Master of the Nets Garden (Wangshi Yuan)
The Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou is a typical Qing Style garden, built in the Song Dynasty". Master of the Nets" means fisherman. The whole area of the garden covers 5,400 square meters, and is composed of the houses in the eastern part, Central Park in the centre and the inner garden in the western part. It includes the main landscapes such as: the palanquin office, the main hall, cloud-laddering room, wind arrival with moon appearance Pavilion, Palace Spring yard etc. It's described as the most elegant and complete private living garden in South China, which is indeed a national treasure requiring great attention. It would be pity to come to Suzhou without a visit to the Master of the Nets Garden.
It was originally ordered to be built in the year of 1174,in the South Song Dynasty by an official removed from the government, and firstly named as "Ten-thousand of scrolls Hall", the forerunner of the Master of the Nets Garden. In a period of 500 years from Song dynasty to Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, the hosts of this garden were changed again and again. Till the Qing emperor Qianlong's reign, the name was changed to the present one.
It locates in the north and face to the south, with a screen standing in the front. The door knockers in elegant design reflect the host's social status in the feudal times in China. While step into, the first section is the palanquin office, where the guests should get off the sedan chairs or even have tea to rest before seeing the host, thus it's also called "Tea Hall". To step in, the threshold at the doorway would be uplifted, then put back. You might imagine how busy this threshold was in that period as the servants walked back and forth serving the guests with uplifting and resetting the threshold; there hung a big plunk in words of "Be Clean and Honest, be successful earlier", used for reflecting the thoughts and ideals of the feudal officials; in the east of the hall there's a wood and bamboo made sedan chair with many "bats" representing for happiness designed on; right in the middle in the front is the division gate, painted in brown color. To the east of the hall is the way leading to the inner garden while to the west is brick built opening to the central garden.
The main hall is named as "kindness accumulating hall" in which there hung a plank bearing words of "ten thousand scrolls hall" in calligraphy of one of the most famous scholars in south china, Wen Zhengming. It tells the education and rich culture background of the garden host. With a five-room space, the hall was where the host accommodated the guests and held banquets. All attendants' seats were strictly arranged in the hall at that time: if three generations, grandparents were arranged in the center with parents to the east and children on both sides; if accommodating guests, the guests were supposed to sit in the east with the hosts in the west as the east was taken as the superior position in the old times; on the wall of both sides, the hanging screens in natural mountain and water scenery veins are displayed as decoration, and a red-wood table set in the middle of the hall, on which the host's collected antique porcelains, arch stones and some other items exhibited, reflecting the artistic appreciation and pleasure of the host…The whole pattern of the hall is in the elegant flavor, thus added solemnity, serenity and peace to the atmosphere.
To the opposite of the hall is a fine brick carved gatehouse, built in Emperor Qianlong's period with a height of 6 meters, a width of 3.2 meters and thickness of 1 meter. The brick carvings were carved on the fine texture blue bricks with the chisels and planes, by making use of the techniques of relief and chase carving etc, in the designs of vivid human figures, animals and birds, trees and flowers. No wonder it's regarded as the "First Gatehouse in South China".
By going through, one comes to the inner hall where you might have a bird's eye view of the surrounding. It's one of the sitting rooms of the garden, with a humble and relaxing display of decorations and furniture, which reflects the women hosts' activities in the old times.
In the central garden area, pond water is as the center. Bright pool water is just like a huge piece of mirror, while reflected the plants, rockeries and pavilions around clearly. All types of building features in small, low and transparent, both available for relaxing and living; golden fish swimming in the pond and stone bridges spanning over the narrower passages of the pond, all of these formed a romantic scene in front of your eyes.
The Master of the Nets Garden is not only a garden, but also a fine art with great value, even to people nowadays. It's just like a bright pearl shining in Suzhou, making here the wonderland in South China.
Tips of visiting the garden:
Wheel chairs are not easily accessible in some sections, as for the bumpy and narrow lanes inside. Cobble paved paths over the pond are slippery, even hard to cross without any physical problems. So assistance to the elder, children and the handicapped is required when crossing.
Restrooms available and convenient to use, but as for the winding paths and maze-like roads, sometimes it's hard to find one though it's just over the corner around you.
On the way in and out of the garden, there's an interesting "Hello Market" where venders hail to sell souvenirs to visitors. Flexible quality, but bargain able price.