Chinese Gardens – A calm moment in Sydney

Golden Koi wave through each other in a shallow pond dotted with water lilies. I lift my eyes up to the Ibis bird posing on the tip of an upturned eave of a pavilion. It is autumn in Australia, but I am not surrounded by the traditional Australian landscape.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship

The Chinese garden in Darling Harbour is a serene, calm corner in the middle of Sydney. It is rather hidden and easy to walk past without paying any attention to it as the circular Tumbalong park dominates the area. But the garden is a refreshing stop for an hour or two.

The Chinese Garden was designed in 1986 by architects from Sydney’s sister city in China, Guangzhou  – hence the full name The Chinese Garden of Friendship. The admission fee is 8AUD per adult, but it is worth paying a bit for a lovely time. It is a garden, so you shouldn’t expect to see anything miraculous but if you are looking for peace and quiet, you’ll like it. There is also a restaurant and a teahouse in the garden if you fancy a bite.

I took my book with me and spent some time reading in the garden.

Philosophy in Chinese Gardens

The history of Chinese gardens stretches back thousands of years. The first recorded gardens were for the noble people; they were mainly the emperor’s hunting grounds. Since then, the garden tradition has evolved following Taoist philosophy which explores the human’s role and place in the universe. 

The oneness between humans and nature is one of the main principles of Chinese gardens. The walls around the gardens block out the surrounding human activity so that one can focus on nature when in the garden. 

The spaces are artistic environments where the visitor is assumed to view it through educated eyes and discover subtle references. For example, vegetation can symbolise growth and process, and water can represent life. 

Because the design is driven by artistic rather than practical principles, it also gives room for imagination and implied expression. You are not supposed to be able to view the whole garden at once. Indeed, the idea of hide and reveal is meant to stimulate the mind and prompt ideas of what might happen in the undiscovered places.

Yin-Yang and Wu-Xing

The idea of finding a balance between the forces of Yin and Yang in the art and garden design comes from Chinese philosophy. The Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney is designed with the Yin-Yang Taoist principle where opposites complement each other. In this case the opposite forces can be, for example, shadow and light or hard rocks and soft vegetation. 

Also the Wu-Xing  – five elements –  principle plays a vital in the garden. All five elements of the Chinese philosophy – fire, wood, water, metal, and earth – need to be in balance so that none of them dominates each other and disrupts harmony. All these were meticulously considered when the garden was created.

I wonder if the skyscrapers that rise behind the trees of the park form a part of the carefully planned balance as well – the contrast between the lush green vegetation and the modern city is remarkable.

Quick look

  • The Chinese Garden of Friendship
  • Peaceful Koi ponds, pavilions, and bamboo shrubs
  • Darling Harbour, Sydeny, Australia
  • Admission fee 8AUD – temporary closures due to COVID

References

Darling Harbour (n.d.). The Chinese Garden of Friendship is a tranquil retreat in the middle of the city, and one of the best things to do in Sydney. Darling Harbour. https://www.darlingharbour.com/precincts/chinese-garden

McDowall, C. (2012). ‘A Chinese garden – a rhythm of nature refreshing the heart’. The Culture Concept Circle. 2September. Available at: https://www.thecultureconcept.com/a-chinese-garden-the-rhythm-of-nature-refreshing-the-heart

Ye, X., (2013). ‘Translating the cultural landscape: A Chinese garden in East Tennessee’. Master Theses. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Available at: https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2650&context=utk_gradthes

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