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The Summer Palace (颐和园)
Situated in western outskirts of Beijing, the Summer Palace is 10 kilometers from the central city. It is China's leading classical garden, which enjoys a worldwide reputation. The Summer Palace was opened to the public in 1924 and included in the UNESCO world heritage list in 1998. A whole day is needed to view it in detail. The Summer Palace was first built in 1153 and served as an imperial palace for short stays away from the capital. Empress Dowager Ci Xi rebuilt it in 1888 with a large sum of money, which had been appropriated to build a Chinese navy.
The two main elements of the garden are Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. Kunming Lake, with an exquisite building in the middle, takes up three quarters of the garden's 290 hectares. The garden consists of three parts: the political activity area, the empress's living quarter and the scenic area which separately centers on the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the Hall of Jade Ripples and the Hall of Happiness and Longevity, and Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. The groups of buildings, hills and lakes, together with the background of West Hills, give an ever-changing scene. The buildings on the southern slope of Longevity Hill are characteristic of the garden. Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Pavilion of the Buddhist Incense and the Wisdom Sea on the axis line are flanked by the Wheel Hall, Wufang Pavilion and Baoyun Pavilion and are major attractions. The Pavilion of the Buddhist Incense is 41 meters high and stands on a 20-meter-high terrace. At the foot of Longevity Hill is the 728-meter-long passageway, which links the three areas together. The passageway is famous for its paintings and at its western end is a 36-meter-long Marble Boat.
The bridges of the western causeway of Kunming Lake are replicas of the bridges of famous Su and Bai causeways on West Lake in Hangzhou. The marble Seventeen-Arch Bridge that spans the Eastern Causeway to South Lake Island has balusters topped by 540 carved lions in different poses.
Back Lake at the northern foot of Longevity Hill is natural and peaceful. On its bank is Suzhou Street, a replica of a commercial street in the old days. At the northeastern corner of the garden there is the Garden of Harmonious Interest, which imitates the famous Jichang Garden in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Diminutive and elegant, it is known as a garden within a garden.
1. the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity 仁寿殿
2. the Hall of Jade Ripples 玉澜堂
3. the Hall of Happiness and Longevity 乐寿堂
4. the Longevity Hill 万寿山
5. the Pavilion of the Buddhist Incense 佛香阁
6. the Wisdom Sea 智慧海
7. the Marble Boat 石舫
8. Jichang Garden 寄畅园
Dingling Mausoleum (东陵)
Dingling, the underground mausoleum of Emperor Wan Li, is one of the thirteen imperial tombs of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Emperor Wan Li (1573-1620) ordered the construction of his own tomb when he was 22 and it took six years to complete the construction which cost about two year's land taxes of the entire empire. The Emperor gave a party in his own funeral chamber, so the chronicles say, to mark its completion, and thirty years later he was buried in it amid a splendid ceremony.
Dingling consists of the underground palace and surface structures, most of which are now in ruin, leaving the magnificent soul Tower still standing in a spacious courtyard. Each corner of the Tower is a single block of stone. The rafters, beams and architraves are also carved out of stone and decorated with colorful motifs. The Tower houses a large stone tablet inscribed with Wan Li's posthumous title.
Immediately behind the tower is the burial mound encircled by a 700-meter-long brick wall. The mound is called the Precious City and directly beneath it is a mammoth tomb-the Underground Palace, where the emperor and his two empresses were expected to live an eternal life in splendor and luxury.
The Underground Palace lies 27 metes below the surface. A flight of stone steps leads down to the main entrance, which is a richly carved gateway with a double-leaf marble door. Each leaf, 4 tons in weight, hinges on an axis which is carved from the same piece of marble. The lower end of the axis rests in a hole on the stone doorstep and the upper end in a hole of the bronze lintel that weights ten tons. Each marble leaf, incredible, is thicker near the axis and tapers off toward the middle of the door. This allows one person to open and close the massive door easily. The door was ingeniously sealed on the burial scene by a stone bar, known as the "Self-acting stone." Once put in place from inside, this bolt would prevent the door from ever being opened again.
The Underground Palace consists of three aligned vaults: the Ante-Chamber, the Sacrificial Chamber and the Burial Chamber. Each chamber is provided with an entrance gate as massive as the main gate.
