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Wear an Emperor Suit at Summer Palace!
When in the Summer Palace, be on the lookout for those Emperor Costumes that they rent out for just US$2 (or was it $10?). I had fun donning it and having my pictures taken. My guide was a bit horrified of my enthusiasm and wanted to explain more about the Summer Palace, but I said I wanted to try this “tourist trap” FIRST.
I was also allowed to walk around with it, and they had a little bit of trouble asking me to remove it because I was having so much fun, hehehehe….The silk was so smooth against the skin and I just pretended I was from the Qing Dynasty (I don’t even know what year that was!).
Definitely this activity is not for the “shy” type though…lol. I dare you…
- Castles and Palaces
The Summer Palace - The Hall of Dispersing Clouds
Rising up from the lake, halfway along the lakefront is a series of buildings stepping up the hillside to the Sea of Wisdom Temple, and is really a separate palace complex, entered, from he lake, by a ceremonial archway. Contrary to some descriptions, the archway does not have a specific name. On the lakeside is inscribed the phrase "Gorgeous Clouds and Jade Eaves" and on the land side "Stars Surrounding the Jade Centre". Behind it is the main entrance hallway, the Paiyunmen, or Gate that Dispels the Clouds, opening onto a small courtyard with a pool. It is vaguely reminiscent of the entrance to the Forbidden City, with an imperial marble bridge crossing the pool. Then behind the pool are steps leading up to the Longevity Gate. At the back of the terrace is the Paiyundian, the Hall that Dispels the Clouds, where Cixi would conduct much of her work on just a single day of the year - her birthday. For the rest of the year, this 21-bay spectacular, lavishly furnished building was closed. Many of the gifts bestowed on the emperors and on Cixi, were presented here, while the ruler was seated on the Nine-Dragon Throne. At the end of her long, tiring birthday, she would hold banquets for her ever-faithful eunuch officials in the Fanghui hall and Zixiao hall either side of the main hall. Otherwise, these two building also lay dormant for 364 days each year.
The Summer Palace - Background (I)
Curiously, Yiheyuan, the Chinese name for the place known in English as The Summer Palace, does not actually mean "Summer Palace". It roughly translates as the garden of peace- with "peace" being used in the context of 'no rebellion'.
Originally stared in 1153, the garden was under constant development right through the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties concluding with the redevelopments of the Dowager-Empress Cixi, the last real ruler before the Republic was formed. The most substantial structural work was in the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong, who renamed it the Qingyiyuan - Garden of Crystal Ripples. At this time the complex had more than 3000 rooms in its buildings!
The development of the Summer Palace over the centuries is complicated, but fascinating, involving plenty of superstition, intrigue, wars and the decadence of the emperors. In the context of a poor country, there is probably no other such lavish park anywhere in the world. Cixi is believed to have spent 40,000 taels of silver a day on the upkeep of the complex, at a time when most of the population of China was destitute. It is perhaps telling that on the two occasions that foreign troops attacked Beijing in the eighteenth century, they destoyed the Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace both times, leaving the Forbidden City and other city structures largely untouched. The Imperial Palace may have been the emperors' office, but the Summer Palace was much more their home. All that was left standing was the Bronze Pavilion and the Sea of Wisdom Temple - everything else has been rebuilt since then.
In 1153, when the hill was known as Wengshan or Jar Hill because a stone jar was reputed to have been discovered under a cliff-face. A small lake was fed by springs on the slopes of the hill.
Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)
The summer palace is one of the most gorgeous monuments in Beijing. It is located on the shore of Kunming lake.
The site has always been a garden, but it was renovated and enlarged by the emperor Quianlong in the XVIII century. Used by the emperor and his court in the summer, it is a complex of temples, gardens, monuments, corridors and small lakes.
The park was later abandoned. The empress Cixi began to rebuilt it on 1888 with funds formerly destinated for a supposed new Imperial Navy. The only nautical purchase in fact was the Marble Boat, located at the north part of the lake.
In 1900 anglo-french troops invaded and destroyed most of the site. Just after that fact, small efforts of renovation begun, and finally in 1949 a new complete renovation project begins.
Worth to visit are the various temples: Palace of Benevolent Longevity (first building by the eastern gates), Garden of Virtuous Harmony (entertainment place for the court), the Long Corridor (with mithologic scenes painted all over it), several Pailou (gates), the Logevity Hill and its palaces Pavilion of Buddhist Fragrance, Pavilion of Precious Clouds, Pavilion of Precious Clouds and Revolving Scripture Repository, Wenchang Gallery among many other beautiful places.
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The Summer Palace - Background (II)
Later water was diverted from the Tonghui River northeast of here to create a bigger lake (not the otherway round as suggested by Frances Wood!). The area was compared with the West Lake in Hangzhou, and was a favourite spot for artists and poets.
Now called the Kunming Lake, it covers much of the area of the Summer Palace grounds, and it was used for a while in the eighteenth century for training the Chinese navy. The name Kunming has nothing to do with the provincial capital of Yunnan, it just shares the name, meaning Vast Brightness.
Most of the important buildings are in the space in the northeast corner, behind the East Gate, and on Wanshoushan - or Longevity Hill.
