Home > The Summer Palace and Me: An Intimate Destiny

The Summer Palace and Me: An Intimate Destiny

2016-05-05 11:46:56Share:

  The imperial gardens of Beijing can’t live without the maintenance for old buildings, let alone the repairing craftsmen. Both Wen-sheng Chen and his father are experts in this industry. “My father is a top leader in this line at his time, and he can handle well all kinds of difficult technical problems such as hoisting beam and measuring line”, said Wen-sheng Chen, an original old staff of the Summer Palace.


  In 1970, we were noticed to restore the original plaques of the Summer Palace, only finding that many "golden seals" on the plaques had been dug away. One day engraving a stamp, it spent me more than twenty days to complement the missed dozens of seals. Even today a lot of seals on the plaques are still preserved as what I engraved that year.


  The first time to the Summer Palace: A Spring Outing


  Speaking of the Summer Palace, Wen-sheng Chen can always talk a large number of stories. He recalled that it was about in 1943 when he came to the Summer Palace at the first time, and he was just an elementary school student then.


  I remembered that it was a spring outing, and the students took bus from Xizhimen to the Summer Palace under the guidance of teachers. At that time, there was only one long-distance bus to the fragrant hills, which had a stop out of the Summer Palace’s east gate and the platform then becomes the ticket office now. The bus went once every half an hour and the fare was 2 Jiao RMB. If you couldn't wait so long you would take an unlicensed car, which was a steamed locomotive one burned with firewood at that time. The wooden carriage could hold five or six people, and the fare was also 2 Jiao RMB. The unlicensed cars were very popular those days because though slowly somehow, it can go anytime as long as it has enough people. There were more than 10 such cars outside of Xizhimen then.


  If you really had no enough money to go there by bus, you could choose to ride a donkey. Also outside of Xizhimen, there was a team of little donkeys, and one person could ride one small donkey. Though very cheap, it was too slow.


  In 1943, the Summer Palace was all surrounded by rivers and paddies, and the water is very clear, with a lot of fishes and shrimps.


  When we entered the Summer Palace at first time, we visited Xiequyuan (the Garden of Harmonious Interest), Long Corridor and Foxiangge(the tower of Buddhist incense). The teacher told us that this corridor is the longest art gallery in China. Then we drunk water beside the small river and filled into our little kettles with river water. The river was full of fishes, and the water was extremely clean, on which you could see clearly every move of the aquatic plants. That was really mineral water! Going down from the Jade Spring Hill, after through five brakes, the water flows to the Summer Palace totally.


  In the early 1940s, the people who visited the Summer Palace were all wealthy, some of whom wore long gowns as well as mandarin jackets, and some young ladies wore western-style clothes.

An Old Picture of the Long Corridor at the Summer Palace


 An Old Picture of the Long Corridor at the Summer Palace


  Memorizes during the Great Repairing


  In 1950, the Summer Palace began to experience an overhaul repairing, including the Tower of Buddhist incense, Revolving Archive, the Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Long Corridor, as well as the North Sea, the Fragrant Hill and Badachu. Wen-sheng Chen said, “My father is a carpenter who is not only good at repairing, but also designing.”


  Wen-sheng Chen said, take the rails of the Tower of Buddhist Incense as an example: The past board railings with double leather hose are easily bad, while today’s style of rails is designed by my father. After drawing and measuring the standard size, he gave the drafts to the workers. The job was always doing well as long as according to the size of his design. Those days, when we came back, we did our jobs in the carpenter's room beside Yelü Chucai Temple. We were divided into three groups, and I belonged to one of which.”


  We left a lot of precious memories at the Tower of Buddhist Incense. (There was a habit among craftsmen in the past: Repairing a building, the craftsman would write down his own name and nail it on the roof beam of this building. To memorize in one hand, while to be responsible for the job in the other hand.) We can’t find our names now, as they have been already nailed inside the roof beam, and maybe our names can only be found after hundreds of years. After repairing, with inked pen, we wrote marks on the wooden board for memory.


  A lot of technical skills existed in the repairing of the Tower of Buddhist incense and Revolving Archive, such as the flowers on the ceiling. Not like today’s wooden ornament, it was decorated with paper originally. After designing and making, we installed the paper flower on the ceiling. Not as same as today’s movable ceiling flower, the original ones are made of paper, which pasted to the ceilings.


  Wen-sheng Chen said that until the ten years’ great ceremony, the continuous large scale of repairing work moved on to a minor one, which did not end up until the “cultural revolution”.


  The Summer Palace changed its name to the "People's Park"


  Since the beginning of "cultural revolution", the cultural relics have turned into “the four olds ” ( old ideas ; old culture ; old customs and old habits ). The red guards not only meant to destroy “the four olds ”, but also noticed us to remove the plaque of the Summer Palace, and to change it into the "people's park”.


