The Summer Palace

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April 11th 2019
Published: September 1st 2020
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When I first visited China many, many years ago, one of the places I really enjoyed in Beijing was the Summer Palace. It was definitely somewhere I wanted to revisit and finally the opportunity arose. I took the subway to Beigongmen Station. That was a bit of a novelty as when I'd visited previously there had been no subway and we'd been at the mercy of taxi drivers, who weren't exactly legit. I headed out if the exit and there were no useful signs here, like there were at the Temple of Heaven, to tell you which way to go. You have to turn back on yourself and walk for about 5 minutes to get to the ticket office. There were several different options for tickets and I went for the through ticket which covered admission to the main grounds of the Summer Palace, Suzhou Street, the Garden of Harmony and Virtue, Wenchang Gallery, and the Tower of Buddhist Incense. I'm pretty sure that this place was cash only, too, but I came prepared with cash so I wouldn't be caught off guard like I was at the Temple of Heaven.

I headed through the gate and was surprised to see that there was no large map and explanation about the Summer Palace. It seemed you had to buy those, which I thought was a bit of a con. I soon came to the entrance to Suzhou Street, so headed down the rather steep steps to it. I couldn't remember this from my previous visit, I don't think we made it to this part of the Summer Palace. Suzhou Jie had been called Business Street and when it was built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century. It was built in the Southern China style and was where Emperors and Empresses pretended to go shopping as ordinary people. Quite a cute idea. It was destroyed by the Anglo-French forces in 1860. It wasn't restored until 1990. I really enjoyed my walk around Suzhou Jie, it did remind me of being in Southern China, but the waterway was a lot wider than the ones I'd encountered in Suzhou. The waterway reminded me of one of the water towns I visited many, many moons ago. I wasn't interested in looking round the shops or eating at the restaurants, but just soaking in the view was really pleasant. The buildings were pretty and I liked all the lanterns, flags, and banners that adorned them. There were also boats going up and down on the water, which added to the scene. When I walked to one end, I was surprised as the town just stopped and the surrounding area looked a lot more rural. I liked the contrast. The high arched bridges were gorgeous, too.

I headed back up the steep steps and came to Yinhui Chengguan (the gate Tower of the Dawn Light). This tower was one of the six main entrances to the Summer Palace during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Once through the gate, there were a few different paths to take. I opted for one of the quieter paths that would take me on a rather circuitous route to the main part of the Summer Palace that looked quieter and had a few places of interest to visit on the way. I rally liked that the path was surrounded by small grass covered hills, it made it feel like I was no longer in the city. My walking took me to Huacheng Ge (Tower Overlooking Flowers) and Doubao Liuli Ta (Glazed Tiled Pagoda of Many Treasures). The pagoda was very pretty and ornate, but I think there was some restoration work going on as it was out of bounds. I continued on and came to a rather unassuming looking entrance. This was the entrance to Xiequ Yuan (the Garden of Harmonious Interests) and was built in 1751. It was first known as Huishan Garden, but its name was changed when it was renovated in 1811. It is the best known example of a 'garden within a garden' in China. I can see why, as I feel in love with the garden. It was really beautiful and peaceful, even though there were quite a few people there. This place just exuded calm and tranquillity. I loved walking around the edge of the pond taking in the different views of the pavilions, corridors and greenery. In the centre, there is Zhiyu Qiao (the Bridge of Knowing the Fish). The bridge got its name from a conversation between two ancient philosophers, Zhuangzi and Huishi, who talked while watching fish swim. The bridge was built close to the surface of the water to make watching the fish easier. I enjoyed looking at the bridge, the fish and the scenery. I also enjoyed walking along the corridors around the garden looking at the different scenes painted on the beams. I like that the corridors are open and have low walls as they make great places to sit and watch the world go by.

