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Legends: Discovering Beijing’s Historic Imperial Garden

2015-12-17 13:48:36Share:

  The history of China's largest existing imperial garden goes back to more than 800 years. Legend has it that during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), an imperial palace named Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site where the garden is located. The garden also happens to stand upon the same land to which the Summer Palace was built. The area itself now covers an area of over 290 hectares, which includes more than 3,000 buildings, including some spectacular halls, pavilions and towers.

 

  Its main configuration consists of the Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. The garden can be divided into three parts: the administrative, the residential and the scenic.

 

  On one hand, the Imperial Garden is a testimony to the luxurious lifestyle of the feudal emperor. On the other, it represents an apex in the development of Chinese landscape gardening in terms of scale, layout, craftsmanship and artistic elegance. It was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1998.

 

 

  Rumor has it that the hall has undergone several large-scale revamps in the past two centuries. One scheme in 1886 aimed to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Dowager Empress, Cixi, in 1894. The project in 1902 was to repair the damage caused by the Eight-Power Allied Forces.

 

  After 1949, two maintenance projects were implemented. One, between 1953 and 1954 to celebrate the fifth Anniversary of Modern China and,the other between 1988 and 1989 to mark the 40th anniversary of the PRC. According to legend, such projects served two purposes. Firstly, to celebrate major national occasions and second for a more practical reason, traditional Chinese wooden structures needs major restorative work every 20-30 years.

  

  Legend has it that the long corridor from the palace that leads to the Imperial Garden was also restored at least twice after 1949, once in 1958 and the other 1959. It was also restored again between 1978 - 1979.

 

  In recent times, preparatory work for new renovations to the Imperial Garden began early last year. After much research, a team inspected the area and found numerous damages throughout the whole garden. This produced thousands of photographs and two books detailing plans for the restoration. These materials helped them establish four principles for the work: guaranteeing safety; protecting existing historical information; adhering to traditional maintenance methods and staying true to the style and appearance of the Long Corridor.

 

 

  The researchers however, also realized that, nowadays, there are fewer qualified craftsmen skilled in the traditional techniques needed for such sensitive renovations. In addition to these challenges is the sheer extent of the work the team would like to carry out. Partly thanks to the depth of the research the damaging discovery greatly exceeded initial estimates.

 

  It is said that during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), there was a complete system for the yearly restoration of the royal gardens. But in later years, the royal family simply could not afford the maintenance anymore. Overtime, with the degradations of war, and in later years followed by the challenges in the early years of New China, this became less and less important. Over time, wear and tear and inevitable accidents hit every corner. Though the garden now invests some 10million Yuan in renovation every year, it remains difficult to 'repay the debt' accumulated over the past century in the short run.