Picture yourself in a beautiful garden or a gorgeous study. If you picture yourself enjoying either, then the Astor Court is where you want to go. The Astor Court in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is not only a beautiful area but also it is deeply connected with ancient China. The Court is made up of two parts, the garden and the study. The garden represents the Taoist belief that everyone should be like nature. The garden’s structure illustrates the belief that modernizing things ruined people and everyone was better the way that they were born. It also shows how they believed that people should be like nature because the Dao was most often compared with nature. An example of how the garden connects to Taoism is the koi pond. Wu Wei, an important Dao principle is often associated with water. Literally, Wu Wei means no action but, in Taoism it means action that is in accordance with nature. An eighth grader would enjoy the koi pond because not only is it beautiful, but it is also a serene environment away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The Astor court is a great place for an eighth grader to go not only to do their project but to help them better understand some of the Chinese philosophies.
The garden is almost completely made of natural elements. There is a moon viewing terrace where, according to Museum placards, a few friends might come together to drink tea, to look at the full moon or to write poetry. There were four types of woods used in the Astor court. They used Ginkgo, camphor, fir and nan wood, which insects cannot damage. Throughout the garden there are many monoliths made from eroded limestone from Lake Tai, near Suzhou. The Chinese word for landscape is shanshui, literally translating to “mountains and water.” The mountains are represented by the monoliths and the koi pond represents the water. Together the monolith - or ‘the immovable rock’ - and Koi pond - or ‘the flowing water’ - represent yin and yang, an important concept in ancient China. Yin and Yang is a principle of nature, representing things that could not exist without their opposite. For example, dark and light, wet and dry or masculine and feminine. This is yet another sample of how the beauty of the garden makes it not only enjoyable but also educational for future eighth graders. It is a one stop shop for all of the needs of the Living Color Project because all of its elements connect to multiple ancient beliefs.
The Study represents how Confucianism was all about order. The study is a plain wooden room with three tables in the middle. On both sides of the symmetrical room are large wooden cabinets with gold locks. The study not only provides a window into ancient China but is also simple but beautiful in its design and workmanship. The study also connects to how Confucianism was all about teaching people what is good and what is right. The study is a place where people would go to learn.
Another Confucianist concept is li, meaning ceremonies or proper conduct connected to order and things being done right. The study was organized so that it could hold a group of people for a meeting or a ceremony. Ren, the most important concept in Confucianism, means humanity or goodness. We see this reflected in the study’s balance and symmetry. This order represents the balance everyone should strive for, including a balance between what they are taught in school and what they are taught at home, in order to truly become good people. The idea of balance resonate with eighth graders who are familiar with HM core value, “a balance between individual achievement and a caring community.” Throughout the exhibit you are shown connections to China's past, but you are also shown the beauty of nature and architecture. In conclusion, the often busy and sometimes anxiety producing lives that eighth graders lead make the garden and study ideal locations for future eighth graders to learn about ancient China and also observe the beauty and serenity of the Astor Court.