Orchid Pavilion Garden (Lanting)
The information contained here are subject to change. Chinese History Digest is not responsible or liable if any changes should occur.
The Orchid Pavilion Garden is located in the southwestern suburbs of Shaoxing (Zhejiang province). Chinese people refer to the place as Lanting, Lanting Pavilion or Lan Pavilion. You can easily get there by bus from the center of Shaoxing. It is a tranquil place in the middle of a natural park and resembles the southern Chinese gardens of Suzhou or Yangzhou. Its name comes from the fact that the King of the Yue State planted orchids there during the Spring and Autumn Period.
The garden is spread out around the former residence of Wang Xizhi who was a famous calligrapher, government official and military general during the period of the Six dynasties. As a lover of poetry, he liked to invite like-minded literati gentlemen to his home and one such gathering in the spring of 353 AD has become very famous.
On the 3rd of March that year (according to the Lunar calendar), fourty-two literati assembled at Wang Xizhi's home in Lanting to celebrate the Spring Purification Festival in his garden. Among them were writers, poets, painters and calligraphers. During this Orchid Pavilion Gathering (a.k.a. Lanting Gathering), the literati enjoyed a drinking game that was called "floating goblets". As the gentlemen sat on stones along both sides of a small winding creek, goblets that were filled with rice wine came floating down the creek. Whenever a cup stopped floating and came to a stop near one of the banks, the man sitting closest to it had to empty the cup or compose a poem on the spot. This unusual game resulted in thirty-seven poems being composed that spring evening by twenty-six of the participants.
The host of the event Wang Xizhi collected all the composed poems and wrote the preface to it that the Chinese call Lantingji Xu or Lanting Xu. The place where he supposedly wrote it is known as the Small Orchid Pavilion. It is one of the four most famous pavilions in China and contains the Orchid Pavilion Stele that had the Chinese characters "Lan Ting" inscribed by the Kangxi Emperor. The chink between the two words was made during the time of the bloody Cultural Revolution.
Whereas the poems that were written at the Lanting Gathering have mostly been forgotten, Wang Xizhi's "Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavilion" became very famous. The original writing has unfortunately been lost but multiple copies still exist, either as ink-on-paper copies or stone inscriptions. For more information about the Lanting Gathering, Chinese History Digest advises you to read this interesting scholarly article.
Visitors will find many scenic spots at the Orchid Pavilion Garden. Among them, the Goose Pond and the nearby Goose Pond Pavilion are located closest to the entrance. The famous Goose Pond stone stele stands at the center of this pavilion. Carved into it are the two Chinese characters 鹅池 ("E Chi" meaning "Goose Pond"). The characters were carved in the style of Chinese calligraphy. One of the characters was written by Wang Xizhi himself, the other by his son Wang Xianzhi who also became a famous calligrapher.
Liushang Pavilion is another significant spot at the garden. It was constructed during the time of the Qing dynasty near the spot at the stream where Wang Xizhi and his friends often drank wine and composed poems. The Imperial Pavilion Stele at this pavilion is one of the largest in China. Its two sides contain calligraphic inscriptions in the handwriting-styles of the Qianlong Emperor and Kangxi Emperor.
Though the course of its flow may have changed, there is still a small stream meandering through a flat open space at the site. Surrounded by lush bamboo, you can sit on flat stones there and try your luck at composing poems like the ancients did. When the Lanting International Calligraphy Festival is held every year on March 3rd of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, calligraphy lovers imitate the ancient poets by playing the 'floating goblets' drinking game at the sides of this zigzagging stream. Many other places of interest complement a visit of the Shaoxing Orchid Pavilion site such as the Wang Xizhi Memorial Temple, Youjun Temple, Yubei Pavilion and the modern Orchid Pavilion Calligraphy Museum.