After exiting the garden, my walk took me past some buildings that appeared to be closed off. I came to Ziqi Donglai Chengguan (Purple Cloud Gate Tower), this tower was not only a scenic location but also a pass for the defence of the Summer Palace. I wish that the tower was open to the public as I would have loved to have climbed to the top and taken in the views. After the initial business of the ticket office and the entrance the grounds of the Summer Palace hadn't been too busy, but that all changed as I walked through the gate tower. I had entered the madness and there were a lot of people. I came to Renshou Dian (Hall of Benevolence and Longevity). The hall is blocked off by security gates, but it was hard to get close to the gates as there were what felt like a million tour groups there. I managed to get a bit closer so that I could read the sign and find out why this building was so popular. The hall was first built in the 18th century and was named the Hall of Industrious Government when the Summer Palace went by the name of the Garden of Clear Ripples. I didn't know about the previous name, but I rather like. The hall was where the Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu handled court affairs, received praise and foreign diplomats during their stays at the Summer Palace. So it was a very important building and central to running the country. I really liked the Qilin (Kylin) statue in front of the hall. The kylin is an auspicious, mythical animal. It is said to have the power to punish evil and repel the wicked. The animal is a real mix of several different ones; it has the head of a dragon, tail of a lion, the hooves of an ox, the antlers of a deer and its body is covered with scales.

I continued on and came to Kunming Lake, the huge lake at the centre of the Summer Palace. I love the view across Kunming Lake, I just wish it had been a little less hazy. I enjoyed seeing the boats bobbing in the water. I walked along the lake until I reached Wenchang Tower. Next to Wenchang Tower is Wenchang Gallery. The gallery is made of six halls that contain different treasures that were collected by the different dynasties. I had a quick walk through the halls. There were some beautiful vases in one of the halls. I loved the traditional patterns that were painted on them. I did prefer the outside views of the halls as the buildings were beautiful and the trees in from of them were blooming. After my walk around the galleries, I made my way back to Kunming Lake. On the way, I passed a Double Culvert Water Gate. This was an important outlet in the East Causeway that controlled water in the eastern part of Kunming Lake. It discharged flood water, adjusted the water level and provided water to irrigate the rice paddies outside of the Summer Palace and it also provided water to Yuanmingyuan. This small, overgrown unassuming gate had been very important.

As I continued on I got some great views of Shi Qi Kong Qiao (17 Arched Bridge). It's looks so beautiful and tranquil. It's also the longest bridge in all the Chinese imperial gardens. I walked along the bridge taking in more great views of the Summer Palace. I made it to Nanhu Island, to which the bridge is connected. I was a bit hungry by this point so I was happy to see a small convenience store on the island and I got myself and ice cream to eat. It wasn't too overpriced either, which was a bonus. After a nice sit down, I had a look around Nanhu Island. I saw Guangrun Lingyu (the Temple of Timely Rains and Extensive Moisture). I love how poetic names are in Chinese. The temple had been on the east bank of the West Lake and was known as the Dragon God Temple. When the lake was expanded to form Kunming Lake, the temple was spared and the island it is on was formed. Emperor Jianqing gave it its new name. The Empress Dowager Cixi used to arrive at the island by boat and would burn incense at the temple before heading to the Hall of Happiness and Longevity. I also had a look around the grounds of Yue Bo Lou (The Tower of the Moonlight Ripples). This is where the Qing Emperor and Empresses viewed the clouds and the moon. The buildings were beautiful, bright red with lots of gold trim. I also enjoyed watching people on the paddle boats in the lake.

I headed back the way I had come and headed towards some more of the more famous sights of the Summer Palace. I had a look around Yulan Tang (the Hall of Jade Ripples). It was used as the emperor's living quarters when it was rebuilt in 1886 after being burnt down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces. I took a walk around De He Yuan (the Garden of Virtue and Harmony). The garden was constructed in the late nineteenth century and is made up of four courtyards. The emperor and empress watched watched Peking Opera in this area. The hall where the actors got ready and did their performances was a stunning building. There was so much colour and beautifully painted pictures on the beams. After taking a walk around the buildings, I started to head up the Wanshou Shan (Longevity Hill) to have a look at the buildings up there. The walk uphill was, luckily, not too steep and I enjoyed the glimpses of the rooftops and Kunming Lake through the trees. I came to the Tower of Buddhist Incense and headed down the steps to it. You can enter the grounds around the tower, but you can't climb the actual tower, which is a bit of a shame I think the views from the top would be very impressive. Empress Cixi used to come here to offer incense and to pray. I enjoyed walking around the tower. The place was immaculate and very photogenic. There were also some great views over Kunming Lake and Beijing's skyscrapers in the background.

