The Astor Court and The Ming Room By Adrian Arnaboldi

The Astor Court, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a re-creation of a Ming Dynasty-style, Chinese-garden courtyard. Located right next to the Astor Court is the Ming Room, a study that is a re-creation of a Ming Dynasty-style, Chinese study. The study would have housed Chinese scholars, and the garden would have provided a space for the scholars to be close to nature, which was really important to them. The garden is based on a courtyard in the city of Suzhou, China. The Astor Court was the first permanent cultural exchange between the US and China. The installation of the Astor Court and the Ming Room was completed in 1981. The garden and study were built by expert craftsmen from China using traditional methods, materials, and hand tools. The furniture in the Ming Room was bought in 1976 with money donated by the Vincent Astor Foundation.

To enter the the Astor Court you go through a circular moon gate, which leads into the courtyard. Through the moon gate there is a zigzag path that resembles a river.

In one corner there is a little body of water, with carp fish and a tiny waterfall. All over the garden there are many uncarved and simple rocks.

The roof is made of glass, so sometimes one side of the garden is dark while the other is light.

The Ming Room, oriented to the south, based on ritual, is a fairly dark room with ancient furniture. The windows of the study have lattice patterns and the roof is made up of cross beams. On either side of the room there are two wooden bureaus, with metal hatches.

In the middle of the room, there is a couch table. This low table is a convenient height for sitting with a small scroll table for teacups and reading material. In warm weather, one would sit with legs either crossed or pendant, while in cold weather, quilts and cushions were added for comfort.

High on the wall as you walk in, there is a wooden plaque carved in the city of Suzhou. The plaque displays the name of the room: Ming Xuan, which means both “Ming Dynasty Hall” and “Hall of Light”.

The garden shows the legacy of Daoism, and the philosophy to be simple. The garden strives to make people feel as if they are in the wild. The rough rocks remind you of mountains and the small pond helps you to imagine rivers and oceans. The garden illustrates the Daoist philosophy of simplicity and connecting yourself with nature. An example of nature in the garden is the pond. One of the main goals of Daosim is to be like water, always flowing, always pure, always the same, and always changing. The simple and uncarved rocks in the garden, also relate to the Daoist philosophy to be simple. The idea of the uncarved block is if you are simple you will succeed in life. The uncarved rocks also represent the idea of the uncarved block. The philosophy that things in their simplicity contain natural power, power that is lost when simplicity is changed.

The moon gate, which is the entrance to the Astor court, shows the legacy of Daoism. Laozi, the founder of Daoism, believed that if we reconnect ourselves with nature will be closer to achieving a harmonious society. The walkway through the garden, resembles a river, which Daoists strive to be like, flowing, receptive, and powerful.

The garden and study would have served as a place for young scholars to study, which was very important to Confucius because he believed that education was key in reforming the government. The harmonious and quiet environment of the garden would reflect the goal of harmony in Confucian and Daoist society.

The contrasting elements in the garden and study show the Confucian concept of yin and yang, two complementary forces. Two contrasting elements include the dark study and the bright garden. As shown earlier, the contrast of light and dark can vary in the garden based on the time of day. The moon gate is another example of yin and yang, since the darkness of the moon gate area contrasts with the light of the garden.

The Ming room represents the legacy of Confucianism, and the concept of li, rituals. The room also represents the philosophy of treasuring education and scholars. By ritual, li, the Ming room is facing south, and the most important seat is placed in the center of the room and facing south, so in the winter they could get as much sunlight as possible. This planning shows the extent to which the followers of Confucianism abide by li, their morals and etiquette.

This experience is crucial for an 8th grader to fully understand the legacy of ancient Chinese philosophies. I believe this experience will motivate and interest them to learn more about China. This is also a great opportunity for an 8th grader to visually see the impact of these ancient people, like Laozi and Confucius, on modern day China.

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