Garden of thinking
25 March 2008
Traditional Chinese academies, comparable to Greek philosophic schools, were neo-Confucian institutes, often located in reclusive mountains.
Xin Wu explores the relationship between scholarly activities and academy landscapes and garden
Xin Wu, in the History of Art Department, takes landscape and garden as the departure point to examine methods of teaching in the traditional academies. Focusing on the Yuelu Academy, one of China’s Four Grand Academies, she explores the relationship between scholarly activities and academy landscapes and gardens, in order to unveil the sophisticated entanglements between experiences of natural scenes and philosophic thinking, between the concrete and the metaphysical, between the spiritual and the bodily, between ‘investigating things’ and ‘extending knowledge’.
Teaching and learning were conducted in parallel with studying the classic texts and touring the landscape and gardens. The landscape and gardens of the academy, therefore, are distinctive from commonplace landscape and gardens. The academy landscape is meaningful, not just because it provides a readable textbook, but because it stimulates the reciprocity between nature and the self, anchored in the succession of scholars, providing the catalyst for assimilating and regenerating neo-Confucian philosophy. The academy garden is the garden of thinking.
Closely related to these studies on academies is a pair of conferences jointly organised by the renowned Garden and Landscape Studies programme at Dumbarton Oaks and the newly established Institute of Garden and Landscape History at University of Bristol. The first of these, Leaping the Fence: Transitions between Garden and Landscape in the Chinese and European Tradition, will take place at Burwalls Conference Centre, Bristol, from 18 - 20 April 2008. Interlacing of words and things in gardens and landscapes: beyond nature and culture, will be held at Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University, USA, in May 2009.