A Tour of Astor Court, A ChineseGarden BY: HUnter WILLOUGHBY-Spera

“What is it about this place?”

I chose this project because the Chinese garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was always my favorite room. We always saved that room for last when we visited the Met. Now I understand why I like the room. The room was deliberately planned with Confucian principles in order to achieve peace and relaxation. I am like many New Yorkers who finds this space appealing because it is a calm and relaxing space versus the hectic life-style of the city of New York.

Taking a walk through the garden and into the study was a sensory experience. I was transported from busy New York city to a peaceful, timeless place. The art and architecture of the Chinese garden reflected Confucian principles of wen (“the refinements of culture”) and the Daoist principle of becoming one with nature. These qualities of the garden and study created a harmonious environment and an ideal place of study for a “junzi.”

A Tour Through the Chinese Garden

This is a tour of The Astor Chinese Garden Court in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was built in 1981 in the 17th century style of the Ming Dynasty. The garden is made up of rocks, ceramic tiles, different woods and a koi pond while the study is made up of different woods and ceramic roof tiles. The Ming architecture reflects the influence of Confucianism and Taoism which is still current today.

Enter through the “Moon Gate.” The circle is a symbol of the universe. It is as if you are entering this experience through a portal. Experience the “Manifest Tao” and be transported into a different time and space, which you can peer into through the door of the garden.
Next, take a step along the small crooked path. With every step, there is a different view and something else to study. It is unpredictable like life.
Take a look at the stones. Are they manmade sculptures or just stones? They look like mountains rising from the ocean. Each one is different. The one stone looks like it is defying nature and should be tumbling over, but it is not. You wonder what is it that is keeping this old stone upright. It looks like it is moving- almost falling. Even when everything is still, it seems as if it is moving. This is the principle of Yin and Yang.
Along the path, you can see through the garden windows. They are white geometric designs that seem as if they were built today for a modern home, but they are ancient. Through these windows are green trees. Again, yin and yang. Nature is close, yet far away through the windows. New and old. Everything is in harmony.
The path is smooth and manmade, but the pebbles and the stones are rough. The brick tiles form a pattern, it is “wen” and looks like a puzzle. Everything encourages study.
You are deep in thought and have arrived in the study. It is dark compared to the bright space outside. It is cooler. It is very empty and bare. “Wu.” You feel and understand the Confucian concept of nothingness and emptiness.
You could stare at the roof forever. Another wen - a pattern or puzzle of wood beams. You can smell the wood and feel that you are connected with nature eventhough you are inside. Tao.
It seems like you are outside eventhough you are inside. Yin and Yang. There are pictures of bamboo and mountains. The bamboo is symbolic of endurance*. According to the ancient Chinese, junzi, like bamboo, should be able to endure and go through tough times even when blown around by the wind. Eventhough we stay, we must move. What is the noise that fills the garden and the study? It sounds like water. We must follow the way of the Master and “seek out information.”(The Analects of Confucius, 1.12)
The peaceful sound is coming from a pond that you did not notice when you first entered the garden. From this little pond you hear the running water which seems to have filled the entire garden with the calming trickle of water. The red and orange carp, ancient Chinese symbols of good luck, are deep at the bottom of the pond.* These fish are like the flowers of the garden. They are darting about eventhough the rest of the garden is still. Yin & Yang.
You are relaxed and ready to move on in your journey. You are a now a “junzi.” Looking back through portal that you went into and came out of, you understand. You look back at the peace and beauty of the garden.
"In the practice of li, Harmony is the key. In the Dao of the kings of old, This was the beauty.”

You have only take a few steps, but you have gone far. Wu-wei.

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