About: Situated in the northwest suburb of Beijing City, the Summer Palace occupies and area of about 742 acres. Composed mainly of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, it is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China. It greatly influences Chinese horticulture and landscape with its famous natural views and cultural interests. There are over 3,000 man-made ancient structures which count building space of more than 70,000 square meters, including pavilions, towers, bridges, corridors, etc. It can be divided into four parts: the Court Area, Front Hill Area, Rear Hill Area and Lake Area.
Construction: Originally named Garden of Clear Ripples, it was built by Emperor Qianlong in 1750 to celebrate his mother’s birthday. It was later used as a pleasures garden for emperors and empresses. However, like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French Allied Force and was destroyed by fire in 1860. It was also recorded that Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct the palace as a resort in which to spend the rest of her life in 1886. In 1900, the Summer Palace suffered another hit by the Eight-Power Allied Force and was repaired in the next two years. In 1924, it was formally opened to the public.
The Court Area. It is located in the northeast of the Summer Palace, spreading from the East Palace Gate to the northeast coast of Kunming Lake. This was a substitute where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu met officials and conducted state affairs. With the same pattern of the imperial palace of China, ‘Palace in front and garden behind’, the Court Area consists of sections for both court affairs and living.
- East Palace Gate: The front entrance to the Summer Palace is a palatial building. The gate in the middle, called the “Imperial Gateway,” was for the emperor and empress. The gates on either side were for princes and high officials, and the northern and southern side doors were for eunuchs and guards.
- Stone of the God of Longevity: This stone was brought from the Morgan Garden when the Summer Palace was being reconstructed in 1886. This sleek, black stone is shaped like the God of Longevity, hence its name.
- Hall of Benevolence & Longevity: This is where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu held court and administered state affairs.
- Hall of Jade Ripples: Originally built in 1750, the hall was burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860. Reconstructed in 1886 as the emperor’s living quarters, but following the failure of the Reform Movement in 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered that the courtyard be blocked off and put the emperor under house arrest.
- Yiyun House: Constructed in a typical Chinese courtyard style, Yiyun House is located behind the Hall of Jade Ripples. This central structure was originally built in the reign of Emperor Qianlong for collecting books. It was named ‘Yiyun House’ because the word ‘Yun’ in Chinese is a kind of aromatic plant that can protect books from moths. Yiyuan House was a place to store books, hence its name. Burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860, Yiyun House was repaired during the reign of Emperor Guangxu and used as the abode of his Empress, Longyu.
Empress Longyu, the niece of Empress Dowager Cixi and the wife of Emperor Guangxu, was the last empress of the Qing Dynasty. Although she was rather homely, Cixi arranged a marriage for her with Emperor Guangxu. However, they didn’t get along well with each other. She was not favored by Emperor Guangxu, and lived alone in Yiyun House. She usually accompanied Cixi and live freely even during the captivity of Guangxu. In 1908, Cixi and Guangxu died of ill health. Longyu was elevated to Empress Dowager after the succession of 3-year-old Puyi to the throne, although she was not Puyi’s birth mother. At the end of the Revolution in 1911, she released the abdication script, ending over 200 years of Qing Empire and 2,000 years of Chinese feudalism. Two years later, Longyu died at an age of forty-six.
- Natural Affinity of Water and Trees: Located on the northern bank of Kunming Lake, it is the front entrance of the Hall of Happiness & Longevity. When the Empress Dowager Cixi came to the Palace by water, her boat docked here.
- Hall of Happiness and Longevity: Rebuilt in 1887 as the residence for Empress Dowager Cixi.
- Blue Iris Stone: Popularly known as the “Stone of the Wastrel.” According to historical records, an official of the Ming Dynasty found this large, dark, and sleek stone, shaped like a fungus in the southwest of Beijing. While having the stone moved to his home at Shaoyuan, he fell into financial difficulties and had to abandon it. Years later, Emperor Qianling of the Qing Dynasty had it moved to this place at much expense and named it “Blue Iris Stone.” This is the largest stone decoration in any Chinese garden.
Front Hill Area. This is the most magnificent area with the most constructions. It is symmetrically laid out in east and west many delicate buildings and graceful gardens with the south-facing Tower of Buddhist Incense as the central axis.
