor, thus saving them the trouble of having it copied. Whenever anybody offered to have it printed for him, however, he would invariably reply that he could not abrogate his own responsibility in this respect and entrust the task to others. Sadly, after he died the MS disappeared. It wasn’t that he did not understand the need to treasure and preserve the MS, but it was simply the case that he did not have a plan whereby he would be able to ensure its preservation and circulation. …As I recount this story, I heave a deep sigh of regret. [from Miao Quansun 繆荃孫 (1844-1919), comp., Lotus Fragrances Gathered Together 藕香零拾, 1910; rpt. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1999, p.25.]

As the century unfolded, and China’s wealth of printed culture suffered from what some would later call a ‘book holocaust’ 書劫, Miao’s sigh of resignation would be chorused by the despair of many who love books.

— from ‘The Heritage of Books, Collecting and Libraries’, by Duncan Campbell

Libraries 藏書樓

The Scholar’s Studio 齋 / 書齋