The Best-pre­served Im­pe­rial Gar­den

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

The Sum­mer Palace, an im­pe­rial gar­den, nes­tles about 15 kilo­me­tres from the For­bid­den City in the north­west sub­urb of Bei­jing. This gar­den, formerly named Qingyi Yuan (“the Gar­den of Clear Rip­ples”), is home to the fa­mous Longevity Hill and Kun­ming Lake along with many pavil­ions, ter­races and tow­ers, com­bin­ing styles of land­scap­ing and gar­den de­sign from south­ern and north­ern China.

A Gar­den for Fil­ial Piety

In the 11th lu­nar month of 1749, thou­sands of labour­ers gath­ered south­west of Weng­shan Hill (to­day's Longevity Hill) to dredge and ex­pand the half-moon-shaped Xihu Lake (to­day's Kun­ming Lake) pur­suant to the edict is­sued by Em­peror Qian­long. Con­se­quently, the lake was ex­panded, dou­bling its orig­i­nal area.

Em­peror Qian­long or­dered peo­ple to build stone flumes to di­vert wa­ter from the West­ern Hills and Yuquan Hill into Xihu Lake. In or­der to pre­vent flood­ing of the Xihu Lake, a dyke (named West Dyke) was built with three wa­ter gates, which were usu­ally closed to con­serve the lake's wa­ter. Af­ter ren­o­vat­ing the lake, the per­son in charge of the project was or­dered by Em­peror Qian­long to con­struct the Tem­ple of Im­mense Grat­i­tude and Longevity on the site of the ru­ined Tem­ple of Serenity.

In the sixth lu­nar month of 1751, the em­peror for­mally be­stowed the name Gar­den of Clear Rip­ples on the ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­ble in the vicin­ity of Longevity Hill and Kun­ming Lake. A large land­scape com­plex soon emerged in the north­west sub­urb of Bei­jing.

On the 19th day of the 11th lu­nar month of 1751, Em­peror Qian­long's mother, Em­press Dowa­ger Chongqing, cel­e­brated her 60th birth­day. Em­peror Qian­long held a ban­quet to mark her birth­day. Later, he led his mother to visit the Gar­den of Clear Rip­ples for the first time.

At Longevity Hill, Qian­long ar­ranged a grand cel­e­bra­tion party for his mother, and peo­ple then un­der­stood why the em­peror changed the name of Weng­shan Hill to Longevity Hill and built the Tem­ple of Im­mense Grat­i­tude and Longevity.

Beau­ti­ful Scenery

Most em­per­ors of the Qing Dy­nasty were fas­ci­nated by south­ern China's scenery. Em­peror Qian­long made ef­forts to ex­pand and im­prove the Gar­den of Clear Rip­ples to make it more beau­ti­ful than oth­ers of its kind in south­ern China.

The Sum­mer Palace con­sists of three ar­eas—area of the tem­po­rary palace cen­tring on the Hall of Benev­o­lence and Longevity; res­i­den­tial area com­posed of Hall of Jade Rip­ples, Hall of Hap­pi­ness in Longevity and Gar­den of Virtue and Har­mony; a vast area along the Long Cor­ri­dor, at the back of Longevity Hill and in the west serv­ing em­per­ors and em­presses as a leisure area.

The Sum­mer Palace was in­flu­enced by im­pe­rial and po­lit­i­cal fac­tors. Its wall is not as square as that of the For­bid­den City, but the gar­den also fea­tures a cen­tral axis with an en­trance at the arch­way out­side the East Palace Gate.

Civil­ian of­fi­cials and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers were re­quired to get down from their horses near a stele on the right side of the im­pe­rial way start­ing from the arch­way. Be­hind the arch­way, there are of­fices of de­part­ments of Mil­i­tary In­for­ma­tion, De­fence Prepa­ra­tions and For­eign Af­fairs on both sides along the im­pe­rial way. Those struc­tures strictly fol­low an im­pe­rial ar­chi­tec­ture lay­out.

An axis starts from the north­ern bank of Kun­ming Lake and ends at the hill­top of the Longevity Hill. It plays a role in the Sum­mer Palace, string­ing the Glow­ing Clouds and Holy Land Arch­way, the Gate that Dis­pels the Clouds, the Golden Wa­ter Bridge, the Sec­ond Palace Gate, the Hall that Dis­pels the Clouds, the Hall of Moral Glory, the Tower of the Fra­grance of the Bud­dha, the Realm of Pop­u­lar Fra­grance and the Sea of Wis­dom Tem­ple.

Im­pe­rial Charisma

Cixi en­joyed her later life here and also turned it into a dream­land full of scenery and leisure fa­cil­i­ties. As Cixi loved to watch tra­di­tional op­eras, the Sum­mer Gar­den had many the­atre stages. As far back as 1750, a two-storey the­atre stage was built in the west­ern part of the south­ern slope of Longevity Hill, named the Hall for Lis­ten­ing to Ori­oles.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu (reign: 1875–1908), the re­built the­atre stage was in the south and five rooms were built op­po­site to it for watch­ing op­eras. It was where Cixi fre­quently came to watch op­eras for leisure. Cixi or­dered to build the Gar­den of Virtue and Har­mony at the orig­i­nal site of the Yichun Hall.

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal records, from the 21st year to the 34th year of the reign of Em­peror Guangxu, the Great The­atre Stage of the Gar­den of Virtue and Har­mony saw over 200 per­for­mances of tra­di­tional op­eras. Cixi once watched op­eras here on more than 260 oc­ca­sions.

To keep Cixi en­ter­tained, many pre­cious ob­jects and nov­el­ties were brought to the Sum­mer Palace. Many of the lat­est sci­en­tific pro­gresses in the late 19th cen­tury and early 20th cen­tury oc­curred in the gar­den early on. The Sum­mer Palace ex­em­pli­fies an­cient im­pe­rial Chi­nese gardens, adopt­ing ar­chi­tec­tural and land­scap­ing styles of both north­ern and south­ern China.

Tower of Bud­dhist In­cense of the Sum­mer Palace

De­h­elou Opera Tower in the Sum­mer Palace

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