  It was on someday 1967, we suddenly received a notice that to change the Summer Palace into the people's park. I was in charge of carpentry, and I led my men make a new plaque overnight. The new plaque was made from fiber board, with 2.4 meters long and 1.2 meters wide, whose bottom was paved with white paint, then yellow characters covering on it.


  At the next day, the new plaque had already hung on the wall, and at the same time, the plaque of the Tower of Buddhist incense was also replaced by "Xiangyang Tower".


  Wen-sheng Chen recalls, I couldn’t participate in the rushed collecting and storing of the cultural relics as only the cadres could attend. All the furniture of the hall needn’t to be withdrew, while the cultural relics must be stored safety, thus a lot of furniture had been damaged, while the cultural relics had been well protected.


  Then talk about the outside cultural relics: We have to draw out the beauties hung on the outside corridor, and changed to the picture of Chairman Mao and his quotations. There were a large number of quotations hung on the pillars one by one.


  Two pictures of Chairman Mao were hung on the pavilion there, one on either side, which led the way to the west side of long corridor.


  Nevertheless, the red guards were still not satisfied, as they saw a tiger on a drawing beside the picture of Chairman Mao and they thought a tiger couldn’t face to the greatest Chairman Mao. They yelled: “who hang the picture here and we have to fight him.” With white paint, we brushed the picture and covered the tiger. Visitors were very curious and touched the wall with their fingers, after which the original pattern showed up again.


  Since the red guards were still not satisfied, some people figured out a way, which was not a good solution, to cover with the armored light lacquer. As a result, a lot of original colored drawings or patterns cannot show up again forever. During the late period of "Cultural revolution", many original paintings covered by the white paint were wiped out while others covered by armored light lacquer could never. A lot of cherish paintings had been destroyed at that time.


National Leader Zhou Enlai at the Summer Palace


  The tablets were all removed at that time and we have no special warehouse to store them. What we could only do is to put aside and preserve the tablets near where they had been removed.


  For example: the tablets behind the marble boat of little Suzhou street around were all put aside at the back of Chuantang hall, inside the gallery as well as the west side of the long corridor; the Plaques of the long corridor were placed to the east: the corridor behind the nine rooms back of the Hall of Happiness and Longevity, which was full of plaques at that time; the plaques of Harmonious Interest Garden were placed in the south courtyard, where both couplets and plaques stayed.


  The two lions out of the gate had to move away because they were capitalist products. The Shoushan stone of Renshou Gate should be sealed completely by slogans and hung up the "four great" facing the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, with great tutor or something. Since the Suannis or lions were directly facing “the four great”, the red guards said they should be sealed immediately, breaking up is the best.


  We hurriedly wrote quotations, because as long as we put the quotations on the lions, no one dared to break them anymore. We nailed a square box around each lion, with quotations on each side, hence, the lions had been protected.


  Both lions at the Paiyun palace were sealed with written quotations. If not, they would let us move the lions to Yelü Chucai Temple and they intended to put all the beast statues there. Luckily, the beasts had not been placed there or they would all be destroyed. During the "cultural revolution", we were doing a good job in protecting the cultural relics as all of them had been removed and the cultural relics on the ground are all sealed with slogans tower...


  Seals on the Plaques are My Works


  In 1970, we were noticed to restore the original plaques at the Summer Palace, finding that many "golden seals" on them had been already dug away.


  Wen-sheng Chen said that among these seals, “Some belongs to the Qing Emperor Guangxu, and some belongs to the Qing Empress Dowager Cixi”. It took me more than 20 days, one day a seal, to complement the dozes of seals. Now a lot of seals on the plaques are engraved from my hand.


  Wen-sheng Chen recalled: In 1980 s, the Summer Palace needed to increase the displays of relics. After watching the clock exhibition in the Forbidden City, we also host our own clock show. Nevertheless, these clocks, with small problems, needed to be repaired due to their long history. I repaired them by myself, and when I met unsolvable problems, I will turn to master Ma for help, who is the second generation’s successor of clock repairing in the Forbidden City. I learned from him and spent 5 Yuan RMB to buy a big clock from the Caishikou consignment store. I dismantled and repaired the clock again and again to figure out how the clock can walk fast while how slowly.


  There were more than 200 pieces of watches and clocks in The Summer Palace, dozens of which are repaired from my hand. We opened a clocks exhibition hall at the south hall of Renshou Palace, and Mr Jin Henggui wrote a big brand for us, which is still preserved now.


  The hall charged another fee, in which we held several shows a day. Each clock has its own key, and I taught the commentators how to wind up a clock or watch. After several days exhibitions, we just display them while not performance anymore, as these old clocks can’t always be winded up.


  Wen-sheng Chen said, “I have been staying in the Summer Palace for decades, and also repairing for decades. I have everything repaired, big as buildings or small as clocks. I repairs whatever needs to, and this is the genuine characteristics of the cultural relics units. Since, the Summer Palace is a living garden, and it exactly needs a well protection as well as tender maintenance...”

The Imperial Gardens