The Ante-Chamber is now bare. The Sacrificial Chamber, flanked with an annex chamber on each side, contains three white thrones. The central one, carved with dragons in high relief on its back and sides, was for the emperor, who was flanked in death by two empresses on thrones carved with phoenixes. In front of each throne is a set of five-altar pieces and a large blue-and -white porcelain jar still containing oil and wick in a bronze tube. This is called "everlasting lamp"(3) which was supposed to provide "everlasting light". Midway along the side walls are simple arched doorways leading into the annexes. Each annex contains a stone couch on which an empress's coffin was to rest. In the center of each couch there is a square hole in which yellow earth was placed, presenting a secret connection between the coffin and the earth. At the end of each annex is a huge gate with a self-acting stone. Beyond the gate is a vaulted passage which is blocked. The passage was intended for the entombment of the empresses should they die after the emperor, as no one was supposed to disturb his corpse.
In the Burial Chamber, the largest part of the tomb, stand three red-lacquered coffins, side by side on a white marble platform. The one in the middle is the Emperor's coffin, with the First Empress's on the left and the Second Empress's on the right. Inside each coffin there is another coffin, and thus, each imperial corpse is held in two coffins, one kept within the other. In the narrow spaces between the three sets of coffins are two pairs of vases and three boxes that originally contained a wooden imperial seal and wooden tablets recording the bestowal on the emperor of his posthumous title. There is also an iron helmet decorated with gold and jewels, a suit of mail, a sword, and a bow。
ON either side of the coffins are 26 wooden chests that contain wooden figurines, women's head-dresses decorated with golden phoenixes and jewels, wooden seals with the posthumous titles of the empresses, jade belts, strings of jade pendants, robes, shoes and sets of gold chopsticks, spoons, cups, and wash-basins. Also on the platform were wooden models of sedan chairs, coaches, spears, bows, arrows, flagstaffs with silk banners and other objects used in imperial processions.
When the emperor's coffin was opened, a silk shroud, jade cups and jade bowls with a gold cover were first exposed. The shroud was then carefully rolled back, revealing among other precious objects a royal crown that is the only royal crown excavated so far in China. Of Emperor Wan Li, only bones and hair remained. He wore a beard, and his long hair in a top knot was secured with long gold pins. The "dragon robe", in which he was buried, is not so well preserved as a similar one buried with him. Rolls of silk, all in gorgeous patterns and many woven with gold thread, form his mattress and bedding. Both empresses' coffins contained phoenix coronets and other headdresses, bronze mirrors and gold boxes for cosmetics and toilet articles. The coronets are of fine gold mesh with dragons and phoenixes, each adorned with more than a hundred germs and five thousand pearls.
Most of the relics (some three thousand pieces )are on display in the Dingling Museum Exhibition Hall, which has attracted millions of visitors from China and abroad since the museum opened in 1959.
1. Heavenly Longevity Mountains 天寿山
2. generals, civil mandarins, and courtiers 武臣、文臣和勋臣
3. everlasting lamp 长明灯
The Temple of Heaven (天坛)
The Temple of Heaven is located in southern Beijing. It is included in the UNESCO world heritage list in 1998. With an area of 2.7 million square meters, it is the largest of its kind in the country. Built in 1420, the 18th year of the reign of Ming Emperor Yongle, the temple was where emperors went to worship heaven for good harvests.
The temple consists of two parts--the inner altar and outer altar. The main buildings are in the inner altar, on the north-south axis. At the southern end are the Imperial Vault of Heaven(1) and the Circular Mound Altar(2). On the northern end are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests(3) and the Hall of Imperial Zenith(4). A 360-meter-long walk connects the structures at both ends. There is also the Hall of Abstinence (5) inside the West Heavenly Gate in which the emperor fasted for three days and bathed before prayer.
The temple's main building is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, where the emperor prayed for good harvests. The round hall, 38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter, has triple eaves and a cone-shaped deep blue tile roof crowned with a gilded knob. Surrounding the hall is a six-meter-high spacious circular stone terrace on three levels, each edged by a balustrade of carved white marble.
