Must-visit Scenic Spots in Beijing —‎ The Summer Palace

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The Summer Palace, an imperial garden in the Qing Dynasty of China, was originally named Qingyi Yuan or the Garden of Clear Ripples. It is located in western Beijing, 15 kilometers away from the urban area. Covering an area of about 290 hectares, it is contiguous to the Old Summer Palace. On the basis of Kunming Lake (Kunming Hu) and Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan), the Summer Palace modeled itself on the West Lake in Hangzhou and is designed to be a large landscape garden using building techniques of gardens in regions south of the Yangtze River. It is also the best-preserved imperial palace, honored as the "Museum of Imperial Gardens". Besides, it is a national key tourist attraction.

Before Emperor Qianlong succeeded to the throne in the Qing Dynasty, four large imperial gardens were built in western Beijing. In the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1750 AD), the emperor had the four gardens reconstructed as the Qingyi Yuan to show filial respect for his mother, Empress Xiaosheng, using silver of 4.48 million liang (the monetary unit of ancient China). Thus a 20-kilometer imperial garden area was built, stretching from the current Tsinghua Garden to Fragrant Hills. In the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng's reign (1860 AD), the Qingyi Yuan was razed to the ground by the Anglo-French Allied Forces. In the 14th year of Emperor Guangxu's reign (1888 AD), it was rebuilt and renamed Yihe Yuan or the Garden of Health and Harmony (known as the Summer Palace), serving as a summer resort. In the 26th year of Emperor Guangxu's reign (1900 AD), it was ravaged by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers, with its valuables plundered. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the Summer Palace was again damaged during the period of warlord dogfights and the reign of the Kuomintang (1912 AD - 1949 AD).

On March 4, 1961, the Summer Palace was listed in the first batch of major historical and cultural sites protected at the national level, together with Chengde Mountain Resort, Humble Administrator's Garden and Lingering Garden, collectively known as the four most famous gardens in China. In November 1998, it was listed in the World Cultural Heritage List. On May 8, 2007, the Summer Palace was officially approved as a 5A-level scenic area by National Tourism Administration. In 2009, the Summer Palace was evaluated as the largest extant imperial garden in China by China World Records Association.

Covering an area of 293 hectares, the Summer Palace is mainly composed of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. It has more than 3,000 buildings in various forms, which can be divided into three parts, namely administration, living, and sightseeing.

Centering on the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (Renshou Dian), the administration area was the place for Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu to deal with the state affairs and meet with foreign guests. Behind the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, there are three large Siheyuans: Hall of Happiness in Longevity (Leshou Tang), Hall of Jade Ripples (Yulan Tang) and Yiyun Hall (Yiyun Guan), respectively serving as residences for Cixi, Guangxu and the queen and maids of honor of different rank. In the east of Yiyun Hall, Garden of Virtue and Harmony (Dehe Yuan) is one of the three famous theaters of the Qing Dynasty.

Starting from the Sea of Wisdom Temple (Zhihui Hai) on the top of Longevity Hill, the Summer Palace has a distinct central axis comprising the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha (Foxiang Ge), the Hall of Moral Glory (Dehui Dian), the Hall that Dispels the Clouds (Paiyun Dian), the Gate that Dispels the Clouds (Paiyun Men) and the Glowing Clouds and Holy Land Archway (Yunhui Yuyu Fang). At the foot of the hill, the Long Corridor (Chang Lang) covers a distance of more than 700 meters with more than 8,000 colorful paintings. It is known as the "World's Top 1 Corridor". Kunming Lake is in front of the Long Corridor. The West Causeway of the lake was constructed after the Su Causeway of West Lake.

In the Back of Longevity Hill and the Back Lake Area, there are ancient woods, a Tibetan temple, and the Suzhou River antique market street. In the east of the Back Lake Area, there is the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures (Xiequ Yuan). Modeled on the famous Jichang Garden in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, it is small and exquisite and known as the “Garden within a Garden”. The Summer Palace boasts an ingenious design, occupying a prominent position in the history of Chinese and foreign garden art. It is a rare masterpiece of garden art in the world.

Scenic Spot Introduction

Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (Renshou Dian)

This building was named the Hall of Diligent Government (Qinzheng Dian) when the Summer Palace area was called the Qingyi Yuan. It was the place for Emperor Qianlong and Emperor Guangxu to handle court affairs. Its arrangement of furnishings during the two periods was roughly the same, following the specific royal arrangement. Nevertheless, the objects were different. The furnishings of the Summer Palace period were more luxurious than those of the Qingyi Yuan period. The current arrangement partly follows the original one during the reign of Emperor Guangxu. The arrangement is slightly different. Some of the cultural relics such as books, furniture, etc. are displayed in the hall, while most of them are preserved in the antique storeroom.

