Magnificent Imperial Structures
China’s capital is home to numerous impressive imperial gardens and ancient temples, including lesser- known cultural sites such as Prince Gong’s Mansion. Taking a stroll through these gardens and temples, visitors are captivated by the beautiful autumn scenery and amazed by the charm of this imperial city.
The enduring charm of Beijing lies in its status as an ancient city. China’s capital is home to numerous impressive imperial gardens and ancient temples. Taking a stroll through these gardens and temples, visitors are captivated by the beautiful autumn scenery and amazed by the charm of this imperial city.
Temple of Heaven Where Emperors Worshipped Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a well-known garden filled with ancient trees and a myriad of flowers. Here, the sight of towering trees with their twisted branches, as well as the municipal flowers of Beijing—the chrysanthemum and Chinese rose—never fail to take people's breath away.
In the past, everyone from imperial rulers and high-ranking officials to ordinary people believed in, respected and worshipped Heaven. At that time, the Temple of Heaven, which represents the supreme achievement of “religious” buildings in ancient China, played a significant role in the urban construction of the capital.
In 1998, the Temple of Heaven was inscribed on the list of World Cultural Heritage. In their assessment of the site, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee stated: “The Temple of Heaven, founded in the first half of the 15th century, is a dignified complex of fine cult buildings set in gardens and surrounded by historic pine woods. In its overall layout and that of its individual buildings, it symbolises the relationship between earth and heaven—the human world and God's world—which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony, and also the special role played by the emperors within that relationship.”
The ancient people went to great lengths to construct such a magnificent building.
In 1421, Emperor Chengzu (reign: 1403–1425, personal name Zhu Di) of the Ming Dynasty (1368– 1644), formally relocated the capital from Nanjing to Peiping (present-day Beijing), fulfilling a long-cherished dream. To consolidate his rule, he held a grand ceremony at the Temple of Heaven and Earth.
In 1530, the Ming court announced that instead of worshipping Heaven and Earth in one location, the Heaven, Earth, Sun and Moon would be worshipped separately in the southern, northern, eastern and western suburbs of Beijing, respectively. Once a new site was selected in the northern suburbs for the Temple of the Earth, the original Temple of Heaven and Earth became the site for emperors to offer sacrifices to Heaven and pray for a good harvest and plentiful rain, and was renamed the Temple of Heaven.
In 1540, Emperor Jiajing (reign: 1522– 1567) ordered the dismantling of the Hall of Grand Sacrifices inside the original Temple of Heaven and Earth and the building of the Grand Hall of Treatment to Heaven on its site. The Grand Hall of Treatment to Heaven was a circular, wooden building with three tiers of eaves. This structure was the predecessor to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests that stands today. The whole building is supported by 28 nanmu wood pillars and ingeniously joined together by 36 mortise and tenon joints.
Similar to the Ming emperors, Emperor Kangxi (reign: 1662–1723) of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), who studied the Book of Changes and Confucianism, also had the Temple of Heaven renovated. Renovations began with a change in the building's colour scheme. During the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the Ming Dynasty, the Grand Hall of Treatment to Heaven was decorated in three colours—blue representing the vast sky, yellow representing the emperor and green representing the ordinary people. Emperor Kangxi however, had his craftsmen change the original blue upper-tier eave, yellow middle-tier eave and green lower-tiered to dark blue glazed tiles. The renovated Grand Hall of Treatment to Heaven was also renamed the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. On sunny days, the roof of the hall seems to merge seamlessly into the sky.
Buildings in the Temple of Heaven were renovated, expanded and repaired on a large scale several times during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). All of the other main temple buildings were built during the Qing Dynasty except for the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Hall of Imperial Zenith, which were constructed during the Ming Dynasty. Unfortunately, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which was renovated during Emperor Qianlong's reign, met with disaster in 1889, catching fire when it was struck by lightning. As the pillars were made of agalwood, they gave off a special fragrance as they burned, which spread for several kilometres. Though it was destroyed in the fire, the hall was rebuilt the following year.
In addition to renovating the Temple of Heaven, Emperor Qianlong established a set of rigorous and standardised rules of etiquette for offering sacrifices to Heaven. The system of rituals, which was continued by emperors of successive dynasties, reached its apex in the reign of Emperor Qianlong. During his 60-year rule, the emperor visited the Temple of Heaven 59 times, developing the ritual ceremony of offering sacrifices to Heaven to an unprecedented scale. In fact, of all 28 Ming and Qing dynasty emperors, 22 held grand sacrificial ceremonies in the temple on a total of 654 occasions. During the Republic of China (1912–1949) period, the temple even witnessed the farce of sacrifices being offered to Heaven by those wanting to restore the imperial regime. Fortunately, the temple escaped unscathed from the traumas of those times.
