What Not to Miss at Beijing's Summer Palace, the Largest Royal Park in China2016-05-04 17:21:00Share:
China’s largest Royal Park, the Summer Palace in Beijing, sprawls over 700 acres and is steeped in history. So to get some perspective, we had local experts and scholars weigh in on what to see and how to see it.
China’s largest Royal Park, the Summer Palace, sprawls over 700 acres and is steeped in history. So to get some perspective on what to see and how to see it, we chatted with a few local scholars who lead ourexcursion to the Summer Palace.
The Qing, who ruled China from the 17th to the 20th centuries, faced the difficult prospect of unifying and controlling a large, multi-cultural empire. In the Forbidden City and also here at the Summer Palace, one of their strategies was to recognize and reflect the diversity of China. Sometimes this went to extremes.
One fascinating part of the garden, says sinologist Jeremiah Jenne: The Qianlong Emperor recreated an entire section of Suzhou in the back garden of the Summer Palace, close to the North Gate; he would order officials and eunuchs to "perform" as shopkeepers and merchants so that his mother could enjoy the illusion of southern travel—complete with canals—without leaving the Beijing area. It's like a Qing dynasty version of Epcot. (And, like Epcot, in the summer this part of the park crawls with visitors.)
The Long Corridor, a covered walkway that follows a path along Kunming Lake, runs nearly 800 meters. The Qianlong Emperor also built this for his mother so that she could stroll in the garden without getting wet on rainy days. But, today, the trick is to look up, not out. The ceiling and beams are covered with more than 14,000 paintings that depict scenes from classical Chinese literature and folk tales. It's a great place to get a rich lesson in Chinese cultural history.
Some of the gardens just off the Long Corridor offer the quietest (and least crowded) spots in the Summer Palace complex. The Garden of Harmonious Interests, inspired by the garden design that the Emperor enjoyed while visiting southern China, explodes with lotuses during late July and August. The bridges and pavilions that connect the different pools offer a respite from the chaos of Beijing. Keep an eye out for thedoorways that lead into the garden, which have different shapes. Luke Hambleton, a sinologist who wrote his thesis on the Summer Palace, says that these shapes were designed to create “pictures” as you enter the garden, revealing specific scenes before you enter and take in the entire view.
The Buddhist Temple complex on Longevity Hill is a fascinating example of Tibetan style architecture, again showing how the Qing dynasty wished to bring examples of the entire Chinese empire into the Summer Palace area. A combination of numerous buildings, look for the Yunhui Temple with its unusual facade of green and yellow glazed tiles. The tiles represent youth (green) and imperial power (yellow). The Guangxu emperor was thought to have been murdered here during house arrest imposed on him by the empress dowager, Cixi. It was Cixi who had the palace reconstructed 20 years after Anglo-French forces destroyed the complex during the second Opium War of 1860.
Getting there: The park is located just outside the 4th Ring Road in the northwest of the city; it's easily accessible via subway line 4, which leaves you right at the north gate.
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