Living Color Project: Metropolitan Museum of Art: Scholar's Garden and Study By: Emily Shi

Scholar Garden Description

The Scholar Garden is a very natural escape from the rest of New York City, and when you step inside, you enter a serene and realxing place filled with nature. Everywhere you look, there are leaves, rocks, or water. Near the door, there is a small pond with running water, and even a fish swimming around. There is a lot of contrast in the room, with green leaves resting right next to a pile of rough grey rocks. Framed by some rocks, there is a small gazebo with a statue that resembles rocks/nature and some Chinese characters. On the other side of the room, there is a "moon viewing terrace", where people would have gathered to watch the moon, sample tea, or even write poetry. Everybody who was there when I went seemed very relaxed, escaping the stressful atmosphere you can sense anywhere else in New York City, and even in other parts of the museum. The ceiling is made of glass, and you can feel the sky right above you. Although when I attended, it was harder to notice as it was nighttime, I now realize you can always "feel" the sky above your head, as if you were acually in nature, surrounded by "shanshui", or mountains and water, as the rocks can represent peaks or mountains, there are plants, and the small pond represents the water.

Study Description

The study is a very symmetrical and orderly room, and is calm in a different way. It is not your typical "office area", and instead of the chair and desk image we would expect to see anywhere else, there seems to be a piece of furniture in the middle that people might be able to sit around while talking, and many other areas that would allow people working in the study to sit and confer. Additionally, the architecture of the room is very symmetrical and linear, as seen is the panarama image above. Chairs, paintings, wardrobe, doors, windows, and stools surround a main "couchtable" in the middle, while on the walls, ceiling, frame the windows, and separate the room from the garden. There are "no surprises" in the room, everything placed exactly where it is supposed to, and even detailed maps/blueprints of the architecture on the room were displayed. The organization, neatness, and detail of the room intrigued me, and the room felt peaceful, but in a less natural way than the garden.

Legacy of Ancient China on Daoist Garden

The Scholar Garden reflects many aspects of Daoism, and can be a natural space for people to follow the Dao/find their path. Firstly, the room is filled with rocks, plants, water, and a ceiling that displays the sky that represent nature, heavily valued in Daoism because they believe that in order to follow your own path/go with the flow, you must be one with nature, and this garden would be the perfect place to do so. There is plenty of area for people to wander around to follow the Unmanifest Dao that you can see and touch. Additionally, the "pond" with running water is a metaphor for wu wei, a principle that says one should not try extra hard to force something to happen, like a salmon swimming upstream, and instead do not interfere and let nature take it's course. In this pond, although it is difficult to see, there is actually a fish swimming, but instead of trying to swim against a current, there is no current and the fish is free to roam and float along. Lastly, Yin and Yang, meaning two opposites that complement each other, is also a principle reflected in this garden. The flowing water next to the rough, heavy rocks are opposite, but work together to complement and balance each other, combining "dark, void, sift, yielding, wet, and cool", with "bright, solid, hard, unyielding, dry, and hot."

Legacy of Ancient China on Confucian Study

Through the study in Astor Court, one can observe many aspects and principles of Confucianism reflected through symmetry, propriety, and a space that allows you to engage. As I mentioned, the entire room is symmetrical, reflecting the importance of li, or arranging in order. Although this usually focuses on ritual, in order to have order thorugh ritual and daily etiquette, the space where one communicates and engages with others must also be orderly. The blueprints/maps on the wall show how much thought was put into making the room exactly how it is. Additionally, the room is very large for your typcal study, and it seems to have more space for multiple people to sit rather than one person working and obtaining knowledge. This reflects the Confucian belief that building character and fining your inner ren, or human heartedness, is more important than doing work at a desk and obtaining knowledge. It seems as if the study is designed for one to first self cultivate themself, becoming an ideal junzi, until influencing others and engaging/creating relationships in order for others to flourish as well, therefore creating a harmonious Confucian society.

Why should a future eigth grader choose this experience?

Overall, this experience not only taught me a lot more about Daoism and Confucianism, but it also let me experience it first-hand in a very interesting way. As soon as you walk thorugh the door and into the Daoist Garden, you leave the busy atmosphere of the rest of the city, entering a quiet, relaxing, nature-filled area. Even if I knew nothing about Ancient China, this would have been an unforgettable experience just because of the feeling of relaxation that overcomes you as one looks around, seeing nature everywhere. Additionally, there are "posters" of information about the exhibit that teach you a little more about what every part of the garden represents, and all the material we learned in class about Daoism focusing on "going with the flow" and "finding your natural path" is evident.

It was also very interesting to leave the environment of the Daoist Garden to the Confuian study, as although they were both peaceful, you were leaving a natural and spontaneous garden and entering into a very rigid, symmetrical, and linear office. It shows you about li, or proper etiquette firsthand through the orderly and neat presentation of the room, equipped with maps/blueprints to find more information. Looking into the room, I could almost imagine Confucius and his disciples sitting around the couchtable, engaging, the students eager to learn from a junzi, working together to flourish and improve their society. Overall, because the entire trip was very enriching and interesting, teaching me and engaging me at the same time, and I felt I had been transported to Ancient China, I would definitely reccommend that a future 8th grader learning about Confucianism and Daoism come to these exhibits.

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