Objective Yue Garden in Changzhou is the largest ancient private garden in Qing Dynasty that is still existing nowadays. Built and initially owned by Zhao Qi, the grandson of Zhao Yi, a preeminent scholar in Qing Dynasty, the garden was widely known during the reign of Emperors Daoguang and Xianfeng in Qing Dynasty. In 1860, Yue Garden was destroyed. It was later rebuilt by Zhao Qi's descendants and has undergone several repairs and restorations in modern times. Thus, the present scenery in the garden is vastly different from what it was when Zhao Qi was still alive. The restoration of historical gardens is an important element of the historical and theoretical researches on gardens. Recent researches on Yue Garden have reviewed the evolution of the garden over a long time span and described its internal scenery during various periods. However, there still exists some gap in the research on Yue Garden. So far, most researches on the spatial layout of Yue Garden are conducted by local scholars in Changzhou. In some existing researches, the features of attractions in Yue Garden at different periods are mixed up, which is prone to mislead readers. In view of this, this research further excavates some firsthand historical materials. Moreover, according to relevant documents available in historical materials related to Yue Garden, those really valuable and credible are mostly concentrated between the Daoguang and Guangxu periods in Qing Dynasty.
Methods This research further narrows the time frame for the elaboration of scenery in Yue Garden, with a view to filling the gap in the research on Yue Garden and providing a basis for the conservation and display of the garden. Moreover, this research serves as an exploration of the landscape paradigm and gardening characteristics of literati gardens outside focal Jiangnan cities such as Suzhou and Yangzhou in the late Qing Dynasty. Taking Zhao Qi's Yue Garden rather than Zhao family's Yue Garden during Qing Dynasty as research object, this research implements a comparative review of available historical materials and an integration and analysis of existing research results, while referring to some new documents. The research mainly aims to figure out what Yue Garden looked like in early times through a number of historical documents such as paintings, literature and local records about the garden (main artifacts for the restoration research), supplemented by articles written by Zhao Qi's family, friends, and other visitors to Yue Garden. Further, the research revaluated the spatial location of garden elements in Yue Garden, and explores a possible restoration scheme for Yue Garden. In order to reconstruct this historical garden, of which few vestiges remain, the research draws a new restoration plan of Yue Garden based on image analysis, documentary comparison, and textual hierarchical review.
Results Compared with the original restoration plan of Yue Garden drawn by scholar Luo Xinghai, the new scheme incorporates the following speculations and modifications. 1) It combines satellite images and mapping data to correct the scale of Luo's scheme. 2) It rectifies that beyond the eastern wall of Yue Garden is the residence of the Zhao family rather than the woods. 3) It adds details to the southeast corner of the garden based on the high resolution painting of Yue Garden. 4) It expresses different opinions on the existence of individual bridges in the garden, the short embankment, and the pavilion near "Nanshan", the hill in the middle of the garden. 5) It makes new speculations about the location of the medicine garden based on the descriptions thereof in Zhao Qi's literary works. According to its restoration research results, this research identifies the garden's landscape layout features, with a focus on the gardening methods of rockery and water. The research finds that the overall layout of Yue Garden generally reflects the gardening style of private gardens in the Jiangnan region during the period from the middle Ming to the late Qing Dynasty, presenting multiple spatial groups and multiple viewpoints. Yue Garden can well satisfy the demands of the former owner for such pastimes as reading, meeting friends, and enjoying the natural landscape. Taking the shape of water surface in the garden as a reference, the research establishes that, from east to west, the garden can be roughly divided into three small spaces centered on each main pond. Waterfront buildings built around the ponds blend with the rocks, flowers, and trees to form a beautiful picture. The traffic routes of each sub-district are circular, mostly connected by pavilions and connecting corridors. In terms of the stacking of rocks and the organization of water system, it has been speculated that Yue Garden adopts the landscape organization style of "building an island in a pond", while the placement of hills and free-standing rocks therein is influenced by the gardening concept of "picturesque rockery" prevailing after late Ming Dynasty. In tandem with the style of "building an island in a pond", the water body of the garden is shaped differently from that of traditional Jiangnan private gardens. Specifically, the design of water system in traditional Jiangnan private gardens tends to highlight the broadness of the central water surface, while that in Yue Garden emphasizes the viewing of landscape across the river and the changing beauty of landscape in times of viewing by boat. The organization of water space in the Garden perfectly balances the dynamic and static viewing experience, while providing a new environment for people to relax and experience idyllic water activities during Qing Dynasty.
Conclusion The findings of this research enrich our understanding of the commonalities and individualities of traditional Jiangnan literati gardens. They also provide a reference for the research on Jiangnan gardens in the late Qing Dynasty, and for other subsequent researches on the restoration of gardens in Changzhou.