Just an hour or so outside of Shanghai is a small town (10 million people) called Suzhou. With a 2,500 year history, it is referred to as “The City of Gardens”. One of the most beautiful of the garden homes is called “The Master of Nets” which was constructed in the years between 1127 and 1129.
I visited there today with Professor Kent Bloomer from Yale University and Vincent de Graaf of AIM architecture in Shanghai. In addition to the stunning architecture and exquisite details of the home and garden, were the striking similarities between the design of the traditional Chinese home and the beliefs and behaviors of the society itself.
The outer walls are windowless and have only one entranceway. Access to the next interior space is offset so it’s not possible to view inside. Each subsequent space becomes less accessible and further defined by the nature of the family relationship; the homeowners and their immediate family being at the center of the structure, and the most isolated from external influences.
Just as it still is in “modern” China, trust exists most deeply with immediate family, and extends outward in varying degrees from there to extended family, village, county, province, and then the entire country; in which there exists very little trust… perhaps none.
It’s a fascinating contrast to the openness that we enjoy in the West.
We shouldn’t take it for granted.