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Vancouver's Classical Chinese Garden

At the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a plaque reads "Yi Yuan," or "Garden of Ease." Here you enter a harmonious world filled with the delights of nature.

Cairn Croft Sculpture Garden
A bust of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, known as the "Father of Modern China," greets visitors at the entrance to the garden.

A Scholar's Garden

Here you enter a harmonious world filled with the delights of nature. Built in 1985-1986, it was the first full-sized classical Chinese garden to be constructed outside China. Prior to its opening, the last new garden was created in China over 100 years ago. For the architect, the botanist, the student of history, or just the lover of beauty, this garden is a living treasure. With its asymmetrical arrangement of rocks and plants, its winding paths and corridors, and the vistas that overlook its courtyards, the garden emulates the rhythms of nature.

Pool and Wall
Water, stone, plants and architecture are all integral to the serenity of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden.

And it was created to be savored over a lifetime. New meanings are found in the symbolic objects and plants; new pictures are seen as shadows play across the rocks. The garden unfolds itself slowly.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is characteristic of the gardens built by scholars during the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), and is influenced by several such gardens in the city of Suzhou. It is not a replica or copy, however, but its own unique classical garden. And though it was built in the mid-1980s, it employed the ancient techniques of the original Ming Dynasty gardens.

The decision to build the garden in Vancouver was no mere whim, but was a studied choice by the Suzhou Garden Administration (SGA), which made a selection from over 50 sites throughout North America. Vancouver is situated on the Pacific Rim, and a strong bond of friendship exists between the Chinese and Canadian peoples. Vancouver officials proposed a full-scale outdoor classical garden as the city had one of the largest Chinese communities on the continent.


Cairn Croft Sculpture Garden
The interplay of vegetation with architectural elements is a key characteristic of classical Chinese gardens.

Classical Chinese gardens contain plants known for their mystical and symbolic qualities. Unlike Western gardens in which plants are "collected" and massed together, plants in this garden are used sparingly and each one is selected for its symbolic meaning and its ability to evoke a natural landscape.

This careful selection of plants, trees and shrubs creates different moods and gives each area a unique character. Selecting each piece of vegetation according to its blossom time is very important in a Chinese garden. This reinforces the importance of seasonal change and heightens the anticipation of spring as the garden awakes from the winter months. In contrast to Western gardens, all the seasons are enjoyed in a Chinese garden. Climatically, Vancouver and Suzhou are quite similar, so many of the plants in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden are similar to those found in classical gardens of China.


Originally designed by Daoist poets, classical Chinese gardens were meant to create an atmosphere of tranquility for contemplation and inspiration. The Chinese calligraphic inscription above the entrance to the Garden means "Garden of Ease." There are four major elements in the Garden: water, rock, plants and architecture. The relationship of these four elements reflect the Daoist belief in Yin and Yang — opposites that must be in balance to create harmony. And serenity is only the first of infinite layers that reveal themselves.

The garden is a harmony of contrasts, of dark and light, solid and empty, hard and soft, straight and undulating. The object is to capture all the elements of the natural landscape — mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, valleys, hills — and, by bringing them together in a small space, to concentrate the life force, or qi, that animates them.

Pool and Wall
The summit of the rock "mountain" affords a whole other set of visual perspectives.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

Known as the "Father of Modern China," Dr. Sun Yat Sen was an important figure in the development of the Republic of China. He was internationally recognized by members of all political affiliations for his central role in the history of modern China. As the first non-gentry leader of a political movement, he sought to bring democracy to his country during the early years of the 20th century.

trowel icon For more information about the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, including a virtual tour, visit the garden online at

This segment appears in show #2816.

Significant informational material supplied courtesy of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Copyright © 2003 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. All rights reserved.

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Published August 31, 2007