I passed another beautiful bright building and I continued along the top of the hill and down the other side. This side felt quieter than the other side, although there were still quite a few people about. I was pretty tired, but I really wanted to see the Marble Boat as that was one thing that I could remember quite clearly from my previous visit. A I headed down the hill I was secretly cursing myself as it was taking my worn out legs further from the exit. When I came to the bottom of the hill, there was another gate, but it was similar to the ones I seen at other points throughout the Summer Palace so skipped it. Just further beyond it was the boatshed, which after looking at I had a vague recollection of. I walked around and came to the Marble Boat. I enjoyed looking at it an reminiscing about my previous trip. The Marble Boat is actually called Qingyan Fang (Clear and Peaceful Boat). It was built in 1755 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The boat was carved out of huge rocks and is 36 metres in length.The original Chinese style cabin had been destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied forces and when it was rebuilt a Western style one was built instead. I love the waterways near the boat, with their calm waters and high walls it made the place seem very peaceful. I headed past the Stone Man's Pavilion and along the Long Corridor, which was beautiful, but I was too tired to enjoy it.

I was definitely done for the day, so headed for the nearest exit as quickly as possible. I was closer to the main entrance at the East Gate so headed there. On my way out I passed a board that contained the number of daily visitors. I was rather shocked to see that 35,000 people had visited the day before and it was estimated that 36,000 people would pass through the gates today. It was just a regular Thursday, not a holiday or special event. Once again, it just shows how populous China is. I enjoyed my visit and was surprised at how little I remember from my visit thirteen years previously. I definitely didn't get to see or do everything, so another visit is in order. I would really like to return in the autumn or on a snowy day. The walk to the subway station was a bit longer from this exit and took you to the Xiyuan Station. I definitely think going to Beigongmen Station is better as it is closer and (slightly) quieter.

Additional photos below
Photos: 95, Displayed: 31


2nd September 2020
The Marble Boat

Cixi & The Marble Boat
I have only ever seen the Marble Boat in winter from the shore and also standing on frozen Lake Kunming and on each occasion it has had an aura that confounds. Your pics as if it is floating on the lake are so realistic yet due to its weight there is no chance of that!!! I also love the story that Cixi had it built from funds that had been set aside for (was it the Chinese Navy?) and she was derided for being responsible for their defeat by the Anglo/French & others in the Opium Wars. It was probably my first visit to the Summer Palace that resulted in me reading the book "Dragon Lady, The Life & legend of the Last Empress of China." A fabulous read.
2nd September 2020
The Marble Boat

Empress Dowager Cixi
Thank you for the additional information. I would like to revisit in winter. Walking on the frozen lake would be awesome. I shall have to look up the book and add it to my ever expanding reading list. I was also recommended 'Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China' by a friend.
2nd September 2020

the Bridge of Knowing the Fish
This blog brings back such fabulous memories...walking across Lake Kunming and sliding through powder snow on my first visit, with the ice cracking under our feet with sounds like stockwhips cracking on my second...and entering by a back gate with a friend on my third who used to visit it at night with his mates when he was a child...avoiding guard dogs that often caused them to flee. So many sights...different each time...just like your latest visit you describe so well. And thanks for the details of the sites, bridges, temples & hall names...each conjuring ethereal images of the Emperors at business and leisure. Great blog.
2nd September 2020

Poetic Names
Your visit sounds really good. Your friend's experiences sound like great childhood memories to have. I love the beauty of the names in Chinese, they really sum up each place well. If only time travel were a thing, I would love to be able to observe the Emperors going about their lives there.

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