The Summer Palace
Most of the time, the Emperor did not actually live in the Forbidden city – Beijing can be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Instead he lived outside the city, in the Summer Palace. The original Summer Palace was sadly burnt down by the British in 1860 as a reprisal, but a New Summer palace was built by the subsequent Dowager Empress Cixi, and today this is a very popular resort.
Some 10 miles north-west of the Forbidden City lies the Summer Palace, in what is today the outskirts of modern Beijing. The beautifully manicured approach road leads down to one of the former Gateways, the Wenchang Tower, the largest of the six gate forts.
The purpose of the summer Palace was to keep the court cool in the summer and thus it was spread around an artificial lake. This very coolness makes it a popular visitor site for the modern inhabitants of Beijing.
The Palace was set round a large lake artificial lake known as the Kunming lake . the main entrance was by the East Gate, and the main palace was set around the northern shores, centering on the Longevity Hill.
The lake is artificial, being dug out by huge team of workers. The spoil was all piled to one side where it forms a hill called Longevity Hill, which is the hill seen in this photo. On one side a Buddhist temple has been erected.
The main hall in the palace is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. This is where the empress Cixi would conduct state affairs, hidden behind a screen, as she was only the mother of the Emperor, and it was the emperor who was meant to be giving the orders.
Here we see a panoramic view of the Palace of Benevolence and Longevity, showing the courtyard in the front, with one of the famous dragons, a bronze qilin, or unicorn, though in fact it had two horns.
(This is a stitched together photo, which does not quite work properly, but it gives a good impression of the relationship of the hall and the courtyard).
The glory of the Long Corridor is its roof, decorated with paintings throughout its whole length
About half way along are the Halls where the Empress Cixi actually lived. This is known as the Hall of Jade Ripples, and it is where the actual emperor Guangxu (Cixi’s son) lived. After the failure of the Reform Movement in 1898 when Cixi successfully put down an attempt at Reform, (i.e. westernisation) which would have given her son a little more power, she had walls built to prevent any exit from the hall, this making the emperor a prisoner in his own palace.
This panoramic photo stitched together from three different photographs gives a good idea of the layout of the Hall
Adjacent to these halls is this archway, which is given different names in different guidebooks. but appears to be the Paiyun archway, or the Cloud Dispelling Gate. It is rather jolly, but I suspect it is essentially rather modern.
There are other parts of the Sumer Palace we did not see – the Stone boat, the Opera hose and the long bridge; but this gives a very good idea of how the emperors actually lived.
We have now seen how the late Empire worked, by looking at the capital of the late empire, Beijing. But the early capital lay 600 miles to the south west, at Xian. So on to Xian, or Chang’An as it was known in earlier times, to take a look at the capital during the Han and Tang dynasties.
16th August 2014