Over time, the state ceremony whereby emperors piously offered sacrifices to Heaven became no more. In 1918, the Temple of Heaven, the capital's original imperial temple complex was turned into a park. Ever since, visitors have been able to stroll around its grounds at their leisure and think back over the temple's long history.
The Temple of Heaven is home to a collection of more than 10,000 cultural relics. Most of these items are related to the ceremony of offering sacrifices to Heaven, and a large proportion are sacrificial vessels and musical instruments. These items are displayed as part of an exhibition of sacrificial relics in the Imperial Vault of Heaven, an exhibition on the temple's restoration in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an exhibition on ritual etiquettes in the West Side-hall of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, and in the hall of music and dancing in its East Side-hall. The Chinese are accustomed to looking up towards the vast sky to sense the lofty and sacred Heaven above. Their hope that all is well with the country is inextricably tied up with the solemn and tranquil Temple of Heaven.
The Seat of Supreme Imperial Power
The Forbidden City was the supreme centre of power in China for more than five centuries. This huge building complex is composed of gardens and over 9,000 rooms filled with exquisitely made furniture and
handicrafts. The site was witness to the development of the Chinese civilisation during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
From 1421, when Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty made Beijing the capital, until 1911, the year the last emperor Pu Yi (reign: 1908–1911), was dethroned, 24 emperors lived and handled state affairs in the Forbidden City. Innumerable important historical events have taken place under the roofs of the exquisite palaces there.
The Forbidden City's impressive buildings symbolise the magnificence and prosperity of Chinese dynasties. A north-south axis running through Beijing dominates the layout of the city, and all compounds and courtyards within the Forbidden City are symmetrically aligned along this central axis. The size of the building complex and the spaces between the buildings are arranged rhythmically and graded according to the purposes and priorities of these buildings.
Its palaces are divided into the innerand outer-court. The outer-court is located in the south of the Forbidden City and includes the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, and Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Hall of Literary Glory and the Hall of Martial Valour then flank the three aforementioned halls. These buildings were all administrative areas, used for issuing important policies, holding assemblies, rituals and handling official business.
The inner-court was where the emperors and imperial family members resided and includes the Hall of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, and Hall of Earthly Tranquillity. There are then six palaces to the east and six to the west which flank the three aforementioned halls.
The central axis runs through the three main halls in the outer-court, the three main halls in the inner-court, and the imperial garden which covers an area of 11,200 square metres (sq.m).
The Forbidden City has four gates and exquisite corner towers are built at each of its four corners. The palaces are enclosed by a wall measuring 10 metres (m) high and 3,400 m long, which is surrounded by a 52-m-wide moat.
The architecture of the Forbidden City is characterised by its rigorous layout, large scale, lavish decoration and imposing grandeur. It fully displays the characteristics of the courtyard-style layout and the artistic expressiveness of ancient Chinese buildings, and represents the highest level of engineering in ancient Chinese buildings. It is the only ancient complex of its kind in China and occupies an extraordinary position in the history of world architecture.
During the past 600-plus years, the Forbidden City has survived wars, fires and damage inflicted by foreign invaders. In 1948, it was turned into the Palace Museum. Its collections embrace all categories of ancient arts, including tributes given only to the imperial families, items specially used by imperial families and artefacts handed down through generations. A total of nearly one million cultural relics are held in the collections of the Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taipei. These items are generally exhibited in two series—those originally belonging to the court and ancient works of art. The
collection's ancient art includes cultural relics in the Hall of Painting and Calligraphy, Qing Court Hall of Toys, Hall of Bronzeware, Hall of Gold and Silverware, Hall of Pottery and Porcelain, Hall of Clocks and Watches, Hall of Treasures, Hall of Local Operas, Hall of Jade, and others. Each hall contains a huge amount of ancient art treasures.
The Hall of Literary Glory contains documents belonging to the central and local governments covering a timespan of more than 500 years, with over 10 million documents classified in 74 sections. As such, the Palace Museum is the largest collector of historically valuable materials anywhere in China. The Pavilion of the Imperial Library contains the Siku quanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries), which incorporates the most important academic works (a total of 6,304 works of 3,503 kinds) of ancient China. In 2005, the Palace Museum added the specially-collected ancient writings and the printing blocks of officially-compiled books to the general account of cultural relics, and so the total number of items in the collection rose to 1.5 million. The museum is also home to decrees and regulations from the imperial court and documents related to the daily running of the imperial court.
