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Study information

The Place of Meaning: Gardens in Britain and China

Module titleThe Place of Meaning: Gardens in Britain and China
Module codeHUM3015
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Yue Zhuang (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Gardens are commonly known as places of leisure and recreation. This module, however, reveals the relatively unknown, fascinating cultural meanings of gardens, with a focus on China and Britain. You will discover the gardens not only as the spatial matrix where the physical environment and cultural meanings interrelate and reciprocate, but also as media that trigger their users into performance with personal and social implications. You will conduct in-depth reading and analysis of images and texts. While this module can count towards Chinese credits, there are no pre-requisites or co-requisites, so is open to all final-year students in the College of Humanities. This module is suitable for specialists and non-specialists and recommended for interdisciplinary pathways. The field trips may incur a small extra cost for students.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module introduces you through cross-cultural comparative perspectives to the art of gardens in China and Britain. You will develop critical tools for understanding the layered cultural meanings of garden space in China and Britain of both past and present. You will engage with a range of perspectives bringing together mythological, philosophical, psychological, as well as sociopolitical and environmental contexts. Together we shall develop, experience and explore the possibilities of understanding gardens as places in which diverse cultural inheritances and ideas may be woven, and in doing so, we shall search for the wholeness of being in ourselves as well as the planet. You will form a sound foundation for comparative art history and master a set of interdisciplinary methods and tools for cultural studies. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a sound understanding of the chosen garden examples, including reference to their place in the cultural, historical, and generic context of their time.
  • 2. Analyse coherently the space and meaning of particular gardens and their representations (e.g. paintings and texts) over different historical periods and their cultural contexts.
  • 3. Compare the space and meaning of particular gardens in different historical and cultural contexts.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. With some guidance from the course tutor, evaluate and apply a range of critical approaches to the material covered.
  • 5. Mount a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, mustering a range of textual and visual / spatial evidence in support.
  • 6. Master a set of interdisciplinary methods and tools for art history, philosophy, literature and cultural studies.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Undertake defined learning activities with a measure of autonomy, asking for guidance where necessary
  • 8. Adopt a critical approach to the selection and organisation of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written or oral argument.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • ‘Gardens as private/personal space’ includes case studies such as Stourhead, Studley Royal, Courances, Plaz Metaxu and Zhuozhengyuan (The Humble Administrator’s garden);
  •  ‘Gardens as public/political space’ covers examples such as Alexander Pope’s Twickenham villa, William Shenstone’s The Leasowes, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, and a Chinese garden theme of Taohuayuan (‘Peach Blossom Spring’);
  • ‘Gardens for healing’ explores the potential of how gardens can not only improve our well-being but also help us rethink pressing issues such as climate change and how humanity intersects with nature.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching16Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching7Field trips
Guided Independent Study127Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini essay 750 words1-8Written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003500 words1-8Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Bush, Susan, and Hsio-yen Shih. Early Chinese Texts on Painting.  Cambridge, MA: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press, 1985.
  • Cooper, David. A Philosophy of Gardens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Forbes, Alasdair. On Psyche’s Lawn; The gardens at Plaz Metaxu. Pimpernel Press, 2020.
  •  Giesecke, Annette and Naomi Jacobes eds, Earth Perfect: Nature, Utopia, and the Garden. London: Black dog Publishing, 2012.
  • Hunt, John Dixon. Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Reaktion Books, 2008.
  • Keswick, Maggie, and Charles Jencks. The Chinese Garden: History, Art & Architecture.  London: Academy Editions, 1978 [2002].
  • Leslie, Michael. ed., A Cultural History of Gardens. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Li, Zehou. The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, translated by Maija Bell Samei. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010,
  • Porter, David, The Chinese taste in eighteenth-century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010,
  • Richardson, Tim. The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden. Bantam Press, 2007.
  • Tao Te Ching, by Lao tzu, trans. John Minford, Viking Publishing, 2018.
  • Zhuang, Yue. and Andrea Riemenschnitter eds, Entangled Landscapes: Early Modern China and Europe, Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2017.
  • Ziporyn, Brook. Zhuangzi: The essential writings, with selections from traditional commentaries. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2009.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Gardens, meaning, private/ public, China, Britain 

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date