By Staff 6:49 pm PST


Above, there are the halls of Heaven
Below, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou
(popular Chinese saying)

Situated on flat fertile land between Lake Tai and the Yangzi River, Suzhou (present-day Jiangsu province) is one of the oldest cities in the Yangzi delta. Before the Ming dynasty (1369–1644), when it became a leading center of literati culture, Suzhou had enjoyed a prominent political, economic, and cultural position for most of its two thousand-year history. The city was a major transportation hub on the Grand Canal, which stretched 1,100 miles between the former imperial capital Hangzhou to the south and the Ming imperial capital in Beijing far north. Besides the capital, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Suzhou was the largest urban center in the Ming empire and perhaps the entire world.

Shaped like a rectangle, Suzhou was dotted with temples and spacious residences boasting elegant walled gardens. A grid of canals and paved streets, including as many as three hundred stone bridges, crisscrossed the city, which was surrounded by a moat and a towering outer wall. Beyond its water buffer, the city spilled into the surrounding suburbs but soon gave way to a prosperous countryside of small lakes and ponds, rice paddies, and agricultural fields. Rustic villages and temples were nestled in the landscape; larger satellite townships rose farther off. An area of low-forested hills stood to the west of Suzhou, overlooking the broad expanse of Lake Tai and its several nearby islands. Local poets and artists frequently ventured to such rural and suburban locations and even chose these easily accessible sites for their private retreats and retirement homes. (Source:

The Thatched Hut of Dreaming of an Immortal



Maker(s): Artist: Tang Yin 唐寅 (1470-1524)
Historical period(s): Ming dynasty, early 16th century
Medium: Ink and color on paper
Dimensions: H x W (image): 28.3 × 103 cm (11 1/8 × 40 9/16 in)

A brilliant (from Suzhou, from that ancient cultural center), Tang Yin achieved first place in the provincial examinations that he hoped would open a career for him as an official, but scandal ruined his chances. He instead became a professional painter who received commissions from his scholar friends. This handscroll was requested by Tang’s contemporary Wang Dongyuan, who followed Daoist practices meant to encourage longevity. After a prophetic dream in which Wang Dongyuan saw an immortal approaching him, Wang named his garden “Dreaming of an Immortal.” It was common in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) for a garden proprietor to take the name of his garden, or a site within it, as a sobriquet, or secondary name. Thus, the painting is a “double image” that refers to Wang Dongyuan as a sleeping figure and, by extension, through the garden property itself. Tang Yin creatively captured the meaning of the garden’s name by portraying Wang asleep with the dreamy emanation of an immortal floating in the sky. (Source: