Dr Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver
A Guide (Part 1)

Enter the Dr Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden. Vancouver the city falls away, Vancouver the oasis of calm enters.

View of the Chinese Garden Vancouver

Clever design, visual history and intricate layout make this spot a beautiful visit at any time of year.

The initial vista of the garden, interplay of plants, buildings, rocks and water, the 4 elements of a traditional Chinese Garden. Vancouver is fortunate to have this treasure.

What should you notice as you walk around? And what's the history and significance of the garden?

The History

This is a Scholar's garden dedicated to Dr Sun Yat-Sen. The scholars were high-officials in the Ming dynasty of China (1368-1644). These men were so busy with paperwork that they didn't have time to go out of the city and look at nature, so nature had to come to them. Above the doorway into the garden is a plaque with "Yi Yuan" engraved, meaning "Garden of Ease".

(Interestingly, becoming a scholar was a rare way to change your social class at that time. You could become a Very Important Person, if you could find someone to sponsor the cost of your studies.)

The Ingredients

Floor mosaics at the Dr Sun Yat Sen Garden VancouverThe weathered limestone rocks were imported from Lake Tai near Suzhou, China.

These act as changing sculptures, you see different shapes and patterns as the light changes and as you move to new positions. These rocks were thought to invite lucky spirits to inhabit the scholar's garden.

Remember to look at your feet. All the floors are decorated with intricate paving of smooth pebbles, clay tiles, broken pieces of white porcelain and concrete blocks. Each area has a different design.

The jade green water is deliberately cloudy with clay to enhance the reflections. The jade colour symbolizes tranquility, and the gemstone is a Chinese favourite symbolizing wealth and purity.

Reflections in the pond at the Chinese Garden VancouverThese two elements illustrate a primary philosophy of these gardens, the Daoist principles of Yin and Yang.

Here the gentle, soft yin of the water balances the strong, rough yang of the rocks.

The plants are all perennials, and so grow and develop into living, changing sculptures in every season of the year.

A white rose blooms in the sunshine beside a Maple tree and a limestone rock sculpture on a bright summer's day.

Maple Tree and Rose at the Chinese Garden VancouverThe plant varieties are chosen for their symbolic properties, and Chinese and local Canadian plants were selected to create a visual bridge between the cultures.

(The focus of the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden Society is to create greater understanding between Chinese and Western cultures within the local community. The Chinese Garden is Vancouver’s most visible symbol of traditional Chinese culture.)

The design of the garden as a whole is based also on Feng Shui, the philosophy of harmony with nature to increase peace and happiness. The architecture of the garden blends with the natural plants, rocks and water to reflect an idealized natural landscape in miniature.

The "Living Room"

I always go left first, and miss the China Maple Hall to the right.

Embroidered Screen from the Chinese Garden VancouverThe largest building, this hall would have been used for the scholar and his family to entertain. I think it's quite plain inside compared to the interesting rocks and plants that are outside.

I do like the silk embroidery screen, done so carefully that the back is almost as pretty as the front.

The main columns in this hall and the Scholar's Study are made of Nan wood now nearly extinct. These pillars were a special gift from the Chinese government specifically for this Chinese garden in Vancouver.

Roof tiles at the Dr Sun Yat Sen Garden VancouverMake sure to notice the door handles - in the shape of a bat. In Chinese bat is 'pin fu' which sounds like the word for luck.

So bat symbols are everywhere, on the door handles and on the drip tiles.

The roof drip tiles were fired in the Imperial kilns in Suzhou, and each has the Chinese character for longevity flanked by two bats. These tiles are designed so a curtain of rain falls onto the plants and floors and creates the "music of nature". Coming to the Garden on a rainy day is a special treat.

The Chinese Garden tour continues: Part 2

Return from the Guide to the Classical Chinese Garden to
Vancouver City Parks