The Summer Palace is situated in the North West of Beijing in Haidian District, an area famous for it’s universities. Both Peking and Tsinghua University, two of the most famous in the country, are in Haidian but this isn’t the reason why most tourists come here. They come for the Summer Palace, once a resort for Beijing’s ruling dynasties but now a major tourist attraction and one of the nicest places in Beijing to spend a few hours or even a whole day and that is why it is a prominent part of most China tours and holidays
The Old Summer Palace
It is not to be confused with the Old Summer Palace or Yuan Ming Yuan meaning the Gardens of perfect brightness. They were built from 1707 onwards until they were finally destroyed by British and French troops during the second Opium War. They are also to be found in Haidian district but to the east of what is reffered to as the Summer Palace today. Much like the Summer Palace Yuan Ming Yuan had been built for the ruling classes and Qing dynasty emperors used to conduct all but the ceremonial acts of state from here.
The Summer Palace ,or Yihe Yuan as it was to be known from 1888 onwards, began it’s conception as far back as the 12th century when the Jin Dynasty emperor Wanyan Liang built a Gold Mountain Palace on the hill which now sits inside the almost 3 square kilometres that the whole site takes up. This hill would gain it’s modern day name of Longevity Hill in 1752 when the Qianlong emperor decide to honour the length of his 60 year old mothers life.
The huge Kunming lake that fills three quarters of the park was built from an existing smaller body of water and greatly extended to mimic the great West Lake of Hangzhouthat has been an inspiration not only for Chinese artists but for all walks of life in the Far East.
Attacks by The West and Boxers
Yihe Yuan was also to feel the wrath of the West with it suffering two major attacks. The first occurring at the same time as the attacks on Yuan Ming Yuan. The second happened during the Boxer Rebellion when the combined forces of 8 Western powers sacked the Palace in 1900 just 12 years after it had been given it’s modern name. Anyone visiting the Summer Palace these days will see constant reminders of this on nearly all the translated placards that are set next to the main features of the park.
With buildings named things such as The Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Temple of Buddhist Virtue and the Sea of Wisdom Temple, it is one of the most serene places to spend an afternoon in Beijing as you might imagine and certainly plays a prominent part in most China tours andtours of Beijing. So next time you are in the capital make sure you make time to visit the playground of many a Chinese Emperor and get out to the North East of Beijing for a dip into China’s past and probably part of your own history if you are European.
Article posted by Phil Stanley: 27th February 2014