- Long Gallery (Long Corridor): The Long Gallery (or Long Corridor) is a perfectly designed structure which may be regarded as the most classic feature in grounds of the Summer Palace. This 728-meter-long corridor is also the longest corridor in Chinese classic gardens. The Long Gallery was first built in the fifth year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1750; some say 1749). The emperor built the gallery for his mother to so she could walk out doors regardless of the weather so she might view the garden in rain or snow. It was destroyed in 1860 and rebuilt in 1886. The Empress Dowager Cixi would like to walk here after breakfast every day. Long Gallery was constructed along the natural terrain of Longevity Hill and the turns of Kunming Lake, offering a picturesque view with each step. There are 14,000 Su-style colored paintings on every beam and cross-member.
- Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha: As the symbolic structure in the Summer Palace, the 41 meter high Tower, was built on the mountain side during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. It is a classic work of Chinese architecture. It was a religious structure originally planned to be a nine-story tower, but ordered to be dismantled and change to a Buddhist tower for worshipping Buddha when the eighth story was under construction. Like many buildings in the Summer Palace, this largest individual structure in the park was destroyed and rebuilt later during the reign of Emperor Guangxu. On the first day and fifteenth day of each lunar month, the Empress Dowager Cixi would go there to pray and burn joss sticks. With a cost of 780,000 taels of silver, the Tower of Buddhist Incense was the biggest reconstruction project.
- Marble Boat: The boat is also called Han Chuan (Land Boat) or Bu Ji Zhou (Unmoored Boat) because it is not navigable. In ancient China, people often built smaller versions of boats as part of the decoration in classical gardens to enrich the beautiful scenery, as well as provide a seat for people to enjoy the sight and feast.The Marble Boat was built in 1755 with a base made from huge stones. The base supported a wooden pavilion in traditional Chinese style imitating the sailing boats of Emperor Qianlong (1711 – 1799). Wei Zheng, a prominent prime minister under the reign of Emperor Taizhong, Tang Dynasty, once said, “Water can carry the boat as well as overturn it.” He meant that water symbolizing the common people can support a good emperor or overthrow a bad emperor. Emperor Qianlong had the huge Marble Boat fastened in the water to indicate the steadfast rule of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).
Design: Inlaid with colorful glass windows and wheels and paved with colored bricks, the boat is 36 meters long, and two stories and eight meters high. Using the huge mirrors fixed on each deck, Cixi could enjoy the exquisite lake scene while having tea. The roof of the two-decked pavilion is made from brick carvings. Four dragon heads mounted in each direction serve as drains, allowing rain water to be channeled out of their mouths. With its arcing stern and bow and a hull shaped like paddle wheels, the big boat looks very much like a steamer ready for sailing. A thick layer of moss covers the outside of the boat revealing its long tenure here.
- Kunming Lake: The most attractive water feature a short distance from downtown Beijing, covering three quarters of the total area of the Summer Palace grounds. By virtue of Beijing’s topographical location, with a gradient sloping down from the northwest to the southeast, the lake is situated at the convergence of the hills and a plain. The ground water level gives rise to a number of natural springs that formed the embryo of what ultimately was to become this fine ornamental lake.
- Seventeen-Arch Bridge: It is 150 meters long and looks like a rainbow arching over the lake. There are 544 distinctive lions on the columns of the white marble parapets, 59 lions more than those in the Lugou Bridge. On each end of the bridge is a carved bizarre beast which looks like kylin, an auspicious animal in Chinese legends. With the biggest arch in the midst of the bridge flanked by sixteen others, visitors can count nine arches in different sizes from the middle to each end of the bridge. Number nine was believed to be the biggest yang (anode) number, an auspicious number favored by the emperors. So the bridge has seventeen arches. Including the central arch, there are nine arches from either end of the bridge.
Chinese Kung Fu Show.
In the evening, we caught “The Legend of KungFu” show at the Red Theatre. The show started in an ancient temple where we encountered a little boy that becomes initiated into the monastery and given the name Chun Yi (the pure one). The little monk studies Zen and Kungfu very hard. Years go by and the boy becomes a man. After many years of hard training, Chun Yi’s body turns to iron. However, things later go awry when Chun Yi chases a beautiful fairy that he creates in his mind, and hence cannot continue with his Buddhist practices. The monk Chun Yi loses his way of Buddhist practices and suffers from great remorse. Passing through the temple gate is a glorious ritual for a monk and, later, Chun Yi must accomplish this task to become a warrior monk. In the end, the old master passes on the stave and Chun Yi becomes the Abbot. Through practicing Kungfu and Zen, the once little monk, becomes a master and finally reaches the sacred goal of enlightenment.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!