Hall of Happiness in Longevity (Leshou Tang)

The Hall of Happiness in Longevity is the main building in the living area of the Summer Palace. It was built in the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750 AD), burned down in the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng’s reign (1860 AD), and reconstructed in the 13th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1887 AD). The Hall of Happiness in Longevity is in front of Kunming Lake, backed by Longevity Hill, close to the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity in the east and the Long Corridor in the west. It is the best place to live and play in the Summer Palace. In the front of the hall, there is a wharf where Cixi embarked on a ship. The gold calligraphy of three Chinese characters "Le Shou Tang" on the black horizontal tablet was written by Guangxu. In the courtyard, there are bronze deer, bronze cranes, and bronze vases, symbolizing a peaceful country. Many flowers are planted in the courtyard, including yulan magnolias, Chinese flowering crabapples, and peonies, symbolizing high position and great wealth.

Hall of Jade Ripples (Yulan Tang)

Located at the southwest of the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the Hall of Jade Ripples is a Sanheyan (a three-section dwelling) beside Kunming Lake. The main hall of the Hall of Jade Ripples faces the south, with the Xiafen Hall in the east and the Ouxiang Hall in the west. The Xiafen Hall leads to the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity and the Ouxiang Hall leads to the wharf beside the lake. And the back door of the main hall faces Yiyun Hall. The back eaves and the two side halls all have brick walls, isolated from the outside world. The Hall of Jade Ripples is an important historical site in the Summer Palace. In the 24th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1898 AD), Cixi launched a palace coup, keeping the Emperor Guangxu who advocated the political reform under house arrest here. It was Emperor Guangxu's resting place.

Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan)

Longevity Hill, 58.59 meters high, is a branch of the Yanshan Mountain range. The building group is surrounded by the hill. The vast main building group built in the front of the hill takes the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha as the center, which is a three-story octahedral building with four-layered eaves. An axis running uphill links all the structures together, starting from the "Glowing Clouds and Holy Land" Archway at the foot of the hill, and going up through the Gate that Dispels the Clouds, the Second Palace Gate, the Hall that Dispels the Clouds, the Hall of Moral Glory, and the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, and ending on the hilltop at the Sea of Wisdom Temple. Found on the east hillside are the Revolving Archives (Zhuanlun Zang) and the "Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake Monument". Standing on the west hillside are the Pavilion of Five Locations (Wufang Ge) and the bronze Baoyun Pavilion (Baoyun Ge). The buildings behind the hill include a splendid Tibetan Buddhist structure and the colorful Glazed Tile Pagoda of Many Treasures that stands in the greenery of the hill. Apart from that, there is a variety of traditional structures such as the Hall of Utmost Blessing (Jingfu Ge), the Pavilion of Multi-layered Greenery (Chongcui Ting), Painting the Autumn Pavilion (Xieqiu Xuan), and the Strolling in the Picture Scroll (Huazhongyou). In the middle of the hill, there is a large and rich central building group. The building group includes main buildings in the Summer Palace, namely the Hall that Dispels the Clouds and the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha where the emperor and the empress held ceremonies and morning exercises. The Long Corridor faces the longitudinal axis of the central building group. It runs across the foot of the hill, stretching from the west to the east in the north of the lake. Covering a distance of 728 meters with its 273 sections, it is the longest corridor among the corridors in classical Chinese gardens. Buildings in other sections of in the front of hill are relatively small.

The back of the hill boasts the natural beauty of forest. Except for the Four Great Regions (Sida Buzhou or Xumi Lingjing) in the middle, buildings are separated, forming small gardens with the surrounding environment. On the banks of the middle Back Lake Area, there are the ruins of "Merchants Street" (Suzhou Street) built in the style of South China towns during Emperor Qianlong’s reign. Except that the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures and the Pavilion of Clearing Skies (Jiqing Xuan) were completely rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, other buildings in the back of the hill were dilapidated, based on which their scale at that time can be visualized. The Garden of Harmonious Pleasures was a "garden within a garden", first known as Huishan Garden and modeled on the famous Jichang Garden in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. The large building group includes main buildings in the Summer Palace, namely the Hall that Dispels the Clouds and the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha where the emperor and the empress held ceremonies and morning exercises.