The Ming and Qing dynasty Forbidden City is a masterpiece in terms of layout and appearance. The only complex of its kind in Beijing, it is an important symbol and carrier of traditional Chinese culture. Visitors to the Forbidden City can not only enjoy the brilliant achievements of ancient Chinese culture but also appreciate this miraculous site of Beijing.
A Splendid Imperial Garden
The Summer Palace is located in the northwest suburbs of Beijing, approximately 15 kilometres (km) from the Forbidden City. It was the final imperial garden to be built in the 3,000-year history of gardening in China. The Summer Palace is home to Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, as well as numerous pavilions, terraces and towers and other natural sceneries. Each of these buildings and scenic spots has their own unique characteristics, yet they also blend together harmoniously. The Summer Palace combines the achievements of horticultural arts in both southern and northern China, and fulfills the ultimate goal of gardens— the unity of man and heaven.
Construction of the Summer Palace dates back more than 200 years, when Emperor Qianlong was searching for an impressive way to honour his mother's birthday, finally ordering construction of the Summer Palace. In the eyes of Emperor Qianlong, the Summer Palace was also a model which embodied his understanding of governance and political ideals, and epitomised a perfect society in China.
The Summer Palace is divided into three areas. First is the administrative area representing the supreme imperial power is centred around the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, where Empress Dowager Cixi (regency: 1861–1908) handled state affairs and met cabinet ministers. The second is the gorgeous and comfortable residential area which is composed of the Hall of Jade Ripples, Garden of Virtuous Harmony and Hall of Happiness and Longevity. Finally, the third is the sightseeing area composed of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. The entire garden covers an area of 295 hectares and contains buildings with over 3,000 rooms, which are constructed from wooden
frames, cast from copper, built from bricks or inlaid with coloured glaze tiles. An axis runs from the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom on top of Longevity Hill through the Tower of Buddhist Incense, Hall of Moral Glory, Hall and Gate of Dispelling Clouds, and Glowing Clouds and Holy Land Archway. At the foot of Longevity Hill, is the Long Corridor, a famous covered walkway which is painted with more than 8,000 and extends over 700 m. To the south of the Long Corridor lies the tranquil Kunming Lake. Such a layout makes it possible for visitors to feel the magnificence of an imperial garden amid graceful scenery.
Unconventional design details can be found across the garden. For example, there are 544 stone lions on the 17-Arch Bridge, 59 more than those on the Lugou (Marco Polo) Bridge. The northern tip of the garden has relatively few buildings, and instead the hills here are covered with lush vegetation, its winding paths leading to secluded corners. The graceful and quiet environment here is in stark contrast to the magnificence of the front side of Longevity Hill. A group of Tibetan-style buildings packed closely together and Suzhou Street (the emperor's shopping street) are evocative of sceneries south of the Yangtze River, and exert their own charm. With these buildings and sceneries, the Summer Palace lives up to its reputation as a museum of traditional Chinese gardens.
Besides the handling of state affairs, Chinese emperors enjoyed indulging themselves in natural beauty. The legacies of these rulers can be found in the Summer Palace and is why the site is known as a museum-like imperial garden. There are a wide range of relics collected here, including articles used in daily life, antiques, calligraphic works, paintings and books, which are of immense cultural and historical value. A large proportion of the collected items were gifts received by Empress Dowager Cixi during her birthday celebrations. These gifts include many rare and valuable curios. Most of the chime clocks and glassware were made during the 18th and 19th centuries, some created by skilled craftsmen in China, but most were presented to the Qing government as diplomatic gifts by other countries. Many of these gifts are in fact rarely seen even in the countries where they came from.
The beauty of this classical Chinese garden was formed over a long period of construction, prosperity, destruction and reconstruction before it was reborn. Today, the Summer Palace gardens are an ideal summer destination for people in Beijing. When strolling through the gardens, visitors cannot help but admire the beauty unfolding along the shore of Kunming Lake.
In the winter of 1990, the Beijing Municipal Government dredged the silt at the bottom of the lake, increasing its average depth by more than half a metre. When the sluice gate was reopened, clean water spurted out. The scene of clear water was truly evocative of the Summer Palace's predecessor—the Garden of Clear Ripples.
The Pavilion of Bright Scenery, which was destroyed by a fire in 1860, was rebuilt on the long embankment along the southwestern part of Kunming Lake. The long embankment, having been left desolate for a long period of time, again became witness to “warm and bright spring scenes.”
