The Summer Palace, 100 years ago


Hundreds of years ago, the Summer Palace, visitors are boating.

The Summer Palace (simplified Chinese: 颐和园; traditional Chinese: 颐和园; pinyin: Yíhé Yuán) is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres (1.1 sq mi), three-quarters of which is water.

Longevity Hill is about 60 acres (200 feet) high and has many buildings positioned in sequence. Thefront hill is rich with splendid halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty.

The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometres (540 acres) was entirely man-made and theexcavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.

In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. It declared theSummer Palace “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value.” It is a popular tourist destination but also serves as a recreational park.

When the Jin Dynasty emperor Wányán Liàng (February 24, 1122 – December 15, 1161 CE) moved his capital to the Beijing area, he had a Wang hillPalace built on the site of the hill. In the Yuan Dynasty, the hill was renamed from Wang hill to Jug Hill (Weng Shan). This name change is explained by a legend according to which a jar with a treasure inside was once found on the hill. The loss of the jar is said to have coincided with the fall of the Ming Dynasty as had been predicted by its finder.

The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), who commissioned work on the imperial gardens on the hill in 1749, gave Longevity Hill its present-day name in 1752, in celebration of the 60th birthday of his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing.

The Summer Palace started out life as the ‘Garden of Clear Ripples’ (simplified Chinese: 清漪园; traditional Chinese: 清漪园; pinyin: Qīngyī Yuán) in 1750 (Reign Year 15 of Qianlong Emperor). Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou.

In 1860 the British and French burned the palace down at the end of the Second Opium War (the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time). The punitive action was undertaken in response to the torture and killing of a European peace delegation that included Thomas William Bowlby. The destruction of large parts of the palace complex still evokes strong emotions among some in China.[1]

In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, and 3 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), went into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace. This diversion of funds away from the military came just six years before the First Sino-Japanese War, which China lost. The palace was, in 1894, due to be thecenter of the celebrations of Cixi’s sixtieth birthday, yet, the war with Japan forced her to cancel the elaborate plans.

The Summer Palace was slighted a second time in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion when it was seized by the eight allied powers. The garden were burned and mostly destroyed. Many of the Palace’s artefacts were divided among the eight allied nations. These are still retained by various countries – such as France and United Kingdom – much to the annoyance of the modern Chinese government.

The Summer Palace has been under restoration since its destruction. However the main obstacle to the work has been the lack of original plans that would aid the rebuilding work.

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