Beijing Day 5: Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan)

We dedicated a whole day on our fifth day in Beijing to visit the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace is situated in the northwest suburb of Beijing. It is huge and is almost the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It is definite much bigger than the Forbidden City by about four times. The Summer Palace was built around Kunming Lake, West Lake and South Lake.

The Summer Palace was declared by UNESCO as a as a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design and is recorded as one of about 1000 sites on the World Heritage List. It is the natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges that form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value.

The Summer Palace is officially known as Yihe Yuan in Mandarin which stands for the word Garden of Nurturing Harmony. This area was developed as an imperial garden over 800 years ago. It was not until the reign of the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty that it was built as it stands today. It was built as a present to his mother to celebrate her 60th birthday.


We took the long subway out to the Summer Palace. That ride took almost 1 hour but good thing we had a seat after a few stops. I think it was because it was a weekday and not many people visits the Summer Palace then. The moment we got out of the subway, we were inundated by pedicab drivers! We did not want to take those pedicabs. We were more afraid of being scammed. 🙂

Ben was telling me story of his friend who was scammed by a pedicab driver outside of Forbidden City. The poor-looking pedicab driver convinced him to take his trishaw saying “three kuai, three kuai” (3 Kuai is about 50 cents Canadian). Seeing how cheap it was and also taking a pity on the pedicab driver he got on for a 20 minute ride back to his hotel. After a short distance, the pedicab driver got off and then another pedicab driver got on. Guess what happen next … well, the new pedicab driver said that it was 3 kuai a minute! LOL!

So yeah, we decided to walk than to be fleeced by dishonest pedicab drivers. We figure we can find our way since the subway station name is already the Summer Palace.

Our arrival at the Summer Palace was greeted by the Archway, the first building of the Summer Palace. The front side of the Archway has characters which imply water, and on the back side has characters which suggest the tranquility of the park just behind it.


We walked east ward along the Kunming Lake where willow trees lined the pathways. It is a beautiful time of the year to visit the Summer Palace although it is also a bit chilly.

In summer, Beijing is stifling hot and dry. That is why the emperor built a palace away from Beijing so that he could get some respite to the heat. While size-wise the Summer Palace is much bigger than the Forbidden City, it is much smaller in terms of number of buildings.

Actually, this is known as the new summer palace. There is another older summer palace and grander summer palace nearby this one. The old summer palace was completely destroyed by the British and French troops during the Opium War when the Chinese protested against the importation of opium. The British and French locked the palace inhabitants in while the palace was pillaged, destroyed and burnt to the ground. 300 eunuchs and princesses perished. That period is known as time of humiliation to the Chinese people. That was the old summer palace, not this one.


We walked past Wenchang Tower which stands on the northern end of East Dyke. It is a building in the shape of a city gate. Inside the two-stories building is enshrined the bronze statue of the God, Wenchang who is a civil god.


The entrance to the Summer Palace is RMB 50 per person (about $8 Canadian).  We also rented the audio guides for RMB 45 each (about $7.50 Canadian). The front entrance is a palatial building. This is known as the East Palace Gate. The gate in the middle, called “the Imperial Gateway” was for the emperor and empress while the gates on either side were for princess and high officials, and the northern and southern side doors were for eunuchs and guards.

There are two bronze lions standing on guard on both side of the East Palace Gate, a male and a female. The one above is a male lion with a ball under its paw. The female lion has a young lion under it’s paw.


Rock display is a common feature in Chinese classical garden. The above is one of the huge Lake Taihu stones that grace the Summer Palace. There are a lot of rock collection throughout the Summer Palace. Many of these rocks have stories associated with them.


The above Hall of Benevolence and Longevity was the place where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu held court and administered state affairs. This place is basically the throne room while they are away from the Forbidden City during summer days.


The sign was inscribed in two languages. On the left is the Chinese and on the right is Manchurian, the language of the Qing Dynasty. Many people who are not familiar with Chinese history does not know that the last dynasty in China is not Chinese but Machurian.


There is a bronze kirin, a mythological beast (Chinese unicorn) in front of the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity in the Summer Palace. It is popularly known in Chinese, a si bu xiang; a quadruple non-resemblance. It has a deer horn, dragon head, lion tail and bovine hooves. Kirin is reputed to have the power of an imperial censor, to distinguish honesty and corruption in officials.


We walked down the Long Corridor (Chang Lang) where Empress Dowager Cixi used to stroll. The 728 meters walkway is decorated with over 14,000 scenic paintings on the beams. Ben said that each of the beams were decorated with stories of Chinese history and folklore … and that none of them are the same. I can recognize some of the stories.


Halfway through the Long Corridor, we made a detour to visit the Hall of Dispelling Clouds seen in the front of the picture above. Behind the Hall of Dispelling Clouds is the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. The Tower of Fragrance is 41 meters high. It is a three stories octagonal structure with four tiers of eves.


