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Daily Life of Royals in the Old Summer Palace

2016-05-24 13:38:00Share:

The emperor of China, or son of heaven, was entitled to the maximum pleasure. In imperial china, it was taken for granted that the country and people are both “to consecrate one person”. Only the ruler’s own conscience could restrain his passion and desire.

 

  In this sense, the magnificent Yuanmingyuan (The Old Summer Palace) only matched the paramount status of the Qing emperors who conquered a vast empire. The garden came to age in 1723 upon the ascendancy of the Yongzheng Emperor, who added courts and office buildings to the pleasure environment and set the precedent for running state affairs from the Yuanming yuan.

 

  Indeed, from Yongzheng to Xianfeng, five Qing emperors thoroughly enjoyed the more than 500-acre scenic land, with hundreds of halls and pavilions, and the extremely luxurious living. They inevitably transformed it into a regular residence, or even their principal residence, and spent increasing amounts of time each year in the garden.

 

  What was royal life like in the imperial garden? It has been a mystery until the availability of archival sources in recent years.

 

  These sources, regardless of their limitations, at least allow us to dig into the dust of history to scan some aspects of the life of the Qing emperors in the Yuanming yuan and even to capture a glimpse of their activities behind the walls of the magnificent, palatial garden.

 

  Of the five Qing emperors, it was Qianlong who spent the longest time in and the most money on the Yuanmingyuan. He chose to stay in his beloved palace garden as long as he possibly could.

 

  He returned to his palace in the Forbidden City often only out of absolute necessity, such as to perform rituals and celebrations at the beginning of every Lunar New Year and to take customary hunting trips to Rehe, usually in the midst of summer.

 

  Take the year around 1775: altogether Qianlong spent 168 days, or 43.86 percent of the year, in the garden. In the remainder of the time he spent 105 days in the Forbidden City, 66 days in the Chengde summer retreat in Rehe, and 44 days in Confucius’ hometown at Qufu. This was not significantly different from the year of 1752, during which Qianlong spent 175 days in the garden.

 

  Qianlong became homesick even during a short absence from the Yuanmingyuan. He revealed this feeling upon his return from the annual hunting trip in 1752 in one of his numerous poems:

 

  Returning to my royal demesne from the frontiers,

 

  I appreciate more the sprouting scenes of this fairyland.

 

  Now I admire the picturesque hills,

 

  Now I enjoy boating on lakes,

 

  Maples trees are still in red,

 

  They inspire me to write poems.

 

  Look, chrysanthemum flowers are in brilliant yellow,

 

  Seemingly slowing down the passing autumn.

 

  Two months afterward,

 

  I return to my pleasure ground,

 

  As usual, moonlight flows through my window.