Chang An 长安, The City of Eternal Peace Part. 4 Parks, Gardens, and Pools

Music: Sanctuary

Aside from its wide avenues and many temples, Chang An was known for its many beautifully maintained parks. The government and palace buildings had their own walled compounds, and there were even areas for the use of visiting foreign embassies.  Many of the walled wards of Chang An had their own orchard- gardens with artificial lakes and running streams, but the named great public parks were marvels on to themselves. 


One of the most precious to the imperial clan was that of the Lotus Garden to the south of the city. It was off-limit to commoners and was a specially chosen location where the emperor frequently invited distinguished young scholars who had excelled at the imperial exams to a celebratory feast. The park had a 2 storied call palace hall called Purple Clouds and a number of pavilions where the emperor could throw a celebratory feast for the scholar. The Lotus Garden had willows, poplars, lotus, chrysanthemums, marsh grasses, and reeds. During the fall, wildfowl and geese visited it on their way south for winter. Two ancestral shrines for high officials lies in its quarters.

Parks of Chang An highlighted- the "Western" park (North, center) lies directly north of the
Sui era palace enclosures. The northern section of the Daming palace was an imperial park
that was dominated by the circular Taiye Lake. There are two prominent 
parks to the east of the city, the Xingqing Palace (along the eastern 
wall of the city) and the massive Eastern park to the southeast of the

There were five transport and sanitation canals running throughout the city, which had several water sources, and delivered water to city parks, gardens of the rich, and the grounds of the imperial palaces. The sources of water came from a stream running through the Imperial Park in the north and under the northern city wall, two running streams from outside the city in the south, a stream that fed into the pond of the walled East Park, which in turn fed into a canal that led to the inner city. 

These canal waterways in turn streamed water into the ponds of the West Palace; the lake in the Xingqing Palace on the eastern walls connected two canals running through the city. The canals were also used to transport crucial goods throughout the city, such as charcoal and firewood in the winter. 


In the southeast corner of the city was a massive pleasure garden with a lake, lotus ponds, flower gardens, hills, meadows and pavilions. Like the Daming Palace- its sheer size was immense and it was open to the public. There, people could enjoy the natural beauty of the expanse, boat on the lake, see festivals and shows put on by the emperor when colorful tents were set up for banquets and orchestras. A massive lake dominated the western side of the park. Ministers and rich families often went to the edge of the Serpentine River, where they ate and drank under silk tents erected along the lake shores. 

They especially enjoyed coming during the spring. High- ranking ministers could take their pleasure on painted boats that drifted on the surface of its water. The emperor, who sometimes attended such festivals, might provide entertainment for the masses in the form of music, song, dance, and acrobatics by lending his own performers to the public revelers. The ninth day of the ninth moon was an occasion for visits to the park, where revelers spread out a picnic, roamed the banks of the lake half drunk, and listened to the calls of duck and geese. 

Also along the southeastern stretches of Chang An, especially along the Serpentine River, there were several gardens that were privately owned and were places of leisure. A medicinal garden for the heir apparent was located in this sector of the city. 


The biggest park of Chang An, that of the Forbidden Park directly in the north of the city was 40 miles in circumference and as its name implied, off-limit to any one but the emperor, his servants, and guests. Fed by rivers and canals that flowed from the mountains south of the city, it had lakes with exotic fish and groves of peach, pear, willow trees, as well as vineyards. The Department of Agriculture ran the vast complex that produced food for the emperor, his family, and his officials. The park was also an animal preserve where herds of animals roamed, and sometimes became the prey during the imperial family's hunts. There were palatial halls and football fields (cuju) where the emperor amused himself and those he wishes to honor. On the northwest section of the main outer wall there were three gates leading out to the imperial park. 

It is characteristic of the robust and cosmopolitan spirit of the period that one of the favorite pastimes of its aristocratic ladies and gentlemen was polo, a game which originated in Persia. The participation of women in such athletic activities and their fondness for riding are worth emphasizing in the light of the very different ethos that was to prevail in post-Tang times.

Aside from the elaborate series of pavilions and gardened retreats there were also wide fields for playing popular sports such as horse polo and cuju (ancient Chinese football)


Late Tang women with prominent golden hairpins- Above: Late Tang noble women from the murals of Dunhuang. Below: Early Song dynasty earring.

The Tang would saw 2 self styled Chinese Empresses- one a peasant rebel at the head of an army and another a powerful regent that created her own dynasty. It would see at least 1 warrior princess leading an army and founding the very dynasty, it would also see China's first and only female Prime Minister. Tang women were very politically active, and the daughter of Empress Wu herself served for many years as a kingmaker and master of intrigue within the court. There were also many celebrated female athletes and poets during the Tang.

As such, women of the Tang Dynasty were fortunate to live at a time characterized by open-mindedness and liberal ideas. Tang noble women had the chance to learn history, politics, and even athletic skills. At the founding of this dynasty, Princess Pingyang personally participated in battles, having led a detachment of women to help her father, Emperor Gaozu. Princess Taiping, daughter of Emperor Gaozong, twice suppressed mutinies inside the imperial court at critical times.

Tang noble women had much time of leisure and could freely drink wine to the limit of their capacity, and sing loudly in taverns; gallop through the suburbs on horseback with abandon; or even compete with men on the polo field. Women of the royal family were not subject to marital restrictions or constraints either. From the reign of Emperor Gaozong to that of Emperor Suzong during the early and middle Tang Dynasty, there were altogether 98 princesses, of which 61 married, among whom 24 remarried, and four married three times. This trend shook the very foundations of traditional feudal ethics. In the Tang Dynasty, 21 princesses became Daoist nuns, and they were known for their extravagant way of life in the temples, with no abstention from wine, partying, or men.

The imperial clan's last name of Li

In the Tang Dynasty, women could not only retain property on to themselves but also pass them on at their choosing. They conducted social activities and carried on business independently. Some also cross-dressed and ventured as scholars and students- while others took jobs as Daoist abbesses and practiced martial arts. It is also because of this general bedrock of freedom that many concubines had the freedom to change their lives if the marriage in their master's house deteriorates. 


There were other illustrious gardens in the city as well beside the giant parks. The Hanlin Academy (Hanlin yuan)  literally: "Brush Wood Court" was founded in 725 CE by Emperor Xuanzong as a place of study for scholars, artists, writers, and astrologers. In time, Hanlin would become synonymous with an elite institution of scholars. Meanwhile, the Pear Garden became a celebrated training school for actors, singers, and dancers.



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