29 September 2010. Beijing.
Our third day in Beijing was spent eating the peking duck leftovers, and boarding the subway for the Summer Palace, located northwest of Beijing’s center. We alighted at Beigongmen, Exit D, where the north gate to this Beijing attraction is located, and where a McDonald’s was in plain view. Apparently, I was not the only one from the group who was not satisfied with peking duck rolls for breakfast. Properly fed with burgers and fries, we proceeded to the Summer Palace and, for 40RMB each, gained entrance into the impressive imperial garden. The Summer Palace covers an area of over 290 hectares. I got a souvenir map for the group, confident that it could help us find our way into the attractions inside the garden. I was instead blown away by the sheer vastness of the place. The only question that ran through our minds at that instant was Could we cover the entire Summer Palace in a day? Enter Lucy, our cheerful guide. She gave us numerous options on how to tour the place. We availed of the two-hour walk tour, so we didn’t get to see everything that was in the garden; only those Lucy thought were impressive.
According to my map, which includes a brief introduction to the Summer Palace, the West Hill and Jade spring Hill silhouette against this imperial garden. The Longevity Hill, which covers half of the Summer Palace, the other half being the Kunming Lake, has numerous grand palaces and temples, and lush and tall ancient pine and cypress trees. The lake, on the other hand, has a causeway imitating Su Dyke of the West Lake in Hangzhou and three islands symbolizing the three celestial islands in the East Sea of China.
Since we entered at the North Palace Gate, Lucy led us to Suzhou Street where colorful structures delight the eyes. There aren’t that many Chinese structures in the area where we entered, but the rear-hill and back-lake area is covered with trees, and visitors can just relax at the numerous sheds lining the winding path towards the Long Corridor. We stopped at the Gate Tower of Cloud-Retaining Eaves, which, according to the marker, was originally built during Emperor Qianlong’s reign from 1736 to 1795. The gate tower was also called Beique. A silver statue of Guan Yu used to be hidden inside the tower. Guan Yu is a historical hero worshipped as a protection-giving god. His statue, however, did not survive the ravages of the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860. When the Summer Palace was rebuilt during Emperor Guangxu’s reign from 1875 to 1908, a pavilion was erected with a memorial tablet inside in praise of Guan Yu.
We then crossed the Bridge to Banana-Plant and had a view of the Clear and Peaceful Boat or Marble Boat. The boat, according to my map, was built in 1755. It is 36 meters long, with a hull made of massive stone slabs. There is a saying that the Chinese believe in: Water can carry a boat, and it can also capsize a boat. By following the allusion, the Marble Boat was built to mean that the Qing Dynasty would be as solid as rock and never fall.
We walked the Long Corridor towards the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. The Long Corridor, according to my map, runs along the lake at the foot of the hills. It is 728 meters long, with 14,000 pictures painted on its ceiling. It is known as the longest painted gallery in the world. The Long Corridor has four pavilions – the Pavilion of Clear and Carefree, the Pavilion of Autumn Water, the Pavilion of Harmonizing with the Lake, and the Pavilion of Mesmerizing Scenery.
In the middle of the Long Corridor is the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. We had to go through the Hall of Dispelling Clouds to get to this 41 meter high, three-storey octagonal structure with four tiers of eaves. We stopped by the Hall of Virtuous Splendor, and admired the surrounding structures - one of which was the Baoyun Bronze Pavilion, and another structure majestically sitting on top of rocks. The Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, according to the marker, was originally built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong and burned down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860. It was rebuilt in its original style during Emperor Guangxu’s reign. A statue of the thousand-handed Guanyin Buddha, cast in bronze and gilded with gold, stands inside the tower.
Lucy then led us through the Longevity Hill, back to the Long Corridor, towards a courtyard that turned out to be Yiyun Hall. The Yiyun Hall, according to the marker, were the living quarters of Empress Long Yu when she stayed in the Summer Palace. A niece of Empress Dowager Cixi, she was named Empress in 1889, and when Emperor Guangxu and the Empress Dowager Cixi died, she was elevated to the position of Empress Dowager when Puyi became Emperor in 1908.
Images of Summer Palace:
We bade goodbye to Lucy at the East Palace Gate, where she cheerfully stood, patiently waiting for tourists she could regale with the history of the beautiful imperial garden.