The Circular Mound Altar is one of the more important buildings and is a three-tier white stone terrace enclosed by two walls. Geometrically designed, the altar has a taiji rock at the center of the top terrace. If you stand on the rock and speak in a normal voice, your voice will sound louder and more resonant to yourself than to others around you, because the sound waves reflected by the balustrades are bounced back to the center by the round wall.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven, the place to lay the memorial tablets to the heaven is to the north of the Circular Mound Altar. It is very similar in structure to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests but is smaller. The Vault, made of brick and timber, is 19 meters high and 15.6 meters in diameter. A circular wall of polished brick surrounds it with an opening to the south. This is known as the Echo Wall (6) and is 3.72 meters high, 61.5 meters in diameter and 193 meters in circumference. If a person whispers close to the wall at any point, his voice can be heard distinctly at any other point along the wall.
Around the Hall of Abstinence are two imperial ditches and they are circled by a 163-bay walkway. The Abstinence Bronze Man Pavilion and Time and Memorial Tablets Pavilion are at he Celestial Terrace of the main hall. To add the solemnity of the occasion, the bells in the two bell towers at the northeast end were struck when the emperor prayed for good harvests.
1. the Imperial Vault of Heaven 皇穹宇
2. the Circular Mound Altar 圜丘坛
3. the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests 祈年殿
4. the Hall of Imperial Zenith 皇乾殿
5. the Hall of Abstinence 斋宫
6. the Echo Wall 回音壁
The Palace Museum (故宫博物院)
What strikes one first in a bird's -eye view of Beijing proper is a vast tract of golden roofs flashing brilliantly in the sun with purple walls occasionally emerging amid them and a stretch of luxuriant tree leaves flanking on each side. That is the former Imperial Palace, popularly known as the Forbidden City, from which twenty-four emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties ruled China for some 500 years--from1420 to 1911. The Ming Emperor Yong Le, who usurped the throne from his nephew and made Beijing the capital, ordered its construction, on which approximately 10,000 artists and a million workmen toiled for 14 years from 1406 to 1420. At present, the Palace is an elaborate museum that presents the largest and most complete ensemble of traditional architecture complex and more than 900,000 pieces of court treasures in all dynasties in China.
Located in the center of Beijing, the entire palace area, rectangular in shape and 72 hectares in size, is surrounded by walls ten meters high and a moat 52 meters wide. At each corner of the wall stands a watchtower with a double-eave roof covered with yellow glazed tiles.
The main buildings, the six great halls, one following the other, are set facing south along the central north-south axis from the Meridian Gate, the south entrance, to Shenwumen, the great gate piercing in the north wall. On either side of the palace are many comparatively small buildings. Symmetrically in the northeastern section lie the six Eastern Palaces and in the northwestern section the six Western Palaces. The Palace area is divided into two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Palace. The former consists of the first three main halls, where the emperor received his courtiers and conducted grand ceremonies, while the latter was the living quarters for the imperial residence. At the rear of the Inner Palace is the Imperial Garden where the emperor and his family sought recreation.
The main entrance to the Palace is the Meridian Gate(1), which was so named because the emperor considered himself the "Son of the Heaven" and the Palace the center of the universe, hence the north-south axis as the Meridian line going right through the Palace. The gate is crowned with five towers, commonly known as the Five-Phoenix Towers(2), which were installed with drums and bells. When the emperor went to the Temple of Heaven, bells were struck to mark this important occasion. When he went to the Ancestral Temple, it was the drums that were beaten to publicize the event.
Beyond the Meridian Gate unfolds a vast courtyard across which the Inner Golden Water River runs from east to west. The river is spanned by five bridges, which were supposed to be symbols of the five virtues preached by Confucius--benevolence, righteousness, rites, intelligence, and fidelity(3).
At the north end of the courtyard is a three-tiered white marble terrace, seven meters above the ground, on which, one after another, stand three majestic halls; the Hall of Supreme Harmony(4), the Hall of Complete Harmony(5), and the Hall of Preserving Harmony(6).
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, rectangular in shape, 27 meters in height, 2,300 square meters in area, is the grandest and most important hall in the Palace complex. It is also China's largest existing palace of wood structure and an outstanding example of brilliant color combinations. This hall used to be the throne hall for ceremonies which marked great occasions: the Winter Solstice, the Spring Festival, the emperor's birthday and enthronement, and the dispatch of generals to battles, etc. On such occasions there would be an imperial guard of honor standing in front of the Hall that extended all the way to the Meridian gate.
