This library—titled "The Studio of Gratifying Discourse"—and its attached rock garden are from a large Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1912) residence located in the West Tung-t'ing Hills district of Lake T'ai in the village of Tang-li. A commemorative plaque in the garden wall dates the building to 1797.
After the reception hall, the library or study (shu-fang) can be considered the most important room in a traditional upper class Chinese home. The library and garden offered a quiet, spiritual sanctuary in an urban setting for scholars to read, write, paint and otherwise refine their inner sensibilities.
Despite the essentially Confucian framework of the society in which the educated literatus lived and worked, with its strong emphasis on family responsibility, moral codes, formal education, and bureaucratic service, the ideal of spiritual solace which encouraged the quiet, contemplative life of a recluse sprang mostly from Taoist teachings. Nature, with its balanced forces, was represented by the rock gardens and the natural materials typically associated with the library and scholar's desk. The careful choice of aesthetic surroundings, including items of contemplation, elegantly-proportioned minimally decorated hardwood furniture, symbolic rocks from Lake T'ai, rare books, and rustic antiques were carefully selected, studied, and displayed in support of the scholar's intellectual mission and personal taste.
The educated merchant class and many scholars of the Chiang-nan region—from which this library comes—created an economic and cultural climate in which the arts could flourish. Private libraries and gardens were essential to the production of some of the most original and important literati art of the Ming and early Ch'ing dynasties.
The two character tile plaque set into the garden wall reads "Pursuing Harmony," while an ink inscription on a ceiling beam calls this room "The Studio of Gratifying Discourse."
Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton