“ Beigongmen.Beigongmen” Here I am at same station as yesterday… I got on surface. There are 2 differences between this day and previous one. My path wasn’t supposed to be through Xiangshan again and sky wasn’t so pure. Smog fell down over Beijing like curtain which is hiding sky and sun. But weather was so hot and wet. It was hard to breath that day and to move. This time my trip leads me to Summer Palace. Chinese name is Yihe Yuan, and it means Gardens of Nurtured Harmony. It is complex of imperial gardens. Gardens are dating back from XVIII century which were built by Qianlong emperor. Summer Palace was built with aim for emperor to have rest and enjoy in wonderful scenery.
It is large beautiful garden where you have China in small- imitations of architectural and gardening styles which exist in other parts of China. Emperor wanted to have such garden so he can at the same time enjoy something what reminds on beautiful sites and gardens from other areas of China while he doesn’t have to go too far. But at the same time to symbolically show power and rule over all China, to show that by walk he can come to site which represents different parts of China and emphasize that he is ruler of everything of Middle Kingdom- Son of Heaven. So at one of main entrances of palace there is street which seems like that it was brought directly from Suzhou. As I heard Suzhou is one of most beautiful cities in China in Zhejiang province. It is also known as Venice of East. Between houses are canals through which main transport are traditional wooden boats which are moved by rowing. Houses are white or light grey, with grey roofs with jagged edges. Red, blue or yellow lanterns are hanged on roofs or walls. This town is famous for pavilions and gardens. Gardens have ponds which are full of lotus flowers and goldfishes. There are few other similar towns- Tongli and Wuzhen in Zhejiang province, Zhouzhuang in Jiangsu province.
In ancient China these towns were symbol of economic and cultural prosperity. They were centers of trade and wealthy people. These towns were also centers for scholars, education and arts. After such description maybe someone would think that I was in Suzhou. But no I was in Suzhou Street -name of that part of Summer Palace, which is direct copy of Suzhou in architecture and general looking of area. Walk between canals and this houses and you would be able to imagine Suzhou of XV or XVI century. Place looks beautiful and I can imagine that it is even more romantic during night when beautiful red or yellow lanterns would reflect in water, while I would drink tea in one of pavilions and watch on boats passing and rows touching water slightly dissolving reflection of lantern lights in water. I climbed upper on one pavilion where I was playing with plastic Pikachu toy when I was child. I was watching at canal and boats. Now I came down and continued walking between houses next to canal. I was trying not to pay attention on modernly dressed Chinese or foreign tourists with their modern cameras. I started to follow sound of flute which was heard and I tried to imagine old China, without anything modern here. Following finished, I reached old man dressed in traditional black cotton clothes. He was in small shop and he was flute player and seller. He was bald but he had long white beard. That’s how musicians and artists in China in past looked like.
I wanted to stay much longer in Suzhou Street but I had to continue across wooden bridge, and to climb Longevity Hill. It is highest place in Summer Palace. I was climbing over steep and tall stairs towards temple. Here was scenery which was supposed to imitate area of Tibet- Holy Chinese land. I was never on Tibet but while climbing Longevity Hill I could imagine how Tibetan monastery looks like. Tibetan style monastery on Longevity Hill is called Temple of Buddhist Virtue. Climbing over stairs was hard but I handled it. Monastery had few golden color roofs and white walls and windows with red cover. It partially reminded on Zhao Miao Temple where I was day before. Over entrance door was blue board with golden 3 Chinese symbols, which almost every pagoda, temple and pavilion has. I am still climbing and watching on few small pagodas, They are white with stepwise walls and roofs with golden rounded tops. When I achieved top of hill I passed between these pagodas and trying to avoid big crowds of tourists. I focused on view. I was watching over brown roofs of temple. Through very dense smog which was very low hills, and Xiangshan were visible.
On another side, there was tall Yu Feng Ta Pagoda built between X and XII century. Pagoda was visible despite of very big smog. I passed around Duobao pagoda, smaller glazed pagoda. It has free stepwise roofs, and is colored in green and orange glazed Buddha statues- there are hundreds if not thousands of them. Duobao is nice pagoda but when you look around your attention takes another one-biggest and tallest point on Longevity Hill. This pagoda is known as- Tower of Buddhist Incense Pagoda. It is not just tallest one here but widest one too. It has 3 orange roofs which have green edges and on top is golden peak. This pagoda is visible from every part of palace. After watching pagoda I decided to go on another side of hill and palace. I was going down on path between many tall pines. I watched around while I was going down… Over biggest part of area extends very large lake. Its Kunming Lake, named as capital of Yunnan province. Because of foggy weather water seemed grey and had similar color as sky. Lake was full of small boats. In the middle is small island with pavilions which are visible from hill . Long stone 17 Arch Bridge extends from island to shore of the lake. I like scenery of Kunming Lake. While going down I remembered how in this area between Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake I took so many pictures with Chinese children. When I was child I had very curly hair and because of that I was real attraction for Chinese. Their parents asked my parents if me and their children can take photo. It was always funny and I still remember it with smile.
