Sacred Mountain Reviews

Asian Studies In America:
Newsletter of the Asia Studies Development Program

Issue No. 18, Fall 2003

*Published here with permission of the Asia Studies Development Program

Video Review: Blending with Nature
Blending with Nature is a documentary video of the classical Chinese gardens in Sozhou, center of literati culture from teh late Yuan through the Ming dynasty, and Sozhou-style gardens in Hong Kong, Portland and New York. It is filmed by Ray Olson, a past participant of ASDP programs and retired professor of Sociology at the College of DuPage in Glenn Ellyn, Illinois.

For anyone teaching courses on Chinese culture, I cannot think of a better way to introduce students to traditional Chinese aesthetic sensibilities and their philosophical premises than by showing them this video. Fifty-three minutes in length, the video can be screened in its entity or, if time doesn't permit, one may choose to show it in sections appropriate to focus of the class.

It is truly excellent pedagogical tool for it frames the experience of these gardens as they are usd to day as well as in their historical context. Beautifully filmed, it is accompanied by commentaries and interviews with some of today's leading scholars in the fields of Chinese garden design, art history and culture. This includes interviews with Xu Xian, a Suzhou garden expert in China, Jerome Silbergeld, Professor of Chinese Art History, Department of Art and Archeaology at Princeton University, Charles Wu, Professor Chinese and Humanities at Reed College, and Donald Jenkins, Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum. The filmic experience of wandering through these magnificent gardens is also accompanied by Chinese music from the CD The Magnificent Bronze Gorge by Weishan Lu, founder of the San Francisco Guzheng Music Society.

As the video makes abundantly clear, to experience the Chinese garden is to encounter the arts of painting, calligraphy, poetry, architecture, and garden design as well as the importance of place and seasonal changes and philosophical reflection. In this respect, the scholar's garden is truly a microcosm of the larger universe of traditional Chinese culture. It also come to recognize the significance of cultural geneology and tradition as interpretive contexts for experiencing the present. This is brought out by the construction of memory-places, locations and structures especially designed to commemorate the exemplary actions of virtuous scholars of the past.

Experiencing the scholar gardens of Suzhou is also to become aware of the culturally specific ways in which social spaces are traditionally produced in traditional China and their influence on the way individuals conduct themsleves within them. It raises questions pertaining to notions of public vs. private, interior vs. exterior, formality vs. informality, nature vs. culture, and the relations of intimacy.

On a personal note, viewing Blending with Nature reminded me of the very reasons why I began to study Chinese language and culture. It is both a pure delight to watch and a critical affirmation of traditional Chinese philosophical and aesthetic values. I plan to use it in my course of Chinese art.

For more information about the video series and for ordering, please visit the website at: www.sacred-mountain.con.

Stephen J. Goldberg, Associate Professor of Asian Art History and Chair of hte Department of Art and Art History, Hamilton College

Copyright © 2005 Sacred Mountain Productions