Skip to Content

East Asian Landscape Cultures

Since the mid-1990s, Dumbarton Oaks has developed research on East Asian landscape cultures through library collections, public lectures, scholarly meetings, and publications as part of its commitment to situate garden and landscape studies in a broader domain of cultural and visual studies. On the one hand, time-honored East Asian landscape traditions, originating in garden making, rock art, mountain-and-water paintings and poems, and natural philosophy and aesthetics, have fascinated scholars since the age of Enlightenment; on the other hand, this tradition is undergoing dramatic changes as a result of rapid modernization and globalization in China, Japan, and Korea. By considering the subject through the perspective of living landscape cultures, this research helps to break Eurocentric patterns and link the historical past to contemporary issues such as cultural heritage, environment, urbanism, and tourism.

Chinese Garden Texts Translation Group

In October 1999, Dumbarton Oaks initiated a roundtable on "An Anthology of Chinese Garden Texts in English," which was attended by a group of 16 sinologists from America, Europe, and Australia. During this meeting, they agreed to create an anthology containing a selection of writings on Chinese gardens from the Han to Qing dynasties. The English translations will be accompanied by original Chinese texts, annotations, and short introductory essays as well as a glossary of terms. The anthology will avoid imposing a definition of what a Chinese garden is, and instead will show how discourse on gardens appears to have aggregated gardens, sites, parks, agricultural lands, and how this aggregation changed and developed over the centuries. By including a great diversity of materials from different periods and literary genres, the aim is to counter the reductive tendencies in contemporary discussions of the history of Chinese gardens.

From 2000–2004, Dumbarton Oaks sponsored this group, together with several branches of Asia studies at Harvard University (the Asia Center, the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, and the Department of East Asian Language and Civilization). The translation group met three times to pursue this ambitious collaboration. The first two meetings were hosted by Dumbarton Oaks, while the third meeting took place at Harvard University. At present, the translated texts are under preparation for a proposed two-volume publication, The Dumbarton Oaks Readings on Chinese Gardens, edited by Stanislaus Fung (The University of New South Wales, AU) and introduced by Michel Conan (former Director of Garden and Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks) and Peter Bol (Harvard University). Other scholars participating in this project include: Duncan M. Campbell (New Zealand), Sophie Campistron (France), Bing Chiu Che (France), Antoine Gournay (France), Kenneth J. Hammond (United States), Philip Hu (United States), Alison Hardie (United Kingdom), James Hargett (United States), David Knechtges (United States), Georges Métailié (France), Martin Powers (United States), David Sensabaugh (United States), Richard E. Strassberg (United States), Jan Stuart (United Kingdom), Stephen H. West (United States), Yinong Xu (Australia), Xiaoshan Yang (United States), Hui Zou (United States).

China-America Working Group

In March 2005, Dumbarton Oaks organized a three-day working group on Chinese garden and landscape culture. The group was consisted of three American scholars and three Chinese scholars: Peter Bol (Philosophy, Harvard University), Martin Powers (Art History, University of Michigan), Stephen H. West (Literature, UC Berkeley), Chen Wangheng 陈望衡 (Aesthetics, Wuhan University), Wang Yi 王毅 (Philosophy & Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) and Yang Hongxun 杨鸿勋 (Archeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). The late architecture historian Zhou Weiquan 周维权 (Tsinghua University) was invited, but could not attend for health reasons. After intense discussion, the group agreed upon future cooperation on the topic of "Garden and City Life" in the hope of addressing the endangered landscape in the context of contemporary Chinese urban sprawl, and to highlight the function of gardens in fostering a beneficial city culture. This led to a Dumbarton Oaks-Wuhan University joint conference in China in October 2006, and the publication of an anthology in 2008: Gardens, City Life and Culture: A World Tour (its Chinese edition with slight variation was published under the title, 城市与园林:园林对城市生活与文化的贡献 = City and Garden: Contribution of Gardens to City Life and Culture, by Wuhan University Press in 2006).

Research Sources

The study of East Asian landscape cultures at Dumbarton Oaks has received not only generous support from researchers worldwide, but also practical assistance from the Harvard-Yeching Library and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, as well as from the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the Asian Division of Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Wang Tingna Scroll - Illustrations of the Gardens of the Hall Encircled by Jade

China Historical GIS

Japan Historical GIS

Bibliography on East Asian Garden History