Summer Palace

Chinese name
颐和园 (Yíhéyuán)
Admission
¥30 (Apr-Oct); ¥20 (Nov-Mar)
Hours
6:30-20:00 (Apr-Oct), 7:00-17:00 (Nov 1-Mar 31)
Phone
010 6288 1144 (Chinese only)
Website
www.summerpalace-china.com (in Chinese)
Address
19 Xinjiangongmen Lu, Haidian District (海淀区新建宫门路19号)
Transport: Subway – Line 4, Beigongmen (北宫门) Station, Exit D, walk a couple minutes until you see the north gate on your left side. If you need help finding the place and your Chinese will not suffice, point this sentence out to a local. 请问去颐和园正门怎么走?

Sprawling across a luxurious 3 sq km (1 sq mi) of northwestern Beijing, the brilliant imperial escape of the Summer Palace (or Yiheyuan in Chinese) is an absolutely essential visit during any trip to China’s capital. The architecture and landscaping of the former imperial playground are genius in their design and execution, with opulent temples, quaint pavilions, luxurious gardens, magnificent corridors and countless other marvels arranged around the splendor of Kunming Lake. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Summer Palace is the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China, and hundreds of thousands of visitors come here each year (the busiest day ever saw 130,000 visitors).

History

As early as the 11th century, the imperial family had been escaping their pampered life at the Forbidden City for more pampering at the Summer Palace. The gardens and pavilions here were an imperial hot spot for around 800 years before the site was greatly expanded to its current form by the Empress Dowager Cixi in the 1880s. Cixi loved her creation, and subsequently vacated the Forbidden City to rule from Yiheyuan for 20 years until her death in 1908.

Cixi’s massive elaborations at the Yiheyuan were in large part a response to the 1860 pillaging of the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) by the Anglo-French forces during the Opium Wars. Her expansive work at the new site was again struck by the remorseless Eight Nation Alliance in 1900 in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion. The determined Dowager reputedly diverted 30 million taels (a tael is about 38 grams) of silver meant for the navy to rebuild the palace once more. Six years later, the first Sino-Japanese War began and the Chinese navy for some reason found themselves too underfunded to win.

The Summer Palace was opened to the public in 1924 and later survived the Cultural Revolution thanks to Premier Zhou Enlai. Many relics continue to sit abroad in foreign museums, poignant reminders of imperialist piracy, but the palace is still a rocking testament to China’s historical architecture.

Layout

Hall of Benevolence and Longevity ( Rénshòu Diàn 仁寿殿)
On the east side of Kunming Lake sits the main building of the palace complex, the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. Inside is a hardwood throne, used by Cixi for important administrative meetings. The front courtyard is laid with several bronze animals.
Longevity Hill ( Wànshòu Shān 万寿山)
Emperor Qianlong conceived the manmade Longevity Hill as a gift to his mother on her 60th birthday – probably the most impressive pile of dirt you could give anyone for their birthday present. Coincidentally, the hill presents a 60 m (197 ft) incline and is littered with Buddhist temples and pavilions. As you mount the stairs, stop off at the serene Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion ( Fóxiāng Gé 佛香阁) and the wonderful Cloud Dispersing Hall ( Páiyún Diàn 排云殿). At the top of the hill sits the beautiful Sea of Wisdom Temple ( Zhìhuì Hǎi 智慧海). The temple’s three levels of upturned eaves are an awesome sight, almost as awesome as the view of Beijing (on clear days of course) from its top. Inside you can check out a sea of glazed tiles with little Buddha portraits on them.
Kunming Lake ( Kūnmíng Hú 昆明湖)
Extending across three quarters of the Yiheyuan parkland, Kunming Lake has a different personality for each season (and by each season we mostly mean winter and summer). In the winter, it is unbeatable for ice-skating, so head over and join the Chinese completely ignoring all the “Don’t Walk On The Ice” signs. Summer invites the blooming of great round lotus leaves and their flowers, which blanket the lake in a sea of green and pink. Among the temples and pavilions, the summer character of Kunming Lake’s field of lotuses is a sublime sight.

Take a walk around the lake to see some of the magnificent buildings that dot the shores. Opposite Longevity Hill’s north shore, the Dragon King Temple (Lóngwáng Miào 龙王庙) sits on the South Lake Island, where royalty came to pray to a statue of the Dragon King for rain. Don’t miss the Marble Boat; it’s made of wood, which is funny, but not a joke. The boat was built in 1755 from wood and then painted to look like marble.

Getting on the lake is easy. Vendors can equip you with skates in the winter, and boats are available in the form of paddleboats (4-6 people; ¥60 per hour, ¥300 deposit) or electric powered (¥100 per hour, ¥400 deposit) in the warm months.
The Long Corridor (Cháng Láng 长廊 )
The Long Corridor is basically an extended hallway with a roof and open sides that shielded the emperor from the elements as he walked along the base of Longevity Hill. It’s also one of the most beautiful and elaborate hallways you’ll ever see, and it will remind you how rough life was for the emperors who had to walk down it every singe day during the summer. What a drag. It extends 728 m (2,388 ft) along the southern bank of the hill, running parallel to the northern shore of Kunming Lake. The sides open up to the fantastic scenery outside, while the ceiling bears 14,000 intricately painted scenes from Chinese history and legends, as well as classic Chinese literary excerpts, such as Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber. This is one of the best parts of the area – don’t miss it.
West Causeway ( Xī Dī 西堤)
Many tourists at Yiheyuan begin their journey by swinging east towards the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. Avoid the crowds by taking the West Causeway instead, where you can take a stroll through a nice grove of mulberry and willow trees. Along this less beaten counterclockwise lap of Kunming Lake you will encounter two ancient bridges: the Jade Belt Bridge ( Yùdài Qiáo 玉带桥), built by Qianlong in the 18th century, and the 17 Arch Bridge ( Shíqīkǒng Qiáo 十七孔桥) which leads over to South Lake Island.
Wenchang Pavilion ( Wénchāng Gé 文昌阁)
The Wenchang Pavillion (aka the Flourishing Culture Pavilion), sits just south of the Hall of Longevity and Benevolence.

Housed within is the Wenchang Gallery, which is thoroughly worth a visit. Here you can find most of the remaining artifacts and relics that weren’t looted by the allied powers. Among them are samples of Cixi’s calligraphy, some pretty bronze and jade pieces, and beautiful Chinese porcelain.
 

Surrounding Attractions

 

© 2015 All rights reserved. www.pandaguides.com