The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace landscape, dominated mainly by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, covers an area of 3.08 square kilometers, three quarters of which is under water. Its 70,000 square meters of building space features a variety of palaces, gardens and other ancient-style architectural structures. Well known for its large and priceless collection of cultural relics, it was among the first group of historical and cultural heritage sites in China to be placed under special state protection.
The Summer Palace, originally named Qingyi Yuan or the Garden of Clear Ripples, was first constructed in 1750. It was razed to the ground by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860. The Government of the Qing Dynasty started to rebuild it in 1886 with funds that it had misappropriated from the Imperial Navy and other sources. Renamed two years later as Yihe Yuan or the Garden of Health and Harmony, it was supposed to serve as a summer resort for the Empress Dowager Cixi. Known also as the Summer Palace, it was ravaged by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers that invaded China in 1900. The damage was repaired in 1902. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Summer Palace has undergone several major renovations. Its major attractions such as the Four Great Regions, Suzhou Street, the Pavilion of Bright Scenery, the Hall of Serenity, the Wenchang Galleries and the Plowing and Weaving Scenery Area have been successively restored.
The Summer Palace is a monument to classical Chinese architecture, in terms of both garden design and construction. Borrowing scenes from surrounding landscapes, it radiates not only the grandeur of an imperial garden but also the beauty of nature in a seamless combination that best illustrates the guiding principle of traditional Chinese garden design: “The works of men should match the works of Heaven”. In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List with the following comments: 1) The Summer Palace in Beijing is an outstanding expression of the creative art of Chinese landscape garden design, incorporating the works of humankind and nature in a harmonious whole; 2) The Summer Palace epitomizes the philosophy and practice of Chinese garden design, which played a key role in the development of this cultural form throughout the east; 3) The imperial Chinese garden, illustrated by the Summer Palace, is a potent symbol of one of the major world civilizations.
Chamber of the Pleasure of Farming (Lenong Xuan)
It is said that this chamber was built on the orders of the Empress Dowager for the purpose of experiencing the pleasures of farm life. The walls were built with gray bricks and the roof was covered with stone slates. Even though the structure has the attraction of a farmhouse, it still possesses the charm of a structure in an imperial garden.
Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha (Foxiang Ge)
Originally built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong and burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860, it was rebuilt in its original style during Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1875-1908). The octahedral tower has three stories with four-layered eaves, altogether 36.44 meters high. Standing upright on a 20 meter-high stone foundation, it constitutes the center of the Summer Palace landscape and serves to accentuate its magnificence. A statue of the thousand-handed Guanshiyin Buddha, cast in bronze and gilded with gold, stands inside the tower. The statue, five meters high and five tons in weight, was cast during the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty. Set off by the eight imposing pillars which support the tower, it glows with beauty, grandeur and brilliance. Its historical, cultural and artistic value can hardly be overstated.
The Long Corridor
The Long Corridor was originally built in the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750) and then rebuilt in the 12th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1886) because the Anglo-French Allied Forces burned it down in 1860. It starts from Inviting the Moon Gate in the east and ends at Shizhang Pavilion in the west, covering a distance of 728 meters with its 273 sections. Of all the corridors in Chinese classical gardens, the Long Corridor is the longest. On the beams are more than 8,000 colorful paintings depicting stories from Chinese classical novels, folk tales, landscapes as well as flora and fauna. Four pavilions, “Mesmerizing Scenery”, “Harmonizing with the Lake”, “Autumn Water” and “Clear and Carefree”, with octahedral structures and double eaves, were built intermittently along the corridor. Taking the Hall that Dispels the Clouds as the center, the Long Corridor stretches symmetrically to the east and the west along the foot of the hill and the water bank, linking all the structures scattered along the Longevity Hill side into a whole.
Clear and Peaceful Boat(Qingyan Fang)
Initially called the Marble Boat, it was built in the 20th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1755). The 36-meter boat was carved out of huge rocks. There was originally a Chinese-style cabin on the boat, which was burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860. When it was rebuilt in the 19th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1893), the cabin was built in the western style and named the “Clear and Peaceful Boat” pursuant to the saying “Let the river be clear and the sea be peaceful”.
Suzhou Street (Suzhou Jie)
Originally called Merchants Street, it was built in the style of South China towns during Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1736-1795). A street where emperors and empresses could pretend to go shopping as ordinary people, it was burned to the ground by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860 and restored in 1990. The 300-meter street is built over water with shops and stands on the bank. More than 60 businesses, including a teahouse, a restaurant, a pharmacy, a bank, a hat store, a jewelry store and a grocery store, operate on the bank, presenting a concentrated illustration of the commercialism in South China towns in the 18th century.
Sea of Wisdom Temple (Zhihui Hai)
Constructed in the reign of Emperor Qianlong(1736-1795), the Sea of Wisdom Temple was an arch-shaped structure built with bricks and stones without the support of a single beam or pillar. It therefore came to be known as the "Beamless Hall". The hall’s roof and murals were finished with colored glaze and decorated with 1,110 statuettes of the Infinite Longevity Buddha. These and the statue of Buddha inside the temple are all cultural relics from the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The glazed statuettes of Buddha were savagely destroyed in 1900 by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers. The characters inscribed on both sides of the decorated stone archway form the text of a Buddhist hymn which says: “The Realm of Popular Fragrance, the forests of god; the seas of wisdom and the auspicious clouds.”
Hall of Happiness in Longevity (Leshou Tang)
Built in the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750), the Hall of Happiness in Longevity originally had two floors. Burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng’s reign (1860), it was reconstructed in the 12th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1886) to serve as the living quarters for Empress Dowager Cixi during her stay in the Summer Palace.
Hall of Jade Ripples (Yulan Tang)
Originally built in the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750) with passageways in all directions, the hall was burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng’s reign (1860). It was reconstructed in the 12th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1886) as the emperor’s living quarters. Following the failure of the 1898 Reforms under Emperor Guangxu, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered that the courtyard be blocked off, thereby converting it into a place for keeping the Emperor under house arrest.
Yiyun Hall (Yiyun Guan)
Yiyun means the collection of books. The hall was originally built in the 15th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750) with two side wings, each with five bays. The east wing was named the “Method Keeping Room” and the west one was named the “Nearing the West Room”. Burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in the 10th year of Emperor Xianfeng’s reign (1860), it was rebuilt in the 12th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1886) to serve as a residence for the Empress.
These were the living quarters for Empress Long Yu when she, as Emperor Guangxu’s wife, stayed in the Summer Palace. A niece of the Empress Dowager Cixi, she had the title of Empress bestowed on her in the first month of the 15th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1889). When Emperor Guangxu and the Empress Dowager Cixi died of ill health and Puyi became Emperor in 1908, she was elevated to the position of Empress Dowager under the imperial title of Long Yu. In this capacity, she issued an order to give up the throne in 1911 after the Wuchang Uprising.