Have you been to Shanghai and visited the famous classical gardens in Suzhou? If so, have you noted the different styles between the Chinese versus the English and French gardens?
Besides the usual flowers and trees in every landscaped garden, the classical Chinese gardens feature rocks, ponds, pavilions, walkways joining different halls and towers in their designs. Those familiar with English and French gardens may find the Chinese design chaotic and overly crowded. Though, in 1739, Jean-Denis Attiret (a.k.a,王致誠), a French Jesuit painter at Emperor Qianlong’s court, managed to find its disordered and anti-symmetry beauty. He said, “One admires the art with which this irregularity is carried out. Everything is in good taste and so well arranged that there is not a single view from which all the beauty can be seen; you have to see it piece by piece.”
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit these gardens. I was intrigued by the kaleidoscope of windows along the walkways that join one building to another. Notably, through the different window frames, one gets a different view of the garden. The Zigzag bridge (also known as the Nine-turn bridge 九曲桥) is also designed for visitors to enjoy viewing the garden from different angles. Alas, a very Confucian way of looking at life!
To better our cross-cultural skills, we learn that everyone has unconscious bias. All of us tend to interpret others and our world through the lenses in our minds. If we only have one set of lenses, we will only have one perspective of interpreting the world. We will not see what others may see, and we will likely miss the beauty the world is offering us.
Like those classical Chinese gardens, architected to delight visitors at different turning angles through different window frames, the surprises are part of the vibrant views of the gardens. A walk in the classical Chinese garden brings out the poets in us. Amidst nature and man-made design, we find different scenes depicting every corner of our lives. Chaotic beauty, charming marvels indeed.