Kunming Lake (Hunming Hu)

Kunming Lake is the main lake of the Summer Palace, taking up three-quarters of the total area of the Summer Palace, covering about 220 hectares. In the Front Lake Area, the surface of the lake ripples, with rolling hills in the west and buildings in the north. The West Causeway in the lake is planted with peach trees and willows. The Seventeen-Arch Bridge (Shiqi Kong Qiao) runs across the lake, and three islands have various classical buildings. Kunming Lake is the largest lake among lakes in imperial gardens of the Qing Dynasty. The long West Causeway crosses the lake from the northwest to the south. The West Causeway and its branches divided the lake into three water areas with different sizes. Each water area has one mid-lake island. The three islands are like the three legs of a tripod, symbolizing the three legendary mountains of Chinese mythology — Penglai, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou. The construction of the West Causeway and the six bridges on the causeway imitate the Su Causeway of the West Lake in Hangzhou and its six bridges. With ripples and willows, the West Causeway boasts beautiful scenery. Jade Spring Hill (Yuquan Hill) which is several kilometers away from the Summer Palace and the Jade Peak Pagoda on its top complement the West Causeway, photographed as part of the garden landscape. Looking west from Kunming Lake and its lakeside, visitors can find the landscape outside the Summer Palace and the hill and the lake in the Summer Palace blend into one harmonious whole. This is an outstanding example of taking full advantage of surrounding landscapes in the classical Chinese garden. Buildings of the lake area are concentrated on three islands.

East Palace Gate

The East Palace Gate is at the farthest east of the Summer Palace. This area used to be the place for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty to live and to deal with political affairs. There are the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity where emperors meet their ministers, the northern and southern waiting rooms for officials, the imperial bedchamber, the great stage, and the courtyard. The eaves and the lintel are all painted with colorful patterns. Six red doors are inset with orderly yellow doornails. Hanging under the eaves of the gateway is a gilded name board decorated with nine dragon patterns and inscribed with three Chinese characters "Yi He Yuan" in the calligraphy of Emperor Guangxu. In front of the gate, the Yunlong Stone on the steps on the road used by the emperor is carved with the pattern of "two dragons playing with a pearl". Carved during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the pattern was transferred from the ruins of the Old Summer Palace (Anyou Palace). The Yunlong Stone symbolizes the emperor's dignity. The East Palace Gate was reserved exclusively for the emperors and empresses of the Qing Dynasty. The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity is within the East Palace Gate, the front gate of the Summer Palace. It was a place for Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu to deal with the state affairs and meet with foreign guests. This building was named the Hall of Diligent Government. After it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, it was renamed the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. It faces the east, with a width of seven bays. Besides, it has northern and southern side halls. Outside the Gate of Benevolence and Longevity, there are northern and southern duty rooms for officials.

Great Stage

The Great Stage is in the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. The Great Stage, the Pavilion of Clear Sounds (Qingyin Ge) of Chengde Mountain Resort and the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies (Changyin Ge) of the Forbidden City are collectively known as the three famous opera stages in the Qing Dynasty. The Great Stage in the Garden of Virtue and Harmony was built to celebrate the 60th birthday of Cixi and was exclusively for Cixi to watch operas. At a height of 21 meters, it is second only to the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, the highest building in the Summer Palace. The Great Stage has three stories, including a two-story backstage make-up building. There are seven skylights (Tian Jing) on the ceiling, and there are holes with covers (Di Jing) on the floor. Besides, there are wells and five square pools at the bottom of the stage.

Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha (Foxiang Ge)

The Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha is situated at the hillside in the front of Longevity Hill. Standing upright on a 21 meter-high square foundation, the 41-meter-high octahedral tower has three stories with four-layered eaves, supported by eight imposing lignum vitae pillars. With a complex structure, it is a classic architecture. Burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng's reign (1860 AD), it was rebuilt in the 17th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1891 AD), spending 780,000 liang of silver, and it was completed in the 20th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1894 AD). It is the largest project in the Summer Palace. In the tower, the Amitabha Buddha was enshrined and worshiped for the royal family to burn incense here.

Hall that Dispels the Clouds (Paiyun Dian)

The Hall that Dispels the Clouds is situated at the center of the building group in the front of Longevity Hill. The original building was the Temple of Immense Gratitude and Longevity built by Qianlong for his mother's 60th birthday. It was reconstructed as a place where Cixi lived and was worshiped at her birthday celebration. "Pai Yun (dispelling clouds)" in Chinese is derived from Guo Pu's verse, "immortals are about to dispel clouds to make their appearance in the cloud-wrapped celestial mountain". From a distance, it seems that an axis goes up through the Hall that Dispels the Clouds, the memorial archway, the Gate that Dispels the Clouds, the Golden Water Bridge (Jinshui Qiao), and the Second Palace Gate. The building group of the Hall that Dispels the Clouds is the most spectacular building group of the Summer Palace.

