Legend of the Summer Palace's Marble Boat2016-08-24 10:38:46Share:
The Summer Palace at Beijing's Haidian district is a quite familiar name for us, but the marble boat located at the northwestern corner of the Summer Palace and the northwest corner of Kunming Lake might be a little unfamiliar for most people. Legend says that this marble boat was ordered to built by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1636 - 1912). But why did he build this boat? This is the story we discuss in this article.
The marble boat was call Shi Fang in chinese. "Fang" is a building on the water exclusively designed in China’s traditional gardens and its exterior and interior structures extremely resemble those of a boat. This special building does not only enrich the beauty of the garden, but also provide an entertaining spot for visitors. One can stand on it to view the surrounding mountains and lakes. The lower body of it is usually made of stone, but its upper body is made of wood.
The boat was carved of a huge stone and is as long as 36 meters. The two-story building on the boat has been decorated as the appearance of marble and on top of it is the brick-like ornament.But why did Emperor Qianlong building this stone boat? He was not only intended to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the lake when standing on it but had another purpose.
In Chinese history there is an important and famous quote from Emperor Li Shimin, ruler of the early Tang Dynasty (618 - 907): The water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it up. In this quote, water is the people and boat refers to a dynasty or ruler of a nation. Water will carry the boat peacefully as long as the boat navigates reasonably, but it can turn the boat over when the boat poorly or wrongly navigates.
What Emperor Qianlong meant was water cannot overturn the boat, since it is as hard as stone. However, the truth is the Qing Dynasty collapsed because of the poor navigation of the boat. What disappoints all of us today is this boat was destroyed less than 100 years after it was built, by the British and French invaders. When the boat was rebuilt in the 19th year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign, the traditional cabin on the boat was changed to a western style cabin, named Qingyanfang, which is the one we see today when we tour the Summer Palace.
The marble boat is now the only existing western-style structure in the Summer Palace. Inlaid with colorful glass windows and wheels and paved with colored bricks, the boat is 36 meters long, and two stories and eight meters high. Using the huge mirrors fixed on each deck, Cixi could enjoy the exquisite lake scene while having tea. The roof of the two-decked pavilion is made from brick carvings. Four dragon heads mounted in each direction serve as drains, allowing rain water to be channeled out of their mouths.
With its arcing stern and bow and a hull shaped like paddle wheels, the big boat looks very much like a steamer ready for sailing. A thick layer of moss covers the outside of the boat revealing its long tenure here. Visitors can view the boat by walking the length of the Long Gallery that begins at the Gate of Inviting the Moon (Yaoyuemen) close to the eastern gate of the Summer Palace.
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