Beijing: Summer Palace (颐和园, Yíhé Yuán)

By Cubie - April 27, 2013

Yíhé Yuán was initially known as 'Garden of Clear Ripples' (Qīngyī Yuán, 清漪園) back in 1750, reign Year 15 of Qianlong Emperor. It has a large natural mountain and water landscape, dominated by Longevity Hill (Wàn Shòu Shān; 万寿山 and Kunming Hu (昆明湖).

As early as Liao and Jin Dynasties, there were already palaces built at the site at Xiang Shan (香山) and 玉泉山. In Yuan Dynasty, Longevity Hill was named as Weng Shan (瓮山) from Gold Mountain. Weng Shan was named so due to its urn-like appearance, as Weng Shan is literally translated as Urn Mountain.

Legend has it that a jar with treasure was found inside this Weng Shan. The founder inscribed the following inside the jar "When this earthen jar is moved, the emperor's decline shall begin." It was said that the loss of this jar coincided with the fall of Ming Dynasty, during Jiajing period as predicted by the founder of the jar.

To make things even more complicated, Emperor Zhengde of the Ming changed the name back to Gold Mountain during his reign. During Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Emperor erected Temple of Gratitute [edit: I believe it is now known as Hall of Dispelling Clouds / Paiyun Dian] and renamed the mountain to Longevity Hill in commemoration of his mother's 60th birthday.

At the south of Longevity Hill, the low-lying land at the bottom of the hill accumulated water from springs of Jade Spring Mountain (Yuquan Shan, 玉泉山), forming a sizable lake. This lake was named as Wengshan Pool, and renamed as West Lake (Xi Hu, 西湖) in Ming Dynasty.

Emperor Qianlong then expanded the scale of this lake, and named it Kunming Lake in 1750. The story as to why it was so named (Kunming Lake) was that Emperor Wudi of Han Dynasty dugged an artificial Kunming Lake for a navy battle practise in the ancient capital of Chang'an (present day Xian). Kunming Lake was named in reminiscent of this artificial lake previously. At the same time, Longevity Hill was also renamed.

The palace complex suffered two major attacks during the Anglo-French allied invasion of 1860 and Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The garden survived and rebuilt. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi diverted 30 milion taels of silver originally for the navy to reconstruct and expansion of this garden. It was given its current name by her - Yíhé Yuán. Yíhé Yuán served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, therefore I assume also known as Summer Palace now.

She had the southern side of Longevity Hill laid out in imitation of West Lake of Hangzhou and northern face in the architecture style of Suzhou.

In an even more short summary, the naming and renaming goes like this:
Qīngyī Yuán -- Yíhé Yuán
Gold Mountain -- Weng Shan (Urn Mountain) -- Gold Mountain -- Wàn Shòu Shan (Longevity Hill) **Note: I have absolutely no idea how it turned from a mountain to a hill though.
Wengshan Pool -- West Lake -- Kunming Lake

Guardian figures on a roof, this one has 7 figures in between the dragon and the man riding on phoenix
Are you still reading? Grin, I hope so. Anyway, I don't know if anyone actually finish all the sights in Yíhé Yuán. Maybe we have little legs, maybe we proscratinate too much or spent too long taking photos, reading the description of the place, we didn't manage to see everything in this 290 hectares (716 acres) ground. However, if you need to skip some of the places due to time constrain, there are couple of major sites not to be missed. Next post will be on some sites that we visited.

We took subway to North Palace Gate (Beigongmen, 北宫门), once exiting the station, you will be approached by guides, many guides. I am not entirely sure if they are authorised but we have decided not to engage one, so we declined all of them and walked straight on.

Most will tell you to get only the basic entrance tickets and "save" the balance of money to have a guide. Separate tickets are required for certain major sites inside this Summer Palace. Some of them will tell you that you will need to walk pass a hill to get to the major sites, therefore engaging their service will save you from unnecessary walks. There is some truth in that - as in needing to pass through a 'hill' but fear not, if me with short legs and non existence stamina can crossed that, there is little to worry about. :)

Side note: Choya umeshu extra years costs $45... takaii :(

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  1. Fortunately, i am planning a Beijing trip now and the Summer Palace in my list ^^.
    Thank you for sharing...