I visited the Chinese Garden in Sydney this past weekend.
Nestled in the heart of the city, the garden is a symbol of friendship between the city of Sydney and the Guangdong province in southern China. The garden was constructed in 1988 to mark the bicentenary of Australia’s colonial settlement.
Designed and built by Chinese landscape architects in the southern style, also known as Ling-nam, the design evokes Taoist principles of Yin-Yang and the five opposite elements of earth, fire, water, metal and wood. The use of controlled and contrived natural forms creates a sense of wildness and serenity in its juxtaposition with the more severe and energy-sapping built environment of the city-scape beyond.
Although having a footprint of just one hectare, the space seems much larger, ranging over different harmonious elevations, including curved expanses of water, rocks, stone stairs, and pavilions perched on rocky knolls, with little arched bridges across carp filled ponds.
‘It is said that the rocks are the bones, the water is the blood and the soil and plants are the flesh of a garden.’
From a plaque in the Chinese Garden
Sharing a Chinese heritage, my friend and I took the opportunity to dress in the traditional Chinese custom. It must have appeared a little incongruous to other garden visitors because of our obviously Western appearance.
But for those few quiet moments we wandered the gardens imagining how it must have been for our Chinese ancestors, ignoring the possibility they may have been from lower classes and such salubrious surroundings not part of their life experience.
Nevertheless, I was transported back centuries, feeling the whisper of silk on my skin, the weight of my traditional head-dress. Would I have tottered along with bound feet in ancient clogs? Not if I were rural class.
With the soft murmur of waterfalls in my ears, the occasional splash of a playful carp, and the wonderful textures of the rocks and plants to delight the senses, I was no longer in the city but transported back to my oriental roots. I had a deep and transcending feeling of serenity, of being one with the landscape, of ‘chi’ energy flowing around me. A clear sense was mine in that moment, of ‘the way’ that Taoism represents. The essential simplicity in nature that we all need in our lives.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
― Lao Tzu
‘Taoist belief is based on the idea that there is central or organizing principle of the Universe, a natural order or a “way of heaven”, Tao, that one can come to know by living in harmony with nature and hence with the cosmos and the Universe.
The philosophy of Tao signifies the fundamental or true nature of the world, it is the essential, unnameable process of the universe. Tao both precedes and encompasses the universe.’
‘The flow of ‘chi’ energy, as the essential energy of action, existence and active principle forming part of any living things, is compared and believed to be the influence that keeps the universal order of Tao balanced.’