Since the 1980s, reconstructing the rear side of Longevity Hill has been one of the key projects in restoring the sceneries of the
Summer Palace. The core building on the rear side of Longevity Hill—the Four Great Regions—was restored. In autumn 1990, the shopping street which had disappeared for over a century—suzhou Street—was also restored. Modelled after Shantang Street in Suzhou, this street was originally built to show Emperor Qianlong's filial piety towards the empress dowager. Today however, it is a place for visitors seeking out authentic historical scenes.
Ming Tombs Mausoleums for 13 Emperors
The Ming Dynasty underwent long periods of order and prosperity as well as periods of restoration. The same was true of the imperial tombs from those times. Despite the chaos of war, the Ming Tombs remain basically intact having been protected by the Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republican Government. As a representative of imperial tombs, the Ming Tombs contain the history of the rise and fall of the Ming Dynasty, and witnessed the peak of feudal society that lasted over 500 years.
The Ming Tombs are located in Louziying, Kangjia Village, Changping District, and the site was chosen according to feng shui principles. The Tombs are screened by green hills with three imposing peaks to the north, and look out over a wide stretch of flat land, with Mangshan Mountain on one side and Huyu Mountain to the other. The hills act as protection as if it guarding the Tombs, and the combination of mountains and waters meant it was considered the ideal spot for building the emperors' tombs.
Rigorously designed buildings are symmetrically arranged within the Ming Tombs site. Special care was also taken so that the buildings would blend in with the surroundings and be arranged in an orderly layout.
Changling, the tomb of Emperor Yongle, is located at the foot of Tianshou Mountain. As the first Ming Tomb to be built, its grand and magnificent buildings show off the noble position of its occupant. Although each emperor's tomb has its own sacrificial hall, soul tower and underground vault, the Sacred Way leading to Changling connects all of the tombs.
The Ming Tombs complex covers an area of more than 120 sq.km. Stone archways and tablets are shared by all the tombs, each of which is arranged according to precedence. In this way, the buildings inside the complex are closely linked.
On the left side at the foot of Changling Mountain, the tombs are distributed as follows: Jingling for Emperor Xuanzong, Yongling for Emperor Shizong and Deling for Emperor Muzong. On the right side, the tombs are distributed as follows: Xianling for Emperor Renzong, Qingling for Emperor Yingzong, Yuling for Emperor Yingzong, Maoling for Emperor Xianzong, Tailing for Emperor Xiaozong, Kangling for Emperor Wuzong, Dingling for Emperor Shenzong, Zhaoling for Emperor Muzong, and Siling for Emperor Sizong. Others buried in the Ming Tombs include 23 empresses and numerous concubines who were buried alive. There are also tombs for seven concubines and one for a eunuch, a temporary imperial palace and “nine-dragon pond.”
Of the thirteen tombs, Dingling is the most well-known. This is the tomb of the 13th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Shenzong (reign: 1573–1620, personal name Zhu Yijun), and his two empresses. During the 1950s, archaeologists excavated
the Dingling tomb, making it the first to be done so according to state plan.
The underground palace of Dingling is located 27 m beneath the ground. A largescale palace, it is composed of five chambers— front chamber, middle chamber, rear chamber, and left and the right annex-chambers.
Covering an area of approximately 180,000 sq.m, the above-ground mausoleum is composed of the Treasure City, Soul Tower, sacrificial hall, sacrificial gate, left and right roofed-corridors, and slaughter pavilion, sacred kitchen, sacred warehouse, and pavilion with a stone tablet inside and outside the mausoleum's outer wall.
The Ming Tombs are home to more than 3,000 rare funerary objects. The most well-known of which is the “Golden Crown.” Weighing only 826 grammes, the crown is woven with 518 individual pieces of pure gold wire, each of which has a diameter of just 0.2 mm. Other funerary objects include textiles and garments; gold, silver, copper and tin wares; porcelains and coloured glaze items; jade wares; painted wooden items; jewels; headpieces and belts; ornaments; dressing articles; and weapons. The textiles and garments discovered can be classified into brocades, cottons, silks and needlework according to weaving techniques. These materials are either in the form of semifinished rolls of cloth or complete sewn ceremonial robes of rulers, imperial robes, skirts, felt boots and bedclothes. These objects are invaluable materials in the study of etiquette in the imperial court and craftsmanship during the Ming Dynasty.
