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The Ten Scenes of West Lake at the Old Summer Palace

2016-09-29 13:42:13Share:

  The Old Summer Palace was also called the Garden of Perfect Brightness. The Ten Scenes of West Lake were identified and codified over the centuries. As a result of the Qing emperor Kangxi's Tours of the South the ten scenes were finally fixed, their poetic titles—the 'four character scenic descriptors' (sizi jingmu 四字景目) as they are now called—written in the imperial hand were carved on stelae protected by small pavilions at each of the approved sites.

Moon Reflected on Three Ponds (Santan yin yue 三潭印月)

 

Moon Reflected on Three Ponds (Santan yin yue 三潭印月)

 

  Kangxi's travels, and latterly those of his grandson, the Qianlong emperor, led them to recreate favourite poetic and culturally rich spots and scenes that they encountered in their travels in the Lower Yangtze Valley (Jiangnan 江南) first at the imperial hunting lodge at Jehol (the Chengde 'Mountain Villa for Escaping the Heat', Bishu Shanzhuang 避暑山莊) and then at the imperial garden palaces to the northwest of Beijing. 



  As we have noted in the Editorial to this edition of China Heritage Quarterly the commerce between the Qing imperial north and the elite and merchant cultures of Jiangnan, or the region of the Lower Yangtze Valley, was complex and multidimensional. Here we will simply note that Jiangnan scenes, or at least poetic and named allusions to them, were replicated on imperial fiat and their resonant traces (ji 跡, recalling Eugene Wang's discussion in 'Tope and Topos' earlier in Features) can be found at Qing imperial residences both inside the old capital (in the Forbidden City, the Sea Palaces of Zhongnan Hai and at Bei Hai Park), and at the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming Yuan 圓明園) and the garden demense rebuilt from the 1880s, called the 'Summer Palace' in English (Yihe Yuan 頤和園, originally the Qingyi Yuan 清漪園). In the mid-Qing period these were often simply referred to as the 'Gardens of Haidian' (Dian yuan 澱園), so called because of the area in which they were located.

 

  In 1860, Anglo-French forces razed the Gardens of Haidian, including the earliest major Qing imperial palace in the area, Kangxi's own Garden of Delightful Spring (Changchun Yuan 暢春園). While the grounds and general topography of the Garden of Perfect Brightness have remained substantially intact, many of its structures surviving (or being rebuilt) until 1900, Kangxi's palace, which had been used by empresses and palace women after that emperor's death there in 1722, was left in a state of despoliation. It is now the site of dormitories and facilities belonging to Peking University. However, it was this garden palace that at the height of that emperor's reign featured re-imagined scenes from the emperor's tours of the Lower Yangtze, including some that recalled West Lake in Hangzhou.

Breeze Amongst the Lotuses of Brewing Courtyard (Quyuan fenghe 曲/麴院風荷)

 

Breeze Amongst the Lotuses of Brewing Courtyard (Quyuan fenghe 曲/麴院風荷)

 

  During the reigns of the three great emperors of the Qing period—the so-called 'prosperous age of Kang-Yong-Qian' Kang Yong Qian shengshi 康雍乾盛世, from the mid seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries—various sites at the palaces and gardens were selected to become formal 'scenes' (jing 景), or 'vantage points' that were regarded as being worthy of literary and artistic commemoration. There are, for example, thirty-six exemplary scenes at the Jehol Mountain Villa, while Qianlong identified (or had refurbished or newly constructed) forty laudable scenes at the Garden of Perfect Brightness in the 1740s (in the reign of his father, the Yongzheng emperor, only twenty-eight scenes had been named). Poems were duly composed to commemorate these scenes, and paintings and wood-block prints made to offer idealized versions of these scenes, which were then presented as a sign of imperial favour to courtiers. 

Twin Peaks Piercing Clouds (Liangfeng cha yun 兩峰插雲)

 

Twin Peaks Piercing Clouds (Liangfeng cha yun 兩峰插雲)

 

  Among the forty scenes at the Garden of Perfect Brightness, two replicate the names of Kangxi's Ten Scenes of West Lake. They are: 'Autumnal Moon Reflected in a Calm Lake' (Pinghu qiuyue 平湖秋月) and 'Breeze Amongst the Lotuses of Brewing Courtyard' (Quyuan fenghe 麴院風荷). The first is located on the northern shore of the garden-palaces main body of water, the Sea of Plenitude, or Good Fortune (Fu Hai 福海). The second lies to the southwest of the lake.

Moon Reflected on Three Ponds (Santan yin yue 三潭印月)

 

Moon Reflected on Three Ponds (Santan yin yue 三潭印月)

 

  The Sea of Plenitude, also known as the Eastern Sea (Dong Hai 東海), recalls the sea to the east of mainland China, a place that from the time of the first emperor, Qin Shihuang, was regarded as being mysterious and numinous. Today, the expression 'seeking immortality in the Eastern Sea' (Dong Hai qiu xian 東海求仙) recalls the Qin-era mythology that surrounds it. At the Garden of Perfect Brightness the Sea of Plenitude features two other West Lake scenes: 'Twin Peaks Piercing Clouds' (Liangfeng cha yun 兩峰插雲) and 'Evening Bell-toll at South Screen Mountain' (Nanping wanzhong 南屏晚鐘).

THE OLD SUMMER PALACE BEIJING CHINA

 

Evening Bell-toll at South Screen Mountain (Nanping wanzhong 南屏晚鐘)

 

  Nearby to the north another small lake features 'Moon Reflected on Three Ponds' (Santan yinyue 三潭印月), with three stone bases being all that remains of the original miniature lantern-pagodas built in imitation of those at Xiao Yingzhou 小瀛洲 in West Lake. Moving southwest away from the lake we encounter 'Breeze Amongst the Lotuses of Brewing Courtyard' (an area built over with crude workers' shacks at the time the photographs below were made), and further south a long islet named after West Lake's Spring Dawn Breaking Over Su Embankment (Sudi chunxiao 蘇堤春曉).

Autumnal Moon Reflected in a Calm Lake (Pinghu qiuyue 平湖秋月)

 

Autumnal Moon Reflected in a Calm Lake (Pinghu qiuyue 平湖秋月)

 

 

  Other copies of, or at least references to, the Ten Scenes of West Lake at the Garden of Perfect Brightness are less readily identified. A spot in the larger compound of Lion Grove (Shizi Lin 獅子林, itself copied from a garden by that name in Suzhou, another version of which features at the Imperial Mountain Villa) in the northwest precinct of the garden contains Listening to Orioles Amidst Billowing Willows (Liulang wen ying 柳浪聞鶯). And, at the heart of the Garden of Perfect Brightness one of the nine islands (Jiuzhou 九洲) that represents the empire in miniature, Tantan Dangdang (坦坦蕩蕩), recalls Viewing Fish at Flower Harbour (Huagang guan yu 花港觀魚).

Viewing Fish at Flower Harbour (Huagang guan yu 花港觀魚) = Tantan Dangdang

 

Viewing Fish at Flower Harbour (Huagang guan yu 花港觀魚) = Tantan Dangdang

 

  Lois Conner and I have been visiting the Garden of Perfect Brightness since 1998 (for details, see 'A Photographer in the Garden'). My first encounter with the place was in 1976, while that of Lois was in 1984, the year that restoration work began on the Sea of Plenitude and the island of Pengdao Yaotai 蓬島瑤台. Over the years we have repeatedly visited the Beijing simulacra of the Ten Scenes, as well as the originals in Hangzhou. The small selection of photographs below represent our own 're-creation' of the Ten Scenes of West Lake as encountered in Beijing.