Summer Palace

Summer Palace
Chinese Gardens have three categories: imperial garden, private garden and temple garden. As the largest and also the most intact imperial garden in China, Summer Palace enjoys the highest reputation among the all, which is already a must-to-go scenic spot in Beijing.

Situated in the western outskirts of Haidian District, the Summer Palace is 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from central Beijing. It’s also known to the Chinese as "Yi He Yuan", Yi means face, He means harmony, and Yuan means garden; which is named from the traditional doctrine that "one who wants to stay young has to maintain a harmonious mood always", which also benefits today's people.

Summer Palace
The first construction started in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), and during the succeeding dynasties, it was extended continuously. By the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it had become a luxurious royal garden providing imperial families with leisure and entertainment. Originally called "Qingyi Garden" (Garden of Clear Ripples), it was know as one of the famous "three hills and five gardens" (Longevity Hill, Jade Spring Mountain, and Fragrant Hill; Garden of Clear Ripples, Garden of Everlasting Spring, Garden of Perfection and Brightness, Garden of Tranquility and Brightness, and Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure). Like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not avoid the rampages of the Anglo-French allied force and was destroyed by fire in 1860. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered to divert navy funds to reconstruct it for her own benefit, changing its name to Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). She spent most of her later years there, dealing with state affairs and entertaining herself. In 1900, it suffered again from the destroying by the Eight-Power Allied Force. After the success of the 1911 Revolution, it was formally opened to the public.

Summer Palace
The Summer Palace occupies an area of 294 hectares (726.5 acres), and is composed of two parts: Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. Three quarters of the Palace is covered by water in the Kunming Lake, on which the excursion boat traveled around and thousands of lotus flowers bloom. Before it's expanded to its present scale, it used to be a small pond in the Jin Dynasty, and Emperor Qian Long in Qing Dynasty ordered to expand it and refurnish the whole palace to celebrate his mother's 60th birthday. So in order to match with the Chinese significance and express his good wishes to his mother, the lake was shaped delicately into a peach, which is a longevity fruit; the mud dug out from the bottom of the lake was accordingly piled along the hill range to shape it like a bat, which is a happiness animal in China, and renamed as "Longevity Hill". A group of buildings for religious purpose were built on the hill, as Empress Dowager Cixi claimed herself as a pious Buddhist, and she has to pray to the Buddha every 1st and 15th day of each lunar month, so this group of buildings are named Tower of Buddhist Incense which is composed of Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Tower of Buddhist Incense, the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, etc; the water in the Kunming lake was used to be fed by the water from Jade Spring Hill further to the west, but after it run out of water, it's now fed by Miyun reservoir in the northwest part of Beijing.

Standing on the east band of Kunming Lake, it's another group of architectures called "Nanhu lake island" to the left-hand. It's linked up with the east bank through an imitating "Marco Polo Bridge". On the island stands a Dragon King Temple, this is supposed to surprises the flood, as the Dragon King is in charge of the water control in Chinese philosophy. Emperor ordered to have it built here, on the one hand to extend his wishes of good harvest without flood disasters, and on the other hand to show his care and diligence towards state agriculture, which is the first and for most of the whole nation and people; walk along the east bank to the north, the residence of Empress Dowager Cixi during her stay in the Summer Palace is gradually approaching. It's a big-size courtyard compared with a courtyard in the Forbidden City, in which many magnolia trees are planted, as the pronunciation of magnolia flower sound similar with her baby name "LAN", so she likes it very much. Her residence room is divided into five sections. The middle hall is where she had meals through the day and it's said that she ordered 128 courses for each meal though she just tasted a little, and gave the leftover to the servants; the other four rooms are arranged on two wings, two on each side, respectively are bed room, reading room, tea room and dressing room. It reflects what luxurious life she lived at that time.

Coming out from the west gate of the courtyard, the longest corridor which is already listed in the Geniss Book of World Record presents us another aesthetic enjoyment. With as many as over 8000 beautiful paintings painted on the beams and crossbeams, it's divided into 128 sections and actually made the longest "art gallery" in the world. it's originally built for the emperor Qian Long's mother to enjoy beautiful scenery in rainy days. Walking inside, you will feel genital breeze coming from the lake direction, which is very pleasant. It's built along the natural terrain, though up and down, one won't feel the unevenness at all. The architecture experts explains it as "the length of the corridor helps to reduce the uneven feeling by starching", and another goes like” the beautiful scenery a fresh air coming along distracts the walkers from feeling the uneven”. Whatever the true reasons are, we can’t deny the comfort it provides.

The Tower of Buddhist Incense complex marks the middle of the whole length of the corridor,where is also a dock for loading the excursion boats. Continuously, till finish the second half, the end of the corridor is marked by the famous Marble Boat mentioned in most guide books. The Marble Boat is not a real boat, but serves as a symbol of the stability of the dynasty. It comes from the doctrine that "Water can carry a boat and it can also capsize a boat". The emperor, ruler of the ancient China, compared himself as the boat and general public the water. In this way, he would be better reminded to be diligent towards states' work, even while enjoying leisure or his power would be usurped and the dynasty would be overthrown. The boat was originally made totally in marble, but since it's destroyed by the invading troops with the top burnt, so when it's rebuilt, another roof made of wood but later painted to look like marble was added. It’s in a western European style now. Empress Dowager Cixi used to have tea and snacks while enjoying scenery around.

The rear-hill area owns less constructions compared with the front-hill. However, it has a unique landscape, with dense green trees, and winding paths. Visitors can feel a rare tranquility and elegance by walking through. This area includes scenic spots such as Garden of Harmonious Interest and Suzhou Market Street. The emperor Qian Long made six expedition trips secretly to South China. Who was amazed by the prosperity and beauty of South China, he ordered to bring a lot back to Beijing by ordering the accompanied drawing master to draw pictures for everything he saw and interested in. Suzhou Market Street is one of these. Suzhou, a small but already the most prosperous city in that period impressed Qian Long a lot, so in order to show his country's power and prosperous aspect, an imitating street was put here, and the shops owners are even played by the palace maids and eunuchs.

Now people come to the Summer Palace might enjoy everything just as the imperial family: sailing the excursion boats across Kunming Lake, walking through the corridor in genital breeze, or even take a photo by dressing himself as the emperor and empress...Summer Palace remains the national treasure benefiting people coming around.

Tips of visiting Summer Palace:
 
  1. To see the whole Summer Palace in every corner is really a tough job, as it's huge and long walking is highly required. East bank owns the most construction which is the essence of all sightseeing in the palace, so to see it in limited and energy-allowing time, the east bank is recommended.

  2. Wheelchairs are accessible to go through, no huge and steep steps and somewhere ramps for handicapped people are available. Unless you would like to pay extra to see the groups of buildings up on the Longevity Hill, you've got to do hundreds of steps up and come down the same way, which is exhausting for the elder.

  3. Shops available almost every corner in the palace, for people to take breaks and buy small souvenirs.

  4. Ticket price (for main entrance): Low season 20RMB/pp
                                       peak season 30RMB/pp

Added: separate tickets are charged at different gardens inside, but hard to find all in one trip as some are located remotely. So the coupon ticket for all the ticket-charging spots sold at the main entrance is not really recommended to purchase.