Located in the southeast corner of the Ming Tombs, Siling is the tomb of Emperor Chongzhen (1611–1644, personal name Zhu Youjian), the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The Siling tomb was witness to the collapse of the Ming Dynasty. After Beijing was conquered by the leader of the peasant rebellion Li Zicheng (1606–1645) towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Chongzhen hanged himself at Jingshan in present-day Coal Hill Park. The emperor was subsequently buried in the Ming Tombs, however, in the tomb of one of his concubines. Siling is less than one tenth the size of Changling, and the principal buildings seen in all the other tombs for emperors are not present in Siling. The mausoleum's treasure hill is also very small, with no treasure mound (the hillock atop the mausoleum of the emperor), let alone the bridle path along the wall of mausoleum. The five kinds of stone offerings also differ from those present in the other 12 tombs, and are not up to the standard of other emperors' mausoleums.
In the past, the Ming Tombs were considered sacred and inviolable. Today however, Changling, Dingling, Zhaoling and the Sacred Way have been opened up to the public. In 1959, a museum focusing on Dingling was constructed at the site of the original site tomb. In 1995, the Ming Tombs Museum was built with the purpose of collecting, protecting and studying historical and cultural relics from the Ming Tombs. Exhibitions of its cultural relics are held to showcase Chinese history and culture, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year. In recent times, people visit the Ming Tombs during Qingming Festival to pray for blessings. One activity held during the event is a re-enactment of the grand scene whereby Emperor Wanli (reign: 1573–1620) would personally offer sacrifices to his ancestors. Numerous visitors take part in the event, “witnessing” this amazing spectacle.
Beihai Park A Garden Fit for Emperors
Beihai (lit. “Northern Sea”) is adjacent to the Imperial Palace, with Jingshan Park to its east; Zhonghai (Central Sea) and Nanhai (Southern Sea) to its south; Xingsheng Palace and Longfu Palace to its west; and Shichahai to its north. It is the most scenic of Beijing's “Three Seas” and is home to a lake, the White Pagoda, pine and cypress trees, flowers, pavilions, terraces, towers and rockeries, from which one can see the varied beauty of the capital.
With their sophisticated landscaping techniques, craftsmen created Beihai Park that takes artistic elements from Chinese temple gardens, scholar gardens south of the Yangtze River and religious attractions. This is why every summer the emperor would visit Beihai Park along with his family.
People love the park because of its numerous structures and scenes.
The Round City ( Tuancheng) is one of these structures. Previously a small island in Taiye Lake, it was part of the Daning Palace during the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234). In the Yuan Dynasty it was called Yuanchi or Yingzhou. During the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty, the Round City underwent a period of extensive construction and the Yuweng Pavilion was added. In the Jin Dynasty, the Round City became part of the imperial garden. The circular Round City is surrounded by city walls. In each of the east and west city walls there is a gate and gate tower. The east gate is called Zhaojing, and the west, Yanxiang. On entering either gate, one can climb to the top of the city wall where the buildings are arranged symmetrically. The Chengguang Hall is the main structure, facing the Yuweng Pavilion to the south and the Jingji Hall to the north; which together constitute a central axis. Symmetrically arranged on both sides of this axis are the Gulai Hall, the east and west side rooms of the Yuqing Study and others. The Duoyun Pavilion and the Jinglan Pavilion are located high on a man-made hill. Between the yellow-tiled and red-walled ancient buildings are pine and cypress trees. The centre of the Chengguang Hall is square, it is three rooms wide and deep, and has an overhanging roof on each of its four sides. The hall is in the shape of a cross and faces a terrace to the south. The central main hall has a double-eaved gable and hip roof, and the overhangs have single-eaved round ridged gable and hip roofs. The roofs feature yellow and green glazed tiles and upturned eaves: the upper eave has double-fishtail, seven-step corbel brackets, whilst the lower eave features doublefishtail, five-step corbel brackets. Inside, the hall is decorated with golden floral paintings, and a large, exquisitely carved jade urn in the Yuweng Pavilion dates from the Yuan Dynasty.
“Qionghua Island on a Cloudy Spring Day” was considered one of the Eight Great Sights of Yanjing (Beijing) during the Jin Dynasty. A stele bearing these words was erected in the park in 1751 handwritten by Emperor Qianlong. The other three sides are also inscribed with poems written by the emperor. On the north side of Qionghua Island is a bronze statue of an immortal standing atop a carved white marble pillar, holding a dish above his head.
Such interesting scenes can be found all over the park, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
The Wanshou Temple Imperial Temple and Art Museum
The Wanshou Temple is located to the south of Suzhou Street, 3.5 km northwest of Xizhimen, to the north of Zizhu Bridge and west of the Guangyuan Water Gate of Changhe River. Reconstructed several times in the Wanli, Kangxi, Qianlong and Guangxu (1875–1908) reigns, the temple developed into a complex consisting of temple, temporary palace and garden. It is praised as the “Small Imperial Palace in Western Beijing.”
