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Transplanting Suzhou: The Huntington’s Garden of Flowing Fragrance (Liu Fang Yuan)

On first consideration, the existence of a 17th century Suzhou-style Chinese garden in contemporary Southern California might seem paradoxical. After all, the differences in climate are great—Suzhou, in China’s Jiangsu province, is a humid, subtropical city, while Southern California, on the west coast of the United States, is a dry, Mediterranean region—and the differences in culture are even greater. Indeed, if 17th century Suzhou was renowned as a centre of the lettered arts and associated crafts, then today’s Southern California is often perceived as its opposite: a place where pop culture thrives and high culture withers.

However, Southern California is also home to one of the largest populations of people of Chinese heritage in the US. Moreover, the region houses a number of remarkable cultural institutions, one of which—The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino—shares much in spirit with the scholar-merchants’ gardens of Ming dynasty (1368–1644) Suzhou. Founded in 1919 by the railroad and real estate magnate Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927), The Huntington holds world-renowned collections of British and American archival materials, books and art; in addition, more than 15,000 species of plants (and 28,000 cultivars) flourish in its sixteen gardens, making it one of the most diverse botanical collections in the world
(Fig. 1).

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July/August 2020
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