The Hall of Benevolent Longevity was where the emperors met with officials and vassals, and was rebuilt in 1890 after being destroyed by the AngloFrench forces. The name was bestowed by the old lady in the hope, successful as it turned out, of a long life. However, history suggests that the longevity was hardly the result of her benevolent rule, as she plotted constantly and removed every possible threat to her control over the empire. Cixi would sit behind a gauze screen so that she could see her visitors, but they couldn't see her. In earlier years, she would sit behind Emperor Guangxu, but moved forward further until eventually she sat in the throne and the hapless 'emperor' sat at her right-hand side. In 1898, after Guangxu supported the liberal reformers, she threw him in jail, guessing that everyone knew that she was the power anyway.
In the hall, the hanging with the Chinese character for "Longevity" is encircled by a hundred bats, as the word for bat in Chinese is a homonym for happiness, so linking the two together. Cixi's seal on the hanging suggests that she painted it: rather unlikely.
The whole complex was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but after that listing, the old kitchens were demolished to make way for a hotel in 1999.
The Summer Palace - Deheyuan and Leshouyuan
Behind the Hall of Benevolent Longevity is a whole complex of buildings, including the Deheyuan - Palace of Virtuous Harmony - and the Leshoutang - the Hall of Joyous Longevity. few places in China are ever called Number 3, Smith Road: everywhere has to be a Hall of Something or, more usually the Hall of Superlative Something.
The Deheyuan is mainly a huge theatre, as Cixi loved theatrical performances - wasn't her whole life one, after all? She played in many performance, although it is not known if her acting skills were any better than her calligraphy skills. Nowadays, the buildings contain many memories of the theatre, but also contains the first car introduced in China (Yuan Shikai's Mercedes....the Audi A6 of its day).
Alongside the Deheyuan is the Leshoutang, set into the rising slope of the eastern end of the Hill of Longevity. Many rooms are connected by galleries, and a special feature is China's first electric lighting. Both the Deheyuan are notable for the beautiful glass windows.
To the north and west of these two building complexes is the Pavilion of Blessed Scenery, where Cixi would come to enjoy the view over the lake. It wa here that she would entertain selected foreign dignitaries, but it is most notable for being the location of th final negotiations between the KMT and the Communists to secure the peaceful handover of Beijing in early 1949. At the time, Mao Zedong was living in a villa in the Fragrant Hills just a few kilometres west of here.
The Summer Palace - Longevity Hill
Above the Paiyundian, is the Foxiangge or Fragrant Buddha Tower, the most elegant building at the Summer Palace. Long flights of stone stairs zig-zag up to the tower, and the view from this point is superb, out over the lake and towards the nearby Western Hills.
The three-storey, four-tiered octagonal tower sits between a series of pavilions and buildings which once held important books, manuscripts and information about China. On the ground floor of the Foxiangge is a 5 metre high statue of a Bodhisattva. On the second and third floors, there are stunning murals and impressive inscriptions by a number of emperors.
Nearby is the Zhuanluncang, or Revolving Archive, set into the hillside. The two archive towers actually turned on their base, like huge carousels, to avoid the overworked, exhausted emperors having to actually doing any walking.
To the west of the Foxiangge is the famous Pavilion of Precious Clouds, a 200 tonne bronze pavilion, sat in the centre of the Wufangge or Five Square Tower buildings, a line of small pavilions. The bronze pavilion, cast in 1755, is on a tall marble platform, so it towers above the surrounding pavilions. On the first and fifteenth of each unar month, Lamaist monk would be summoned to conduct prayers around the little temple. It, and the Sea of Wisdom Temple were the only two structures left standing by the European troops - perhaps significant that these were the two most obvious religious buildings perhaps?
At the very top of the hill is the Zhihuihai or Sea of Wisdom Temple, a completely unique building in the Summer Palace. It is a brick structure, covered by green and yellow tiles. The outside wall is covered in niches holding little buddhas: many of the heads of these buddhas were smashed by the Europeans.
All along the ridge of the hill are simple and elaborate pavilions set among the wooded slopes and crags.
Open Daily: 8am-7pm, buildings close at 4pm
Cost: 40 RMB
Summer Palace is most associated with the Empress Dowager Cixi. She had the palace rebuilt twice. Once following its destruction my French and English troops, and a second time after it was ransacked during the Boxer rebellion. The grounds of the Summer Palace cover 716 acres. To walk along the entire shoreline of the main man made lake would take about 2 hours. In fact two thirds of the Summer Palace is made up of water. The royal family would take shelter here during the smeltering hot summer season which took place druing the months of May-October. Temperatures could reach a maximum of 100 degrees fahrenheit. Here, the water would keep them cool, and Cixi would take shelter on her famed Marble boat. Construction of this boat was compensated with the use of Chinese Naval funds. When raining, the emperor/ empress would stroll along the "long corridor," on which landscapes of the southern region of China were painted on. Total of 8,000 pictures, non alike. The long corridor is 708 meters long. So much more to mention, but you should go see for yourself.