The climb up to the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha was a torturous one. Ben said this was just the training for the Great Wall later. It was long and high climb. It was also very steep. I had to rest but I see a lot of other people who were climbing faster than us and some of them are much older than us.


The view of of the Kunming Lake from the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha was spectacular. Looking at the size of the lake, it is amazing to think that this whole lake is man made.


A closer look at the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha (Foxiang Ge Tower), also known as the Tower of Buddhist Incense. This is one of the most recognizable temples in China, and is a symbol of dynastic power in ancient China. The tower sits atop Longevity Hill, where the first “Gold Mountain Palace” was.


There is a Baoyun Bronze Pavilion from the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha (no, not the one above but similar).

The Baoyun Bronze Pavilion had a Buddha statue which with parts of the bronze pavilion were stolen and taken abroad by foreign invaders. The Bronze Pavilion was cast in 1755. It is 7.55 meters high and weighs 207 tons. The bronze fillings amounted to 5 tons. The double eaves roof, the partitions with water chestnut designs, the beams, the columns, the lintels, the rafters, the brackets, the tiles and the pinnacle, the couplets and the nine dragon plaque, are exactly the same in form and design as those of a wooden pavilion, but all are of bronze and of a greenish grey hue. It is a superb piece of architecture rarely found anywhere in the world.


Taking a break at one of the many rocky paths down the Longevity Hill. This is an interesting side of the Summer Palace as there are so many nooks and corners each with it’s own uniqueness. I can imagine this being the playground of the emperor with his concubines.


A bird’s eye view of Beijing Hutong (Xi He Yuan) structures.


We took a boat ride to rest our feet. The boat ride was RMB 5 or 10 (cant recall) per person. We took the boat to cross the Kunming Lake back to the south side rather than walking the long distance over.


View of the Tower of Fragrance of the Buddha from the boat ride on Kunming Lake.


A direct view of the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha from Kunming Lake.

You know, that Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha was also burned down once before? Yes, this magnificent tower is new’ish and is not the original one. This is also burnt down by the British and French troops.


Beautiful willow lined lake side. It was a beautiful walk. Ben was saying that he thinks willows are the most beautiful trees for parks. I agree.


We arrived back at the south side of the Kunming Lake. The Bronze Ox is located near the Archway. It is cast in the year 1755 with its head raised, its horns turned upward and its eyes fixed ahead. On its back is cast an eighty-word inscription to explain its presence. It was used to control floods … not for stock markets.


We walked east ward and arrived at the Spacious Pavilion. This pavilion of enormous size is eight-sided and double-eaves, with an area of over 130 square meters. It has 24 round pillars and 16 square pillars, making it the biggest pavilion of its kind in China.


On the right of the Spacious Pavilion is the Seventeen Arch Bridge. There is a reason for the 17 arches but it is too complex to explain.

This bridge links East Dyke at its eastern end and connects South Lake Island at its western end. It is 150 meters long and looks like a rainbow on the lake.


Lions decorated the Seventeen Arch Bridge. There are 544 of them altogether.

I believed we took a boat ride across the Kunming Lake again to the north west end where the Clear and Peaceful Boat (Marble Boat) is.


The Marble Boat was built in 1755. It is 36 meters long, with a hull made of massive stone slabs. The structure of the boat is made of wood painted white to look like marble, only the hull is made with marble. The Marble Boat is built by Qianlong as a warning sign  to his children with the saying “water can carry a boat but it can also capsize a boat”.  Cixi was long alleged to have built the boat with funds that were meant to establish a real navy. Cixi did renovate the boat in 1893 to add paddle wheels and a western-like cabin.

We proceeded to the Suzhou Street after this which is included in the entrance fee. I will blog about it in the next post. Stay tuned.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. James

    It is interesting tour of Summer palace, I did not know that the Western troop burned down this place, I thought only the Yuanmingyuan garden they destroyed and burned down.
    Strangely when I took the Beijing subway to this place I ended up at the back of the Fragrance Buddha tower (up the hill).

    1. Ben

      Hi James: There are two stops you can use to get to the Summer Place. The Xiyuan (Western Garden) stop will require a bit of walk but it will bring you to the main entrance. A lot of people stop instead at the Beigongmen station which takes you to the Suzhou Street area. Ben

      1. James

        You are right Ben, in 2010 the #4 line just open and I recall some one said in Internet to get to Yiheyoun take line4 north and get off one stop before the last. I saw in the subway map the Xi yuan stop, but I thought was the west side of Yuanmingyuan.

  2. Chris

    Went to the Summer Palace in the 80s and we weren’t told that it was not th original. Interesting!! We were allowed to go on the marble boat though I think that has changed now. It really was a beautiful park to walk around.

    1. Ben

      Hi Chris: Check out this image of the Summer Palace after it was razed to the ground:

  3. DonaldD

    I went there about three years ago and it looks about the same no change so far, it was very windy but we did have a very nice stroll around the lake. This is a must for Beijing travel, easy access through subway.

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