The Wanshou Temple was first built in 1577, the fifth year of the Wanli reign of the Ming Dynasty. Funds were provided by Emperor Wanli's mother with the eunuch Feng Bao (1543–1583) from the Administration of Rites in charge of its construction. At that time the temple was used primarily as a depositary of Buddhist scriptures. After these were transferred, the Wanshou Temple became a temporary palace where Ming Dynasty emperors and empresses dined and rested when touring the lake.
During the Qing Dynasty, the Wanshou Temple was reconstructed and expanded several times. Its western part was reconstructed into a temporary palace during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. As a result, it became a large imperial temple, where Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty held birthday celebrations for his mother in the 16th and 26th years of the Qianlong Period.
People may wonder what makes the Wanshou Temple so attractive.
When entering the temple's gate, visitors are met with carved beams and painted rafters, winding corridors, pavilions housing steles with calligraphy written by emperors, rockeries built of blue stone and an underground palace, as well as pine and cypress trees.
The temple can be divided into three parts: eastern, central and western. The central part is the main part. Inside the main gate there are seven courtyards, which, from south to north contain the Hall of Heavenly King, Mahavira Hall, Wanshou Pavilion, Great Meditation Hall, Imperial Stele Pavilion, Hall of Amitayus, and Wanshou Tower. Each hall also has a side hall on either side. The eastern part includes the Abbot Courtyard and Garden, where the monks reside. The western part was reconstructed into the Temporary Palace Courtyard during the Qianlong Period. In front of the temple is the Changhe River, where there once stood a dock. Each early summer, the emperor and his mother would stop and rest here whilst travelling by boat from the Forbidden City to the Summer Palace to escape the summer heat.
When entering the Wanshou Temple's main gate, one sees the Hall of Heavenly King. A bell tower stands to the left in front of the hall and a drum tower to its right where the Big Yongle Bell, also known as the “King of Bells,” once hung. When passing the Hall of Heavenly King, one will see the Mahavira Hall, which houses clay statues of the Buddha of the Past, Present and Future, the 18 arhats, and Avalokitesvara facing to the north. The columns on their sides bear a
couplet written by Emperor Qianlong.
The Wanshou Pavilion behind the main hall was rebuilt several years ago. The Great Meditation Hall behind the pavilion is where lectures on the sutras are held. Behind the hall are centuries-old rockeries and pine and cypress trees. Behind the Great Meditation Hall is the last courtyard, which includes a group of rockeries symbolising the three Buddhist Mountains—putuo, Emei and Qingliang. On the rockeries are three halls. The main hall is the Avalokitesvara Hall, the hall on the left is the Manjushri Hall and the hall on the right is the Samanta bhadra Hall. Behind the rockeries are the Qianlong Imperial Stele Pavilion, Hall of Amitayus, Guangxu Imperial Stele Pavilion and Thousand-buddha Pavilion. On each side of the Hall of Amitayus is a western-style gate built in the same year during the Qianlong Period as the Xiyang Lou ( Western Mansions) of the Old Summer Palace. These gates are characterised by a fusion of Chinese and Western elements. Walking through the gate, one enters the covered corridors winding up the hill and pavilions to the west, or the forested earthen hill to the east.
In the western part is the temporary dwelling palace built during the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty. Behind this are covered corridors winding up the hill on both sides, a small pavilion and the rear tower. It is said that during the Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi would apply her cosmetics here, hence its name “Dressing Tower.” Further back are the Hall of Great Mercy and its side halls. In the courtyard there is a wellhouse where the emperor was lectured on the Buddhist scriptures. In the eastern part is the Abbot Courtyard, in front of which is a large dining hall, kitchen and dormitory for the monks. In the centre is the dining room, front room and the south room. Behind the dining room there is an earthen hill with a detached courtyard.
With such a rigorous layout, the Wanshou Temple remains a place of both historical interest and attractive scenery.
In 1985, the Beijing Art Museum was built here and opened to the public. A comprehensive art museum, it houses nearly 50,000 precious historical relics dating from primitive times up to the Qing Dynasty, but primarily from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The museum's collection includes calligraphic works, paintings, rubbings of stone inscription, letters written by prominent individuals, imperial textiles and embroideries, imperial porcelain, ancient furniture, coins, seals, bronzeware, jade items, Buddhist statues and snuff bottles as well as bamboo, wooden, ivory and horn items.
