The imperial gardens in Beijing are significant and influential classical Chinese gardens. They are shining pearls among gardens worldwide.
The gardens are splendid and massive, featuring various architectural styles.
The Summer Palace
The history of Summer Palace extends as far back as 800 years. In 115 B.C, when the Jin Dynasty made Beijing--then called Yanjing-- its capital, it built an imperial palace that was then referred to as the Golden Hill Palace. The structure still remains on the present site of what residents and tourists both recognize as the Summer Palace of Beijing.
In 1750, Emperor Qianlong paid 4.48 million taels of silver, an equivalent of 140,000 kilograms, to invest in building the Garden of Clear Ripples. After a period of fifteen years, however, Emperor Qianlong made a decision to change the name of the hill to Longevity Hill in order to celebrate his mother's birthday. He also named the nearby lake, Lake Kunming, because he wanted to follow the example of former Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty 156BC-87BC, who reigned from 140B.C to 87B.C. In these times, he also trained his army in the present day area of Xidan on the grounds of what many historians and tourists now know as Kunming Pool, 206BC-AD220.
In the year 1900, Summer Palace was invaded and ravaged by allied opposition forces who invaded China around this time. Much of the damage, however, was repaired and the structure was close to being fully recovered by 1902. Summer Palace subsequently became the residence of the Dowager Empress Cixi who spent a great deal of funding developing and beautifying the scenery and the surrounding areas of the palace.
With great reflections and a beautiful scenery of endless tales, Summer Palace remains to be one of the most widely visited places in Beijing. It is likely to grow in popularity as a scenic spot as the next decade brings more and more travelers into Beijing for both sight seeing and a cultural appreciation for historic landmarks.
West of the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park is Beihai Park. Beihai Park is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved of all the ancient imperial gardens in China and it is conveniently located in the very center of Beijing. Beihai literally means the "Northern Sea." There are also corresponding "Central" and "Southern Seas" — both are located in an area called Zhongnanhai. This region is also quite famous because it houses China's paramount leaders.
Beihai's ancient gardens, over 1,000 years old, reflect not only a classic combination of the grandiosity of Chinese northern gardens and the refinement of the southern gardens of China, but also perfectly integrate magnificent imperial palaces with solemn religious construction.
Towering over the central islet is the 36-meter high White Dagoba, which was built to honor the visit of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1651 and is one of the more impressive sights on the skyline. Local residents can be seen using the space for Tai Chi and water calligraphy, using large brushes and water on the stone cobble.
This scenic area contains the largest and best-preserved age-old block in the city. In the Yuan Dynasty it was the capital's center for commerce. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it was home to many high officials and men of many letters. After the Manchu takeover, the emperor-led Pure Yellow Banner Troops were stationed here. In 1992, the Standing Conference of the Beijing Government named it a scenic area of history and culture. Thereafter is was referred to as Shichahai, which is the name it has maintained to date. In 2002, the Shichahai area, which covers 1,467,000 square meters altogether, was designated as one of 25 historical and cultural protection zones of the city.
Shichahai has both a beautiful and unique scenery. A famous essay, once written in ancient times, says that during the spring it is like the West Lake in Hangzhou; yet during the summer it reminds one of the Qinghuai River in Nanjing. The poem, whose author is unknown, referred to the autumn season as a time that makes Shichahai a blissful reminder of the Dongting Lake in Hunan. Shichahai has the densest collection of cultural tourism resources, having altogether 40 historic sites under protection, with three of them under national protection. The best known among them are Prince Gong's Mansion, which used to be the residence of He Shen, the most avaricious minister of the Qing Dynasty, and the Yinding Bridge, which is known as the best place to view mountain side near the area.
Shichahai has rich historical legacies and a number of well-preserved Hutongs, Quadrangle Dwellings, mansions and gardens. It has a vast cultural heritage within the walls of the temples, halls, and distinguished former residencies which are now historical sites. These areas are harmoniously blended with natural scenery and with distinctive folk customs. In recent years, bars, homely restaurants and hotels in some Quadrangle Dwellings have began to sprout in this neighborhood, making this place more fashionable to tourists. The tradition and aesthetics of this time period attracts about five million tourists each year from home and abroad. In 2005, it was listed by the Chinese National Geography Center as one of the five best city blocks in China for 'being fashionably next door to Zhongnanhai.'
Each year, the cultural tourism festival is held in Shichahai. Several Hutong Tours have been set up which convey a different, albeit important side of the area. The area of Shichahai has become a well-known scenic spot among expats living within the city. Tourists may experience the genuine culture of Beijing by joining the tours of Prince Gong's Mansions, seeing the old streets, ancient temples, former residencies, the city gate towers, the boating areas, the old bars and accommodation arrangements of the Quadrangle Dwellings. It is well worth the visit as it lends one an image into the life of the old city. Take a trip there during your next day off. Bring a friend or a co-worker or simply head there on your own to reflect.
It is a great place to appreciate the days of the past and the future that lies ahead.