CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 8, December 2006


The Garden of Perfect Brightness, a life in ruins | China Heritage Quarterly

The Garden of Perfect Brightness, a life in ruins

This article was written on the basis of the December 1996 George E. Morrison lecture of the same name.[1] I first encountered the Garden of Perfect Brightness as a student in 1974,[2] but my interest in the history of the place, the question of themed gardens, empire and identity, were only piqued in the early 1990s as I considered the post-WWII development of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the context of the writings of Charles W. Moore and others.[3]

In my first essay on the subject of themed history, 'Archaeo-tainment: Fantasy of the Other End of History', I quoted Umberto Eco to the effect that 'Baroque rhetoric, eclectic frenzy, and compulsive imitation prevail where wealth has no history', and remarked that on 'the other side of the pacific, along the Chinese seaboard, baroque rhetoric, eclectic frenzy and compulsive imitation can also surface in a land where new-found wealth is burdened by too much history.'[4]

'The Garden of Perfect Brightness, a life in ruins' offers a history of the garden palaces and a preliminary meditation on its place in the political and cultural imagination of post-imperial China. It is part of a larger study of the gardens and their role in that country's modern history. [GRB]



[2] See the 2006 speech 'A Federated Fellowship' in CV 2004-2006 at

[3] See Charles W. Moore, William J. Mitchell and William Turnbull, The Poetics of Gardens (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1988).

[4] Third Text 30 (Spring 1995), pp.29-38. Read this article in PDF format.


In the section 'In Service of the Revolution', p.141, the garden residence of Prince Gong, Langrun Yuan, should be written in Chinese as 朗潤園.