In the novel The Story of the Stone, one of the principles of garden designing is that even when the garden was large, it had a hill immediately after the entrance. "Without this hill, the whole garden would be visible as one entered, and all its mystery would be lost."
The dynamic of concealment and disclosure is one of the basic in human experiences of all kinds. Art, religion, philosophy, fashion, or marketing, can use various strategies of concealing, exposing, revealing, or disclosing. They use curiosity, wonder, and surprise, or awe, as motivation and reaction to disclosing. Concealing, which propels curiosity, is the general principle to create a sense of mystery. In one of the designing strategies, the garden must not be seen in its totality from the start. Therefore, a hill, a thicket, or a wall, were used to conceal the garden and save it for disclosure, step, by step. A passage would lead into the concealed part, allowing only a partial glance.
"Totality is usually hidden from man, because he tends to see one thing at a time, from one particular frame of reference. In the vocabulary of Hua-yen this is called the obstruction of concealment and disclosure...That which is elicited or stressed is called...the disclosed (hsien), or the host (chu), and that which is ignored, or minimized, is called the hidden (yin), or the guest (pin)."
`Guest` and `host` are used in the Ts`ao-tung sect of Ch`an Buddhism. With the `five positions` they are applied to explain the dynamics of awakening, integration of the disclosed (seeming), and concealed (real).
"Garden walls were the principle device to create spatial mystery and psychological anticipation in Kiang-nan gardens. As such, they were more powerful than the corridors and walkways. A moongate carried a potent symbolic connotation as an opening into another world and possessed a strong attractive force to draw people onwards."
Shen Fu (in the 18th century) proposed an original strategy combining illusion, reality, disclosure and surprise: "Here is a way to show the real amidst the illusion: Arrange the garden so that when a guest feels he has seen everything he can, suddenly take a turn in the path and have a broad new vista open up before him, or open a door in a pavilion only to find it leads to an entirely new garden."
Confrontation with beautiful and mysterious (like unusual birds, exotic plants, strange rocks) aroused awe, wonder, and surprise. Importance of strangely shaped rocks in designing the gardens goes back to the middle of the T`ang dynasty, but this particular affinity developed in the Sung dynasty.
Surprises, and wonders were also caused by asymmetry, absence of straight lines, and unexpected changing of perspective by corridors and walkways along the way. Siren (1950), Willets (l970), and others have noticed the asymmetry, and polyperspectivism as common traits of Chinese art, and landscape design.
Unable to estimate the `real` size of the garden the visitor had a feeling of unlimited space, and an endless series of new possible scenes for repeated visits. In the European gardens during the l6th and l7th century, this was attained by the maze, or labyrinth design. These designs still applied symmetry and geometrical regularity as main traits, but introduced surprise, and disorientation through the labyrinth, and the visitor had a sense of being `lost in a wonderland`.
Perhaps the final disclosure in big gardens happened on the raised platform, pavilion, or tower (t`ai), which gave a view of the distant panorama, or the garden scenery around it. The final disclosure in the landscape design confronts us with the inconceivable mystery of the beauty, simultaneously concealed and disclosed. Fa Tsang says: "Concealing and revealing is simultaneous; being one, they have no beginning or end..."