Alison Hardie, An Illustrated Brief History of Chinese Gardens: People, Activities, Culture, New York & Shanghai: SCPG, 2023, 164pp., US$19.95, ISBN 978-1-93836-887-5.
This book, illustrated with many images of Chinese gardens, ancient paintings, block prints, and other artefacts, is a social history of Chinese gardens, focusing on how gardens have functioned and been used in Chinese society through the ages. Apart from the aesthetic or philosophical aspects of Chinese gardens, it discusses how gardens functioned as real estate, how they gave opportunities of employment to skilled artisans, how they opened up outdoor space to both elite and lower-class women, and how they allowed men of different social classes and of different ethnicities to interact and gain mutual benefit; in short, how the existence of gardens exerted an influence on society as a whole. At the same time, the reader can find how the wider society, and even socio-economic changes beyond China’s own borders, had an impact on how gardens in China developed. The book will be a very useful reference for undergraduate courses on Chinese visual and material culture.