Sea of Wisdom Temple (Zhihui Hai)

The Sea of Wisdom Temple is a religious building at the top of Longevity Hill. It is an arch-shaped structure built with bricks and stones without any support of a single beam or pillar. The exterior of the temple is decorated with exquisite yellow and green glazed tiles. The roof is decorated with a small amount of purple and blue glazed tiles. In particular, more than one thousand glazed Buddhas are embedded in the outer walls of the temple. "Zhi Hui Hai (Sea of Wisdom)" is derived from Buddhism. It originally praises the Buddha's profound wisdom and unlimited power. Although it looks like a wooden structure, it was built with bricks and stones without any wooden beams or pillars. It, therefore, came to be known as the "Beamless Hall". Also, it is called "Amitabha Hall" because the temple enshrines and worships Amitabha Buddha.

Long Corridor (Chang Lang)

Situated at the southern foothill of Longevity Hill and facing Kunming Lake, it is close to Longevity Hill in the north and starts from Inviting the Moon Gate (Yaoyue Men) in the east and ends at Shizhang Pavilion (Shizhang Ting) in the west, covering a distance of 728 meters with its 273 sections. Of all the corridors in classical Chinese gardens, the Long Corridor is the longest. In 1992, it was confirmed as the longest corridor in the world and listed in "Guinness World Records". There are colored patterns on each beam, totaling more than 14,000 paintings depicting stories from folk tales, landscapes as well as flora and fauna. The figure paintings are based on Chinese classics.

Clear and Peaceful Boat (Qingyan Fang)

Known as the Marble Boat, it is a stone boat beside the lake in the west of the Long Corridor. It is the only building with western style in the Summer Palace, named the “Clear and Peaceful Boat” pursuant to the saying “Let the river be clear and the sea be peaceful”. It grew out of the platform for freeing captive animals in the Perfect and Quiet Temple (Yuanjing Si). When the Qingyi Yuan was built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the platform was reconstructed into a boat and renamed "Marble Boat". The 36-meter boat was carved out of marble. The boat has a two-story building, with colored-tile floor, stained-glass windows, and brick carving top. When it rains, the water that falls on the top of the boat passes through the hollow pillars at the four corners and is discharged into the lake through the boat's four faucets.

Strolling through a Picture Scroll (Huazhongyou)

Strolling through a Picture Scroll is a group of scenic spots in the West of Longevity Hill. It is built leaning the hill. The main structure is a two-story building, with two towers respectively named "Aishan" and "Jieqiu" on both sides. At the back is a stone gateway, behind which there is "Chenghui Pavilion (Chenghui Ge)". All these structures are linked by hillside corridors. Located at the hillside, buildings, pavilions, and corridors are built on different contour lines. The green landscape surrounds a group of buildings decorated with red, yellow, blue, and green glazed tiles.

Hall for Listening to Orioles (Tingli Guan)

Initially built by Emperor Qianlong for his mother, this theater with its two-story stage was named the “Hall for Listening to Orioles” because in old times, people often compared beautiful voices to the singing of orioles. Before the completion of the Great Stage in the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, Cixi often watched operas and held banquets here. It was burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng’s reign (1860 AD) and was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Guangxu. Now, the hall serves as a restaurant specializing in imperial court cuisine.

Baoyun Pavilion (Baoyun Ge)

Baoyun Pavilion is also called the "Bronze Pavilion". It is one of the most exquisite and largest extant bronze castings in China. It is built on a four-meter-high white marble foundation in the Wufang Pavilion in the west of the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. Originally built in the reign of Emperor Qianlong, it is 7.5 meters high and weighs 207 tons. All sides have doors and windows with rhombic patterns. Although it is made of bronze, it is made according to the timber frame. There are four-section lattice doors in the east, south and west, and eight-section lattice windows in the north. All the doors and windows have rhombic patterns, and the top part also has rhombic patterns. All rhombic patterns have two layers inside and outside.

Wenchang Tower (Wenchang Ge)

Located to the east of the Wenchang Tower in the Summer Palace, the Wenchang Gallery (Wenchang Yuan) is the largest and supreme gallery of its kind in any classical Chinese garden. Wenchang Tower is located in the northern end of the east bank of Kunming Lake. It used to be a gate fort, as one of the gates of the Qingyi Yuan. It was first built in the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750 AD) and rebuilt under the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875 AD -1908 AD). The corner towers are arranged in the shape of the inverted "Y". A three-story building stands in the central area. In the second story of the building, a bronze statue of the god, Wenchang, statues of two followers, i.e. the celestial boy and the bronze mule, are placed.

