A Chinese oasis in Manhattan

By Kelly Chung Dawson ( China Daily ) Updated: 2012-08-29 09:28:23

As was customary in the day, nine powerful Chinese officials gathered in a private garden in 1437 to enjoy literary and music performances. The painter Xie Huan depicted the scene in Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden, which is on display in the Metropolitan Museum's Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats.

These same men were responsible for calling a stop to Admiral Zheng He's exploratory voyages, which they believed to be an extravagantly unnecessary government expense. China was a "walled garden", and should focus instead on self-cultivation, they said.

"This metaphor of China as a garden, and the garden as a place of inward exploration, is particularly fitting," says Maxwell Hearn, curator of the Metropolitan Museum's department of Asian art.

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"It's a Chinese mindset that everything you need in life can be found within your walls. One needn't go looking abroad for enlightenment, because what you need is within you. It's the image of China as the peaceful kingdom."

The exhibition, which features more than 60 works including paintings, ceramics, photographs and textiles, spans 1,000 years and is drawn entirely from the museum's permanent collection. Summer Mountains, the oldest piece in the exhibition, dates back to 1050. The most recent works are photographs.

Organized by theme, the exhibition features categories including Palaces, Secluded Temples, Literary Gatherings and Gardens as Embodiments of Scholarly Ideals.

Chinese Gardens will serve as a complement to the Metropolitan's upcoming November presentation of the 16th-century Kunqu opera The Peony Pavilion, in the museum's own Chinese courtyard garden. The opera will be directed by the composer Tan Dun, and will feature choreography by dancer Huang Doudou.

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