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Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace

2016-05-11 10:39:15Share:

  Kunming Lake 昆明湖, once a natural lake where numerous mountain springs in the northwest of Beijing's Haidian District, was previously known as Great Lake, Jar Hill Lake, etc. After Beijing became the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty, Guo Shoujing, an expert in irrigation works at the time, supervised the redirection of the spring water from the Divine Mountains in Changping, to the lake. The spring water, drawing in the tributary waters along the way, made the lake into a reservoir that greatly facilitated the transportation of grain.

Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace

 

  In the Yuan Dynasty (1277-1368), the Longevity Hill was called Weng Shan (Urn Mountain) because of its urn-like appearance. The low-lying land at the southern mountain foot accumulated water from springs of Jade Spring Hill, and formed a sizable lake, known then as Wengshan Pool. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the name was changed to the ‘West Lake’. A causeway was built in the east side of the lake as a water control project. The capital city of the Ming moved from Nanjing to Beijing and many dignitaries and nobles chose to settle down in this area, for it was very similar to the terrain in South China. By the mid-Ming Dynasty, many private gardens had been established here. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) decided to build a new and truly impressive garden, even though several spectacular imperial gardens had been built during the reign of the former emperor. The new project was constructed on land formed by the dredging of a water channel and construction of a temple to mark the 60th birthday of Qianlong’s mother. (This temple was destroyed in 1860. Subsequently, it was rebuilt as the present Hall of Dispelling Clouds).

 

  With an existing natural lake and hill, it is understandable that Emperor Qianlong could not resist the temptation of such a great garden. However, his proposal went beyond merely wanting a pleasure garden for his amusement. The imperial gardens in Beijing needed more water and there was always a flood risk during the rainy season should water overflow the causeway and threaten the imperial city to the east. The enlarged lake would meet all the criteria. In 1750, Qianlong declared the change of ‘West Lake’ to 'Kunming Lake’, a name that was reminiscent of the inspection by Emperor Han Wu of his navy in Kunming Pool.

Kunming Lake

 

  The dredged lake was linked to the Jade Mountain Spring and moat in the city by two water channels. The east bank of the lake was extended and the excavated earth was moved to improve the terrain on the east flank of Longevity Hill. The temple on the east bank remained on what was to become an island – Nanhu Island, connected by the picturesque Seventeen-Arch Bridge to the newly reinforced causeway. The western reach of the lake is small and shallow so, later the West Causeway was built as an ancillary support to the vista on the western aspect of the garden. This narrow causeway was built mostly as an enhancement of the landscape. Six bridges in various styles broke up the monotony of the previously uninspiring view. Today, there is no lack of exquisitely designed attractions creating endless surprises around the lake.

 

  During the Ming Dynasty, a large number of lotus flowers were planted in the lake. In the surrounding area were rice paddies, temples, pavilions and other finely built structures, creating a great view that resembled the landscape of south China. For this reason it became known as the West Lake, after its namesake in the southern city of Hangzhou. With construction of the Garden of Clear Ripples during Emperor Qianlong's reign (1736-1795), the lake was expanded to its current size. Emperor Qianlong then named it "Kunming", inspired by Emperor Liuche of the Han Dynasty, who once constructed an artificial lake called the "Kunming Pool" to practise battles on the water.

 

  The current lake covers an area of over 200 hectares, making up three quarters of the whole garden. In accordance with the "three islands in one pool" principle for the design of water features in imperial gardens, three islands were built on the lake, namely, the "South Lake Island", the "Mirror of Government Tower" and the "Hall of Recognition of Talent Island". The West Causeway, imitating the Su Causeway of the West Lake in Hangzhou, was also constructed. The glistening waters, the meandering banks, well-arranged islands, and a host of architectural structures in different styles, both near and far, all combine to present a wonderful view of the Summer Palace landscape, a view dominated by Kunming Lake. Scientific research in the 1990s showed that the lake dates back over 3,500 years.

 

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