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The Summer Palace

Wax statues of 'An eunuch combing hair for Cixi' displayed in the Summer Pavilion
Wax statues of 'An eunuch combing hair for Cixi' displayed in the Summer Pavilion.
The Buddhist Incense Pavilion.
The Buddhist Incense Pavilion.
The Marble Boat.
The Marble Boat.
The Summer Palace
The Yulan Hall in the Summer Palace where Emperor Guangxu read and called in subordinates.

The Summer Palace, located in the western suburbs of Beijing, is the last imperial garden built by the feudal dynasties of ancient China. It was destroyed by the British and French Allied Armies in 1860; the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) then appropriated the navy's budget to rebuild it. In 1998, this imperial garden, which belongs to world civilization, was entered in the ranks of World Cultural Heritage.

Entering the garden from the East Palace gate, one first passes through an impressive gate and comes upon seven halls that are situated facing eastward. These are the'Morally Upright' halls where the Qing emperors met with various ministers. Inside are preserved the thrones used by the Empress Dowager and the last Emperor Guangxu while they were on the throne. Also on display are various paraphernalia of the time including incense burners of bronze dragon and phoenix, candlesticks, the mythical beast called the 'chilin , and the screen that is so pervasive a part of Chinese culture.

The famous Long Corridor along the Kunming Lake
The famous Long Corridor along the Kunming Lake.

Passing further westward, one soon comes to the lake, and to a hall, Yulan Tang, that was built for the relaxation of the Emperor Qianlong. This was rebuilt in the 18"' year of Guangxu and made into a sleeping chamber for the Guangxu Emperor. ln 1898, after Cixi put the Reform Movement into motion, she locked Guangxu up inside this small palace. She had the corridors to east, west and north all sealed or blocked up with brick walls, while the southern entryway was watched day and night by a eunuch that she personally trusted.

The Leshou Tang Main Hall was the resting palace of Cixi. To the left and right on the stairs are around six different kinds of bronze deer, cranes, and vases, that signify peaceful togetherness. The suite to the west was Cixi's bedroom. The rooms to the east were for changing clothes. Subsidiary halls to east and west were stations for female officials and palace women who were on duty.

The big stage in Dehe Garden
The big stage in Dehe Garden

On the northern bank of the Kunming Lake is a long corridor, also called the thousand-steps corridor, that is world-famous for its fine craftsmanship. It contains 273 small 'rooms' and is 728 meters in length-the longest corridor in any form of Chinese garden or ancient architecture. The four octagonal pavilions that are spaced along it, for stopping and resting, have ornate descriptive names and symbolize the four seasons. Some 8,000 paintings are painted directly on the beams of the corridor. They narrate stories of famous people in Chinese history and portray decorative scenes.

The central axis of the entire garden is formed by drawing an imaginary line from the central ridge of the backdrop of the Wanshou Mountain, from to the Buddhist Incense Pavilion. A hall called the Parting the Clouds Hall graces the mountain ridge and is considered the most beautiful of the entire garden. It can be reached by ascending a set of stairs and will reward the visitor with lovely sights. To the north of the hall stands the south central ridge of the Wanshou Mountain, and on that stands the central building of the Summer Palace, the Buddha Incense pavilion. Three Buddha statues are inside the Pavilion, which stands an impressive 41 meters tall.

To the western end of the long corridor, beside the lake, is the only structure in the Summer Palace that has a western character. This is a stone boat that is 36 meters long. The cabin on it is made of wood, and it is furnished with western?style tables and chairs. A number of other locations in the Summer Palace are of both historical and aesthetic interest, with the so-called Eight Views of Hui Mountain being among them. When the Qianlong Emperor took his famous southern tour, he viewed an ancient garden in the town of Wuxi and resolved to build a replica of it on his return to the north. This became the Huishan Bajing, the Eight Views of Huishan at the Summer Palace.

The night scene of Suzhou Street.
The night scene of Suzhou Street.

The Summer Palace was invaded and destroyed first by the English and French Allied Army and then again by the Eight-Powers United Army. It underwent extensive restoration and was reopened in various stages, starting in 1986. In 1992, other buildings were reconstructed on their original sites; in 2003 Qianlong's garden plans were basically restored. This outstanding Chinese Imperial Garden Museum is famous worldwide not only for its construction and views but also for its rich collection of art. More than 4,000 items are in the collection, among which some 300 are regarded as extremely rare treasures.

Address: Beijing City,Haidian District,Xinjian Gongmen Road,#19
Telephone: 86-10-62881610
Fax: 86-10-62881077
Official Website: http://www.yiheyuan.com

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