1987: The Gardens of Jiangnan

On Reading Tung Chuin’s A Record of the Gardens of Jiangnan


Huang Shang 黃裳

Translated by Duncan Campbell

Huang Shang is one of the most noted bibliophiles and book collectors of the People’s Republic.[1] Although a journalist by profession, his interest in books, literature and theatre lead him to be involved in the reform of traditional opera, an undertaking with a particular political brief in the early years of the New China. ‘Cleaning up’ traditional stagecraft, which often featured bawdy themes and language deemed unsuitable in the puritanical days of the Maoist era (1949-78), also involved removing ‘unsuitable’ librettos from the nation’s numerous book stores and stalls. While continuing a more wholesome engagement with the official over-culture, over the Huang Shang pursued his private passions and since the late 1970s he has written numerous essays on book collecting, editions of cloth-bound books and a vast range of issues related to his love of books and reading. In the following essay he expresses an obvious delight in the work of Republican-era writers. Nonetheless, he notes the dissonance between the garden as the preserve of the defunct literati of the dynastic era and the needs of mass tourism in the socialist era. While expressing his concern for the contradiction inherent in attempting to make the ‘past serve the present’—to use the Maoist-era dictum—writing as he was in the late 1980s he could not have foreseen the rise of the moneyed classes and the untoward sway enjoyed by those who employ new-found wealthy to gain a purchase on cultural authenticity. These men and women are the sponsors of the new Chinese gardens, as are the local bureaucrats and state-capitalists who have lavish traditional-style gardens designed for their offices, factories, hotels, residences and pleasure parks. We reproduce Tung Chuin’s earlier work on the gardens of Jiangnan in the T’ien Hsia section of this issue.—The Editor