The Summer Palace is the archetypal Chinese garden, and is ranked amongst the most noted and classical gardens of the world. By the time of the Qing Dynasty, it had become a luxurious royal garden providing royal families with rest and entertainment. Composed mainly of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, The Summer Palace occupies an area of 294 hectares , three quarters of which is water. Guided by nature, artists designed the gardens exquisitely so that visitors would see marvelous views and be amazed by perfect examples of refined craftwork using the finest materials.
Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
Hall of Benevolence and Longevity was first built in 1750. The name of this hall taken from a book entitled Lun Yu by Confucius, "those who are benevolent can enjoy a long life." This hall was the place where Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Cixi held audience and handled state affairs. The arrangement of the hall has been left untouched. In the middle of the hall stands an emperors throne carved with nine dragons on design, two grandeur fans on both sides behind the throne which are made of peacock feathers. A big screen Behind the throne with red sandalwood frame and glass mirror inlaid. On the mirror there are 226 Chinese characters of the word "Longevity" written in different styles.
Hall of Jade Ripples
This group of special and quiet courtyard dwellings is the Hall of Jade Ripples. The word "Jade Ripples" came from a verse "Gentle ripples gushing out of Jade Spring", which refers to the rippling water in the lake. It was first used by Emperor Qianlong to attend to state affairs. In the late Qing Dynasty, it was where Emperor Guangxu was put under house arrest.
This hall is a hallmark of the Movement of 1898. Emperor Dowager Cixi made her nephew Guangxu, who was at that time four years old, a successor in order to continue her hold on imperial power. She handled state affairs behind the screen. After Emperor Guangxu managed state affairs personally at the age of 19, a political conflict occurred between the conservatives and the reformers. In 1898, the Reform Movement took place with the aim of sustaining the core principles of the Qing Dynasty while reforming outdated laws. The movement lasted for 103 days until it was suppressed by Empress Dowager Cixi, got the name of "Hundred-Day Reform". After the reform failed, Emperor Guangxu was put under house arrest here. For the strict control of him, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered to build many brick walls in the front, back, and on the right and left of the Hall of Jade Ripples. At that time the hall was entirely sealed up, just like a prison. Today only the hidden walls in the east and west annex room still maintain its original appearance. It is open to visitors as the relic related to the 1898 Reform Movement.
The two main elements of the garden are Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. As a main part of the Summer Palace, kunming lake covers an area of 220 hectares, or three fourths of the combined space of this summer resort. this natural lake is more than 3500 years old. This lake was originally called wengshan lake. in 1749 emperor qianlong ordered the construction of qingyi garden, the predecessor of the Summer Palace. involving nearly 10,000 laborers, the lake was expanded and turned into a peach-shaped reservoir, the first of its kind for beijing.
Tower of Buddhist Incense
An octagonal structure with three storeys and quadruple eaves, the tower of buddhist incense is the very center of the Summer Palace, and is one of the masterpieces of ancient chinese architecture. the tower is 41 meters in height, and is buttressed by 8 solid pillars made of lignumvitae logs. with its complex structure, ingenious layout, towering terrace and convincing grandeur, the tower of buddhist incense was artfully set out by the imperial gardens and beautiful scenery surrounding it.the tower overlooks kunming lake and other picturesque spots within an area of tens of kilometers.on the west side of the tower stands baoyunge (precious cloud pavilion). it is made of bronze and is 7.5 meters in height and 270 tons in weight. it resembles its wooden counterparts in every detail. it is one of the largest and most exquisite bronze pavilions still on existence in china. lamas prayed here during the reign of emperor qianlong in honor of the monarchs and their families. at the turn of the century 10 bronze windows were spirited abroad. in 1992 an american company bought the windows and returned them intact to china.
The Long Corridor
The Long Corridor is one of the major structures of the Summer Palace.It is 728 meters long and consists of 273 sections. Since the corridor was designed to follow the physical features of the southern slope of Longevity Hill, four multiple-eaved, octagonal pavilions were placed at bends and undulation, they represent four seasons of a year. Thus visitors will hardly notice the rise and fall of the terrain. Long Corridor serves as an ingenious connector between the Lake and the Hill. Scattered buildings on the southern slope were linked to create a unified complex. The Long Corridor is the longest covered veranda in any Chinese garden. On the purlins and beams of the covered veranda, there are over 14,000 Suzhou style paintings. Among them, there are 546 color paintings relating to the scenes of West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Beside the colorful paintings of natural scenery, there are also scenes of flowers, birds, fish, insects, mythology and figures. The paintings of figures are mainly adapted from ancient Chinese classical literature, such as Pilgrimage to the West, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and The Dream of the Red Mansion.
The Hall of Happiness and Longevity
The Hall of Happiness and Longevity was the residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. The whole compound was basically made of wood, which is ideal for ventilation and lighting. With its quiet and tasteful layout, the Hall of Happiness and Longevity made life very easy and convenient. In front of the Hall of Happiness and Longevity is a huge rock, nicknamed as "Bankruptcy Rock". This huge rock was discovered in southern Beijing by a Ming official MiWanzhong. He wanted to transport it to his own garden. After spending all his money to ship it, he still could not succeed in doing this. The big rock was then left on the roadside somewhere near Liangxiang County, 30 kilometers southwest of Beijing. Hence it was nicknamed "Bankruptcy Rock". The colorful glass chandeliers hanging inside the hall was introduced from Germany in 1903. It is one of the earliest electric lights in China.
"Water can float the boat, but it can also tip it over." A famous scientist of Chinas Eastern Han Dynasty once said. people are water and the emperor is the boat.
People can support a good emperor. However, they also can overthrow the dynasty. Emperor Qianlong built this huge boat in the Garden in order to make the allusion concrete. On one hand, Emperor Qianlong encouraged himself to run the country well. On the other hand, he wanted to show that his rule of the Qing Dynasty was as firm as the Marble Boat and there was no fear of overturning the boat. The Marble Boat was the place for Emperor Qianlong to sample tea and enjoy the scenery of Kunming Lake. Emperor Qianlong once came here to engage in the freeing of captive animals. In the times of Qianlong, the Marble Boat was a Chinese styled stone boat with a Chinese style wooden superstructure on the top of it. When it was rebuilt in the times of Guangxu, a foreign and Chinese elements mixed resulting in two wheels to be added to the boat, one on each side. The floor was paved with colored bricks. All of the windows were inlaid with multiple-colored glass. A big mirror was installed on the superstructure for viewing rain.
The bridges of the western causeway of Kunming Lake are replicas of the bridges of famous Marco Polo Bridge in the south of Beijing. The marble Seventeen-Arch Bridge which spans the Eastern Causeway to South Lake Island has balusters topped by 540 carved lions in different poses.