On the north face of the hall in the center of four coiled-golden dragon columns is the "Golden Throne", which was carved out of sandalwood. The throne rests on a two-meter-high platform with a screen behind it. In front of it, to the left and right, stand ornamental cranes, incense burners and other ornaments. The dragon columns entwined with golden dragons measure one meter in diameter. The throne itself, the platform and the screen are all carved with dragon designs. High above the throne is a color-painted coffered ceiling which changes in shape from square to octagonal to circular as it ascends layer upon layer. The utmost central vault is carved with the gilded design of a dragon toying with pearls. when the Emperor mounted the throne, gold bells and jade chimes sounded from the gallery, and clouds of incense rose from the bronze cranes and tortoises and tripods outside the hall on the terrace. The aura of majesty created by the imposing architecture and solemn ritual were designed to keep the subjects of the "Son of the Heaven" in awe and reverence.
The Hall of Complete Harmony is smaller and square with windows on all sides. Here the emperor rehearsed for ceremonies. It is followed by the Hall of Preserving Harmony in which banquets and imperial examinations were held.
Behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony lies a huge marble ramp with intertwining clouds and dragons carved in relief. The slab, about 6.5 meters long, 3 meters wide and 250 tons in weight, is placed between two flights of marble steps along which the emperor's sedan was carried up or down the terrace. It is the largest piece of stone carving in the Imperial Palace. Quarried in the mountains scores of kilometers southwest of Beijing, this gigantic stone was moved to the city by sliding it over a specially paved ice road in winter. To provide enough water to build the ice road, wells were sunk at very 500 meters along the way.
The three halls of the Inner Palace are replicas of the three halls in the front, but smaller in size. They are the Palace of Heavenly Purity(7), the Hall of Union(8), and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility(9).
The Palace of Heavenly Purity was once the residence of the Ming emperors and the first two of the Qing emperors. Then the Qing Emperor Yong Zheng moved his residence to the Palace of Mental Cultivation and turned it into an audience hall to receive foreign envoys and handled the state affairs. The promotion and demotion of officials were also decided in this hall. After the emperor's death his coffin was placed here for a 49-day period of mourning.
The Palace of Union was the empress's throne room and the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, once a private living room for the empress, was partitioned. The west chamber served religious purposes and the east one was the bridal chamber where the newly married emperor and empress spent their first two nights after their wedding.
The Imperial Garden was laid out during the early Ming dynasty. Hundreds of pines and cypresses offer shade while various flowers give colors to the garden all year round and fill the air with their fragrance. In he center of the garden is the Hall of Imperial Peace, a Daoist temple, with a flat roof slightly sloping down to the four eaves. This type of roof was rare in ancient Chinese architecture. In he northeastern corner of the garden is a rock hill, known as the Hill of the Piled-up Wonders, which is topped with a pavilion. At the foot of the hill are two fountains which jet two columns of water high into the air. It is said that on the ninth night of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, the empress would mound the hill to enjoy the autumn scene. It is also believed that climbing to a high place on that day would keep people safe from contagious diseases.
The six Western Palaces were residences for empresses and concubines. They are kept in their original way for show. The six Eastern Palaces were the residences for them too. But now they serve as special museums: the Museum of Bronze, the Museum of Porcelain and the Museum of Arts and Crafts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the northeastern-most section of the Inner Palace are the Museum of Traditional Chinese Paintings and the Museum of Jewelry and Treasures where rare pieces of imperial collections are on display.
Now the Forbidden City is no longer forbidding, but inviting. A visit to the Palace Museum will enrich the visitors' knowledge of history, economy, politics, arts as well as architecture in ancient China.
1. the Meridian Gate 午门
2. the Five-Phoenix Towers 五凤楼
3. benevolence, righteousness, rites, intelligence, and fidelity 仁、义、礼、智、信
4. the Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿
5. the Hall of Complete Harmony 中和殿
6. the Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿
7. the Palace of Heavenly Purity 乾清宫
8. the Hall of Union 交泰殿
9. the Palace of Earthly Tranquility 坤宁宫
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