The Yin and Yang of Daoism and Confucianism that Shapes a fuller life. By adam Frommer

Through A Visit to the Astor Court's Scholar's Garden and Study

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art


During the experience at the Met, I visited the Astor court, specifically the Scholar's garden which was in front, and the study which was in the back of the exhibit. Walking into the garden, there was flowing nature all around, and a skylight above that brought sunlight into the space. Wandering around, sitting, taking it in, it was all about the peace and quiet that kept the viewers immersed in the experience. The garden showed the true Dao aspect of the exhibit, being non-intrusive, and one with nature. Moving forwards, there was a structure that was almost built like a house that was open to the outdoors. The walls were made of wooden designs so you could see through to the inside, and its roof was curved on the corners as if to look like a tree of some sort. Going inside the structure, we realized it was the study, the more Confucian part of the exhibit. There were chairs, tables for studying and to interact with others, as well as stools for meditation. The two parts of the exhibit showed very different approaches in China, but in one household and one life.

How the Garden Relates to our Knowledge of Chinese Culture

The Dao

The garden seems to truly embody the idea of being "one with nature," the most important aspect of the Dao, which is considered “the way”. Almost like enlightenment, it is not easily understood and looked at in awe.The garden is made of waterfalls, plants, natural light and rocks suggesting that the most pristine life is untouched and beautiful. Even the canopies built by man are shaped as if they are trees, with the rooflines rounded out to blend in to nature. Everything in the garden is meant to blend into the natural state it should be in. Nothing is interrupted, and even the way we approached the garden was instinctively to be with the Dao. We all picked our own spot and observed, no one standing out or grabbing attention.


The waterfall in the garden seems to embody Wu. Flowing, it is mystical and in a way intangible to the simple minded "poo" for example. It has power and grace and beauty, completely in nature and beautiful. Like Brahman being above all humans, and therefore we accept it and realize it is beyond our intellectual capacity to understand, Wu is the same way. The waterfall has great meaning and significance, and yet it is too mystical and abstract to explain for the Taoist.

Wu Wei

Wu wei literally means "no action" and is all about minimizing actions outside of what complies to nature. While in the garden, the scholar is supposed to sit and take in nature and its beauty. It is the non-action of wu-wei that lets the current move you, and the sitting and meditating that takes you where you want to go. To not resist the current, or act on the current, but let it move you is the core of wu wei. In the garden you are not acting or reacting to things around, only sitting as one with nature and being neutral and alone to yourself.

How the Study Relates to our Knowledge of Chinese Culture


Self cultivation means to educate yourself without much teaching from others. Like Confucius had his students do, you teach yourself. He handed them materials, but they had to learn and do the best they could on their own with self-discipline. In the Scholar's study, you would teach yourself with books and learning, and would take your own initiative to learn. In a perfect study with everything one would need, hence having all the materials, a scholar would only have to focus on the learning aspect and their own ambition.

Ren and Li

Li is the way you show your Ren, what you demonstrate, to the world. Ren is your righteousness, and demonstrating Li is abiding by the laws and rules set by Confucius on how to demonstrate ren. In the study, where you may be meeting someone or learning, you will likely either be studying or showing li. The study, with many chairs and tables on the sides is set up for interaction as well as studying. In conversing with others, Ren and Li would be a huge part of how the meeting happens and how your time is spent in the study.


A Junzi is considered to be the ideal or model person. Based off of "ethical significance," it is someone who is intelligent showing Li and Ren, who follows deeply the principles of Confucianism, and who does good. The study would likely be one of a Junzi because here you would study texts, there is place for meditation, and one would also interact with others. The model person would do all of this as a model confucian.

Legacy of Ancient China

The Taoist legacy and Confucianist legacy of Ancient China still prevail in today's world, only not as separate stories, but as one way of life that is seamless. The Chinese have managed to take two aspects of life and create different approaches to both, creating a balance of Yin and Yang once again. The study was very Confucianist, with a focus on individual achievement with work and intellect. It focused on the interaction with people and as a result the demonstration of core Confucian principles. The scholar's garden was extraordinarily Tao, with a sole emphasis on being one with nature without being intrusive or disruptive. It was mystical and abstract, and up for everyone's own interpretation. But as shown in the exhibit modeling after 17th century China, hundreds of years after the times we have studied, the Yin of Confucianism and the Yang of Taoism have come together to create one big picture. Now, one can not live life without the Tao of being with nature at home and in his garden, meditating in quiet. Just the same though, one cannot anymore leave away the relationships between others nor the self-discipline and learning aspects of confucianism. The two ways of life have embodied the idea of Yin and Yang, two seemingly opposite ways of looking at life have become both the way that people live in China.

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