The Summer Palace - Hall of Benevolent Longevity
The main entrance to the Summer Palace is the East Palace Gate, once reserved for the imperial family who would arrive with an entourage of 1,000. The stone slab ramp carved with dragons was rescued from the ruins of the Yuanmingyuan. Behind the gate is the standard screen to protect the palace from malevolent spirits, who can only travel in straight lines. The single-storey Hall of Benevolent Longevity stands opposite, surounded by pines and cypresses. It was built on the site of an earlier audience hall, the Hall of Diligent Government. Just in front of the hall, and to the left is a bronze Chinese unicorn. Inside the hall, it looks much as it would have done in Cixi's time. In the hall, the hanging with the Chinese character for "Longevity" is encircled by a hundred bats, as the word for bat in Chinese is a homonym for happiness, so linking the two together. Cixi's seal on the hanging suggests that she painted it: rather unlikely.
Behind the hall is a classical Chinese rock arden with locks from the Taihu lake. Strange and weird rock sructures are an essential element of Chinese gardens, and although their bare rugged features seem ugly to many Westerners, Chinese people see great beauty in them, and are fond of giving names to individual rocks, seeing rabbits, lions, dragons and scenes from Chinese classic novels where the uninitiated see just a rock.
The Summer Palace - The Long Corridor
The southern aspect Leshoutang, Dowager-Empress Cixi's residence, is the landing jetty for her boat, and just to its left, around the narrow walkway is the beautiful two-storeyXjiailou, or Pavilion of Blessed Sunset, from where Cixi watched the sun descending over the Western Hills.
But one of the most fascinating parts of the whole Summer Palace is also one of the simplest structures: the Long Corridor that runs 728 metres along the northern bank of the lakeside, joining a series of pavilions and minor residences. This Corridor is the most obvious, yet least authentic, copy of the siuthern Chinese style of garden. In classic imperial style, the emperor wanted to recreate the narrow corridors favoured in the southern gardens, yet in creating a Long Corridor that was straight, he missed the point of these corridors, which was to break up long vistas into smaller panoramas or create the impression of larger scenes in a small space. The Long Corridor does neither: it is just, well, a long corridor. However, the inability to faithfully recreate a classical Chinese feature resulted in th construction of something unique. The Long Corridor was first built in 1750, and the interior is covered in Suzhou-style paintings - these are more true to character. However, in such a huge construction, it is not surprising that the painters ran out of standard garden and religious scees, and used artistic licence to create all sorts of bizarre scenes. It really is worth taking the Long Corridor very slowly and looking closely at some of the 14,000 paintings.
The four pavilions along the corridor each represent the four seasons: Liujiating, the Pavilion of Lingering Scenery represents spring; Jilanting, the Paviliion Giving Expression to the Orchid summer; Qiushuiting, the Pavilion of Autumn Dew autumn; Qingyaoting, the Pavilion of the Clear View, winter. The latter two are beyond the central complex of buildings.
Immediately behind the Long Corridor are a series of smaller residences for members of the imperial family.
Summer palace is surrounded by a large park which used to function as imperial gardens. A big part of the park is occupied by Kunming lake. Most of the places here are connected with empress Cixi, who rebuilt and extended Summer palace at the end of 19th century using the money embezzled from military budget.
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- Castles and Palaces
Summer Palace or Yiheyuan - Marble Boat
This is a lake garden park built for Emperors and Empress Dowager Cixi. There are many temples and bridges including a white marble paddle boat that does not move.
Known as Qingyanfang" (Boat of Clearness and Comfort), the Marble boat was first built 1755 and rebuilt 1893 by Empress Dowager Cixi by using navy funds.
It is a nice stroll as the tour bus will drop you at one end and pick you at the other.
Like the restaurant there which serves imperial banquet meals and allows tourists to rent Imperial clothes to be photographed as Emperor, Empress or concubine.
Marble Boat at the Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a huge park which was where the Chinese Royalty used to spend the Summer months.
Within this complex is a huge marble 'boat' that sits just inside the lake. Empress Dowager Cixi built this boat in 1888. She had been allocated money to help build China a modern navy. Instead of doing this, she decided to blow the lot building a completely immobile boat on the waters edge, where she used to dine out in the evenings.
The boat is however very well made and well worth a look.
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Summer Palace: Long Corridor
Along the north shore of Kunming Lake is the Long Corridor. It is 728 metres long. It is lovely decorated with scenes of Chinese Mythology. The decorations have been whitewashed during Cultural Revluttion. So most of the paintings are new.
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- Castles and Palaces
The Summer Palace in some ways is better than the forbidden city. While the forbidden city is a wonder to behold, and the size of it is incredible, the summer palace has its own charm that is lacking in the forbidden city.
Take for example the man made lake in the shape of a peach, or the stone steamboat that the dowager Empress had built. It seems pretty vain to have a stone boat.
But, some of the most incredible architecture is here as well. There is a long hall which boggles the mind. It is just a covered walkway, but it seems to go on forever. And as you walk through it, you begin to notice that the pictures on each beam of wood are different. And what's more? They are all incredible. No one signed these masterpieces, but any of them could be proudly displayed in a museum. And they were only there for the pleasure of one woman.
Every inch of the palace is an incredible sight, and should not be missed.
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