Beihai Park (Winter Palace)

Winter Palace
Winter Palace

Chinese parks are the nation’s crystallization of traditional culture for five thousand years. Beihai Park and Coal Hill Park boast a history of nearly one thousand years. They are the masterpieces among the Chinese imperial parks. As an important component part of the imperial parks, the design of the parks is as perfect as possible, and the buildings constructed with great care and precision. Beihai and Coal Hill parks are not only carriers and an emergence, but they are also the comprehensive unfolding of customs and habits, concept of appreciation of the beautiful, science and culture. religious belief, distinctive architectural features, carving skills, plant cultivation techniques of the Chinese nation. They are the ingenious distribution and mixture of cultural quintessence of multi sciences.

A popular saying goes: Beihai Park is a mirror of history of the city’s construction, a domain of flowers, an ocean of knowledge, a fairyland of fantasy, the cream of exquisite buildings, and a paradise of this world.

A delightful legend relates that about a fathomless pit east of Beihai, where the waters of all the rivers on earth are supposed to converge. Rising above them are three mountains such as Penglai, Fangzhang and Yingzhou (fabled abode of immortals) where the gods reside. Seeking immortality, many emperors in Chinese history constructed lakes and islet-hills behind their palaces where they wished to live forever like the gods. Built as an imperial garden behind the Forbidden City, Beihai Park fitted perfectly into this pattern. The beauty of the scenery in Beihai Park defies description.

Located in the centre of the city of Beijing, Beihai Park is adjacent to the Coal Hill Park in the east, and the Forbidden City, links up the former sites of the Flourishing Sacred (Xingsheng) Palace and the Intensive Happiness (Longfu) Palace in the west, connects Central Lake and South lake in the south, boards Shichahai in the north. It has formed the most beautiful park scenery in the city centre. Beihai Park is the longest in history and most complete imperial park in existence in China. Its unique style of park construction has become the essence in the history of Chinese parks, and also one of the most precious cultural legacies of mankind.

Beihai Park is built by employing the hill as the foundation. water as the blood vessels, and waters surrounding the hill, green hill and clear waters. And serving as a sacred place for monarch. In ancient times the water of Beihai Park was called the “White Lotus pool.”

Hou Renzhi, famous historian-geographer, once said that without Beihai Park, there would have been no modern Beijing.

Beihai (North Lake) Park or known as the Winter Palace in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is one of the most popular parks in the city of Beijing. It encompasses over 68.2 hectares (170.5 acres or 389,000 square metres ), and the lake takes up more than half of it. Early in the 10th century, the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) built a secondary imperial residence here, called Yaoyu or Jade Islet. When the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) took over, they renamed the capital Zhongdu, meaning Central Capital, and built an imperial palace used by the yuan-dynasty rulers as a ceremonial hall and an office for issuing government decrees. The huge jade urn in the hall is on show today in its own tiny pavilion located in the Round City. The Jade Islet was built of earth dug out from the lake, and the rocks used for piling on the hill named Longevity Hill were brought from Bianliang (now Kaifeng, China’s Central Henan Province.)And the name of the lake was changed to the Pool of Great Secretion (Taiyechi).

During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), the place was rebuilt three times, and the palace in the moon(Guanghangong) where Kublai Khan (1215-94, reigned 1260-94)used to live and many other palace buildings were constructed on top of the hill, then named Longevity Hill. It was in this palace that Kublai Khan received Marco Polo, an Italian traveller. Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed. The islet became the centre of Dadu (Great Capital) and is still situated in the heart of modern Beijing. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) saw more construction and restoration: The Five Dragon Pavilions and the Nine-Dragon Screen on the north bank of the lake and many pavilions and galleries were erected during that period. The view from the White Dagoba at the top sweeps over the whole city of Beijing and down the Beihai Park with colourful ferryboats shuttling between the shores. During the Emperor qianlong’s reign (1736-95), a large construction project lasted for 44 years from 1742 to 1786. The project included 126 halls, arches over gateways, and temple buildings, 35 pavilions, 25 bridges, 16 stone tablets, 12 buildings being restored and rebuilt on the shore of the lake, which made the park even more harmonious in design. When the dowager empress Cixi was in power (1862-1908), she misappropriated a huge sum of money raised by public subscription to construct a navy. Also, she built a first 1, 510.4-meter-long railway starting from the Tower of Vermilion Light in the Middle Sea and ending at the Clear Mirror Study, now Heart- Ease Study in the Beihai Park for the royal family members. The Qing imperial family regarded the Beihai Park as the main place of recreation for the Qing emperors, empresses, and concubines. The imperial garden of the Qing court also served as an outdoor place of recreation in winter. Beginning in the Qing Dynasty the Beihai Park has been reputed as the “Winter Palace.”

The layout of the park is based on a beautiful ancient Chinese legend. According to the legend, there were supposed to be three islands to the east of Bohai Bay where the gods lived. One of them was called Penglai (a fabled abode of immortals) Island where a kind of herbal medicine grew, that was supposed to prolong life. Emperor Qinshihuang (259-210 BC, ruled 246-210 BC), the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty wished to live forever. The emperor sent people to the islands to look for the longevity medicine but failed. Emperor Wudi (156-87 BC, reigned 140-87 BC) of the Han Dynasty also wanted to live an eternal life. He ordered that a big pool be dug at the back of his palace, complete with three artificial hills to represent Penglai and the other islands. so, these legendary hills were built in the eastern capital of Luoyang during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and also in the Tang-dynasty (618-907) capital of Chang’an (now Xi’an). Such a traditional style of gardening was followed during the succeeding dynasties and Beihai Park was built after this traditional style.

In summer, Beihai Park is an ideal place for visitors to go to escape from the blazing summer heat. Tourists can paddle around in a bizarre assortment of boats. There are odd-, duck-shaped paddle boats, and two types of motor boats three-seated regular and one-person UFOS (you have to see it to understand). It is really an ideal place for amusement and relaxation.

On the top of the hill stand an ancient hall, acclaimed as the dressing chamber of the dowager empresses during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). On the slope of the hill are the Hall of Correct Enlightenment, the Hall of Universal Peace and the Hall of Beneficent Causation. It was opened to the public in 1925.

The park has a concentration of 28 bridges of various sizes, 48 pavilions, 25 ornamental archways and 25 upright tablets (steles).