Prince Gong’s Mansion Excellent Feng Shui Principles
In ancient times, Chinese people greatly valued feng shui when building houses and gardens. It is sometimes said that Beijing has two dragon veins: One is an Earth Dragon, i.e. the dragon vein of the Imperial Palace. The other is a Water Dragon, i.e. a line that connects Houhai and Beihai— Prince Gong's Mansion falls precisely on
the line connecting these two. For this reason, the mansion is believed to be welllocated in terms of feng shui. Historical records state: “The crescent-shaped river surrounding the (Prince Gong's) mansion is like a coiled dragon, and the Western Hills in the distance are like a crouching tiger.” A grand temple once stood here during the Yuan and Ming dynasties that was attractive to Buddhist worshippers and tourists, including emperors. However, the temple gradually fell into disuse around the middle of the 16th century and became a workshop supplying goods to the Ming court.
In around the 40th year of Emperor Qianlong's reign, an official by the name of Heshen (1750–1799), who was highly favoured by the emperor, settled on this piece of land not far from the imperial palace, and bought many estates here at high prices, finally building the well-known “He's Mansion” here. According to feng shui, the presence of water helps generate prosperity. As such, the ponds in Prince Gong's Mansion and the water around the Huxin Pavilion which is diverted from the Yuquan Lake, symbolise an accumulation of wealth.
In 1776, Heshen began building his mansion to the west of Qianhai and in front of Houhai. However, following the death of Emperor Qianlong in 1799, Heshen was removed from power, his mansion was searched and his property confiscated. Official records state that the wealth confiscated from his estate included 800 million taels of silver, equivalent to around 15 years of the revenues of the Qing court. For this reason, there is a saying that “Heshen's downfall brought wealth to Emperor Jiaqing” (reign: 1795–1821). Later that year, Heshen was ordered to commit suicide by the emperor, and his mansion was given to Emperor Jiaqing's younger brother Prince Qingxi (1766–1820).
But what does this mansion that everyone wants to own actually look like?
Prince Gong's Mansion covers a total area of 60,000 sq.m. The living quarters are located in the south and the gardens are in the north. The mansion's houses are grand and simply decorated—not as resplendent as those in the imperial palace. The elegant and natural Cuijin Garden behind the mansion, with its water, hills, tall trees, winding corridors and pavilions, is landscaped in a typical Chinese style.
In particular, the mansion's back garden, built in the style of the Ningshou Palace in the imperial palace, is highly artistic in terms of both layout and design. The garden is surrounded by artificial hills in the east, south and west, and includes a cave in its centre built using rocks from Fangshan. From the hilltop platform one can get a panoramic view of the whole garden. The garden can also be divided into eastern, central and western parts. The central part features a Western-style white marble arch as the entrance to the garden, and includes a stele with the Chinese character 福 ( fu, “fortune”) based on the calligraphy of Emperor Kangxi. In front of the stele are the Dule Peak (Peak of Solitary Joy) and the Bat Pond, behind which are the Lütian Xiaoyin (lit. “Green Sky for Hermits,” also known as the Moon Inviting Platform) and the Bat Hall. The Grand Opera Tower in the eastern part is gracefully decorated, and features flowering vines. A smaller garden is then made up of the Mingdao Study south of the opera tower, Pathway to Seclusion, Chuiqing Shade, Yinxiang Zuiyue (Pavilions for Enjoying Flowers and the Moon) and the Liubei Pavilion. The garden's ancient trees, rockeries, clear water, pavilions, terraces and winding corridors, make it an attractive tourist destination.
The Yonghe Lamasery Where Dragons Hide
Located in the northeast corner of Beijing, the Yonghe Lamasery is an extraordinary, time-honoured temple that has long attracted many Buddhist worshippers.
In 1694, Emperor Kangxi built a mansion on this site and gave it to his fourth son, Prince Yong, which became known as Prince Yong's Mansion. In 1725, during the third year of Emperor Yongzheng's reign, the mansion was repurposed into a temporary dwelling palace called the Yonghe Palace. After Emperor Yongzheng's death in 1735, his coffin was placed here, and so the green glazed tiles in the major halls were replaced with yellow ones. As Emperor Qianlong was also born here, the Yonghe Lamasery is associated with these two emperors, and became “a blessed place where dragons hide.” The halls have yellow roof tiles and red walls, like the imperial palaces in the Forbidden City.
