Classical Chinese Gardens in Twenty-first Century America: Cultivating the Past

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2011


Arts and Humanities | Asian Art and Architecture | Chinese Studies | East Asian Languages and Societies


This paper presents a brief examination of three tracts of American real estate that have been transformed into Chinese-style gardens. Each re-presentation serves a specific function at its particular site and also creates and perpetuates symbolic meaning that goes beyond the individual site to connect to other sites past and present. In each case, the re-presentation demonstrates adaptations and continuations in function and meaning. The three sites used to illustrate the range of adaptations were chosen for their diversity in several areas: the defining and reinventing of authenticity, their sizes and locations, the type of installation, their origin story and funding, the reflexivity of the institution about the changes made, and programs to produce meaning for the viewers. In their commitment to preserve, recreate, and sustain the past, these institutions have transformed the physical form of the garden. Hybridization is unavoidable when transferring a cultural icon, especially one so layered in meaning as the garden in China.