Garden of Harmonious Pleasures (Xiequ Yuan)

Located at the east foothill of Longevity Hill, the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures is an independent "garden within a garden" following the style of gardens in South China. Modeled on the famous Jichang Garden in Huishan, Wuxi, it was first known as Huishan Garden when the Summer Palace area was called the Qingyi Yuan. After its reconstruction in the 16th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign (1811 AD), it was renamed the "Garden of Harmonious Pleasures", derived from "serenity and tiny pieces of land harmonize each other" and the verse of Qianlong, "a pavilion and a path with wonderful interest". There are 13 pavilions, terraces, and halls in the garden, connected by 100 porches and five bridges in different forms. In the southeast corner of the park, a stone bridge with a horizontal inscribed board of "Know the Fish Bridge (Zhiyu Qiao)" stands. Written by Qianlong, the words were derived from the debate between Zhuangzi and Huizi in Haoshang recorded in Qiushui, Zhuangzi.

Suzhou Street (Suzhou Jie)

Suzhou Street was originally called "Merchants Street". Located on the banks of the Back Lake Area, it was built in the style of Suzhou, a city in southern China. When the Summer Palace area was called the Qingyi Yuan, various businesses, including an antique store, a silk store, a pastry store, a teahouse, and a gold and silver jewelry store, operate on the bank. Eunuchs and maids dressed up like salesclerks. Stores opened so that emperors could pretend to go shopping as ordinary people. Dozens of stores were burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860. Those stores were restored in 1986.

Seventeen-Arch Bridge (Shiqi Kong Qiao)

Located on Kunming Lake, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge links the east bank and the South Lake Island. It is the largest bridge in the Summer Palace. The stone bridge is 8 meters wide and 150 meters long, having 17 arches. Over 500 stone lions in different poses are carved on the posts of the bridge’s railings.

The bronze ox created to keep the floods down is located on the east bank of Kunming Lake, in the north of the east bridge of the Seventeen-Arch Bridge. The ox statue was cast in bronze in 1755, but it was called "Golden Ox".

Bronze Ox and Picture of the Weaving Maid

On the east bank of Kunming Lake, there is a bronze ox positioned here to keep the floods down and called the incarnation of the Cowherd, while on the west bank, there is the Picture of Farming and Weaving called the incarnation of the Weaving Maid. They face each other across the Kunming Lake. The two scenic spots are derived from the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid.

In the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750 AD), when the Qingyi Yuan (the predecessor of the Summer Palace) was built, Qianlong compared himself to the Jade Emperor (the Supreme Deity of Taoism). He issued an edict that the imperial garden must be built into an earthly paradise, the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha must be as grand and magnificent as Lingxiao Palace in the heavenly palace, and Kunming Lake must be as broad as the Milky Way. Besides, he ordered the construction of the bronze ox and the site of the Picture of Farming and Weaving on the east and west banks of the lake (river). The ox's body faces the east and its head faces the west, sitting opposite the Picture of the Weaving Maid, so Kunming Lake looks more like the Milky Way. The Weaving Maid in the sky (the Picture of Farming and Weaving) and the Cowherd (the bronze ox) on the earth face each other from afar, separated by the Milky Way.

In 1860, the Anglo-French Allied Forces burned down "Three Hills and Five Gardens" in Beijing, so the site of the Picture of Farming and Weaving was ravaged, with only the monument remaining, inscribed with three Chinese characters "Geng Zhi Tu (the Picture of Farming and Weaving)" in the calligraphy of Qianlong. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the site of the Picture of Farming and Weaving was separated from the Summer Palace and became a place for living and working. At the end of 1998, the Summer Palace retrieved the site and gradually restored it in the original style, highlighting the implied meaning of "farming" and "weaving".

Opening hours

Peak season (from April 1 to October 31)

Opening hours: 6:30 – 18:00

Opening hours of gardens within gardens: 8:30 – 17:00

Closing hour: 20:00

Low season (from November 1 to March 31)

Opening hours: 7:00 – 17:00

Opening hours of gardens within gardens: 9:00 – 16:00

Closing hour: 19:00 (or 19:30)

Ticket

General ticket: RMB 30 per person (peak season); RMB 20 per person (low season); there are half-price tickets.

Through ticket: RMB 60 per person (peak season); RMB 50 per person (low season); there are no half-price tickets.

The through ticket includes the ticket to the Summer Palace and the ticket to gardens within gardens (inclusive of the Wenchang Gallery, the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha and the Suzhou Street).

Peak season: from April 1 to October 31; low season: from November 1 to March 31.

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