In 1744, the Yonghe Palace was turned into a lamasery. The screen wall was dismantled, and the Zhaotai Gate was constructed; a stele pavilion, bell tower and drum tower were built; the halls were substantially renovated; and 800plus rooms, including a monks' dormitory, printing room and library, were added. Emperor Qianlong gave it the Tibetan name “Gedan Jingqialin,” meaning “Yonghe Lamasery.” To afford the temple a special role, Emperor Qianlong granted it very high status in terms of administration and religion. The lamasery was placed directly beneath the Court of Territorial Affairs (the highest administrative body in charge of national Mongolian and Tibetan affairs), and a minister was appointed to be responsible for the affairs of the Yonghe Lamasery, usually from the princes. The lamasery became the supreme Buddhist temple in the mid- and late-qing Dynasty.
The Yonghe Lamasery houses many stele inscriptions and inscribed boards, almost all handwritten by emperors. It also has a large number of exquisite Buddhist statues, thangkas, scriptures and other Buddhist artefacts, items left behind by the 6th Panchen Lama, the 7th and 13th Dalai Lamas during visits to Beijing, Tantric statues, and items for use in Buddhist festivals. It is the most important Tibetan Buddhist museum in China, and remains a popular destination for Buddhist worshippers and tourists from home and abroad. Today, one can still see many lamas from Mongolia in the Yonghe Lamasery.
The first day of the first lunar month marks the beginning of a new year. During the Qing Dynasty, the court would choose 36 monks from the Yonghe Lamasery on this day to chant “The New Year Sutra“in the Zhongzheng Hall. At 2 a.m., the monks would enter the hall and chant “The Yamantaka Sutra“and “The Palden Lhamo Sutra“until daybreak. Buddhists would also come here to worship the Buddha, burn incense and chant sutras.
Naturally, tourists coming to the Yonghe Lamasery will tour its buildings first. The buildings and artwork in the
lamasery are a combination of Han Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchu styles. Its buildings can be divided into eastern, central and western parts. The central part contains seven courtyards and five groups of halls constituting a central axis, with side halls and wings on either side. Every hall has its own specific function.
As a holy Buddhist site, the Yonghe Lamasery boasts many precious artefacts. On entering the lamasery's first gate, visitors can see a large pavilion in front of the Yonghe Hall (Hall of Harmony and Peace). The pavilion houses a large stele, whose four sides are inscribed with the text On Lamas by Emperor Qianlong in Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan, respectively. The text describes the origin, function and canons of Lamaism. Located in the centre of the pavilion is the stele, erected in 1792 it is a square column, 6.2 m tall and 1.45 m wide on each side. The north side of the stele bears the text in Chinese; the south side, Manchu; and the other two sides, Mongolian and Tibetan. The Chinese text, including the main text and annotations, is based on the calligraphy of Emperor Qianlong. The main text has a total of 693 Chinese characters in Song style each the size of a ping-pong ball, and the annotations contain a total of 1,489 characters in regular script, each the size of a fingernail.
Besides the stele, the lamasery also contains three fine wood carvings.
The Zhaofo Tower was where Emperor Qianlong's mother Lady Niohuru (1692–1777, also known as Empress Xiaoshengxian) would worship the Buddha. The huge niche for the Buddhist statue in the north wall of the hall, carved in goldrimmed nanmu wood, reaches the ceiling and features 99 carved golden dragons in different shapes.
The Falun Hall, commonly known as the “Dajing Hall,” is where the monks gather to chant the sutras. Behind the seated copper statue of Master Tsongkhapa is a 2.5 x 3 m wood carving. This is the FiveHundred-arhat-hill, a carving made of red sandalwood with statues of 500 arhats made from five different metals (gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin).
The statue of Maitreya Buddha is the most outstanding wood carving in Yonghe Lamasery. The statue is 18 m tall, and extends a further 8 m below the ground. The statue was carved in sandalwood presented by the 7th Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso in the 15th year of the Qianlong Period.
In front of the statue of Master Tsongkhapa in the Falun Hall is the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, which is the most precious treasure in the lamasery. According to historical records, it was presented by Tibetan King Pho-lha-nas (1689–1747) the year after the Yonghe Palace was turned into a lamasery nearly 300 years ago.
Today, although the imperial household is no more, the Yonghe Lamasery still remains a popular destination for Buddhists, a situation that began back during the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty.
The Forbidden City, the largest and most-intact, ancient, wooden structure complex in the world
The Summer Palace
The Ling’en Palace at the Changling Mausoleum
The entrance to the Wanshou Temple
Prince Gong’s Mansion
The Yonghe Lamasery, which was formerly Emperor Yongzheng’s mansion