Stanislaus Fung

Motion and Stillness in Ming Writings on Gardens
Stanislaus Fung

In his Shuo yuan (On Chinese Gardens, 1984), the late Chen Congzhou distinguishes between “viewing in motion” (dongguan) and “viewing in repose” (jingguan) and highlights this distinction as the first and foremost consideration in the design of Chinese gardens. He points out that viewing in motion is predominant in large gardens, where one finds longer routes for touring, while viewing in repose is predominant in smaller gardens where one finds more fixed vantage points. Most readers have not found these remarks puzzling. In this paper, three strategies are deployed in exploring a series of Ming writings on gardens in order to disturb the apparent self-evidence of Chen’s remarks:

Articulating inappropriate assumptions and inferences. I shall argue against notions such as “physical movement in empty space” and “the visitor attends to the unfolding views of the garden whether in movement or in repose,” on which the self-evidence of Chen’s remarks might depend. Movement and repose are shown to be caught up in a reciprocal relationship between sentiment (inside) and scenery (outside).

Contextualizing Chinese key terms with Western sources. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s idea of play as an unending to-and-fro movement, Bernard Tschumi’s discussion of spatial and programmatic sequences (i.e., sequences of spaces and sequences of occurrences and events), and Michel de Certeau’s discussion of “pedestrian utterances” are introduced to articulate the specificity of “viewing in motion” and “viewing in repose.”

Correlating investigations of garden history and comparative philosophy. Drawing on the recent work of Wu Kuang-ming, I shall argue that “viewing in motion” and “viewing in repose” are ad hoc categories, “notions” rather than “concepts.” They have the sense of adverbs rather than nouns. They are not stable “modes” of experience that may be adopted at will, but are rather contingent undergoings and timely manners of engagement with a changing world.

Stanislaus Fung is director of the Centre for Asian Environments and a senior lecturer in architecture on the Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He has also taught at the University of Adelaide and the University of Pennsylvania. His main field of research is the history of Chinese gardens. He guest edited two recent special issues on this topic for Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. In these issues, he promoted new theoretical work that draws on recent developments in comparative philosophy and detailed historical studies that introduce a range of Chinese sources to English readers. Among his recent publications are essays in Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture (1999) and Perspectives on Garden Histories (1999).

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