In the bottom of hill is big and tall paifang composed of 3 arches with tops colored in blue, green, golden and other combinations of colors, grey roofs with edges which remind on dragons heads. That construction is standing on tall red pillars, which are at the top blue and colored in different paintings. All this side of shore is full of pavilions. One of them is called Marble Boat or Qin Yan Fang, built on Kunming Lake by Qianlong emperor. Later it was destroyed by imperialistic British and French troops in 1860 in Second Opium War and at end of XIX century it was reconstructed on initiative of empress Dowager Ci Xi. She was empress between 1861 and 1908 until her death and was most powerful empress in all history of China. She invested much in this palace and in boat. Boat was made from white marble and determined for having rest and enjoying scenery around. When you look at it, it seems like ordinary boat but for someone it can seem strange that how it stands on water if it is from marble. It stands because it has basis underwater on the bottom of lake. This basis provides stable standing of boat on surface and falling under water is avoided. Nearby are few canals, pavilions and one tea house where ancient Chinese music is played. I wanted to have a tea there and look around these pavilions a bit more. But I don’t have time on that side same as I don’t have time for going on another side of Kunming Lake and to pass around lake over stone path between hundreds of willows like I did once with Milica and Danica in 2000. That day we made all circle around lake and we went over 17 Arch Bridge to small island.. If I wanted to follow my planned route I had to go. Sometimes you always see some pavilions and bridges in far and you cannot reach them if you want to see something else that you planned before. I am continuing through Long Corridor -roofed corridor with red pillars with dark blue beam which connect pillars on top and under roof. Beams are decorated with paintings of cranes, sceneries from nature and gardens and people in traditional clothes. Appearance of this corridor reminds on roofed circled corridor which goes around pond in Xiangshan about which I wrote.
But Long Corridor is very long (720m ) and it has 14 000 different paintings on beams. I am passing through corridor. On the right side is Kunming Lake. On the left are pavilions and inner gardens, decorated with lianas which are spread over roofs and walls. In these pavilions and inner gardens people were: sitting on benches , having rest, eating chips, sweet sausages and drinking tea. While walking I was watching up on paintings. It seemed like it is never ending corridor as end wasn’t visible from almost any part of corridor. While walking just more and more paintings above me and more and more pavilions on the left side were appearing. For me after Suzhou Street this Corridor is one of most impressive places in Summer Palace. Corridor took me to Benevolence and Longevity Hall. In front of hall there are bronze statues of cranes, peacocks, phoenix,, dragons, lions and one qilin statue. Qilin is Chinese legendary unicorn from mountains. All of mentioned beings have important place in Chinese symbolism. Here were hundreds of tourists: speaking, walking around and taking photos.
I got out of palace what I saw I saw. Despite that I saw a lot I felt sorry that I couldn’t stay longer in Yihe Yuan. I went back to metro. After few stations I went out again and I was approaching another palace- Yuan Ming Yuan (Gardens of Perfect Brightness). It is another palace where emperors spent their time. In Western world it is more known as Old Summer Palace. It is large amazing complex of lakes, gardens, lotuses, goldfishes, trees, pavilions and bridges. Today this palace wasn’t so overcrowded like Yihe Yuan but it was also too big to see everything without detailed and slow walk. It’s a bit calmer and more romantic than previous palace. Old Summer Palace is composed of 3 big lakes with gardens- Garden of Perfect Brightness, Garden of Eternal Spring, and Elegant Spring Garden. Area is 5 times bigger than Forbidden City. I was passing next to one of this 3 big lakes but I am not sure which one it was. Over wooden bridge on small island behind willows was beautiful pavilion, one of hundreds which are there. On my surprise it was really silent and few people were nearby. It was too hot and it was too steamy and hot wet air was drying out from you all possible fluids.
After short rest and one lemon ice tea I continued to walk around one of 3 lakes. Lake was surrounded by a lot of trees with big green trunks and green reed on its edges. There was wooden bridge leading to small island. Under trees on small island there were yellow wooden houses covered with straw roofs. Such houses are typical for Yunnan or Hainan. Scenery seemed slightly tropical and reminded me on south China, on Yunnan or Hainan provinces. Wet air additionally made such atmosphere. That’s how I would imagine day somewhere in middle of Yunnan. Only difference between these houses here and real houses in Yunnan was that no one lived in these houses here, not anyone from Han Chinese or various minorities from Yunnan. These houses here were just copies of real existing. As you see in Yuan Ming Yuan there is also emphasizing of emperors rule over whole China as there are sceneries which are determined to look like far parts of China.
Now I was standing on one bridge. On left side of lake was one pavilion where were sold cold drinks. I watched one old wooden boat which was floating over big lake. It reminded on scene from some past times in China somewhere very far from all other world. Such scene – standing on bridge and watching at old wooden boat could remind on some legend of warrior going to war on his boat. Or on some romantic love story from ancient times, a couple standing and watching at boat. Or it could be story about fisherman on boat. But reality was much different. This wasn’t any ancient century and man in old boat who was rowing wasn’t village fishermen as he looked like in simple dark blue cotton clothes and straw south Chinese hat. He was searching if some rubbish would appear to clean it. Moreover it wasn’t south China but imitation of it. And last thing even this old place was changed since last time I was here. In 2001 there still existed small zoo. Zoo was located behind houses from Yunnan and there were a lot of ducks, chickens, emus, donkeys, swans and gibbon monkeys on trees. These monkeys were shouting and jumping like in tropical jungle in south China or even in jungle of Indonesia. I was very afraid when we used to go to this zoo as I thought that all this ducks, swans and monkeys want to attack me. But still I liked to go there. In past my first associations of Yuan Ming Yuan was this place with animals. Now as adult I saw this place in deeper and more significant way but still I wanted to see this zoo which reminds on my childhood . But it wasn’t there, no single chicken or emu, no single monkey, nothing stayed here. They totally changed this part of garden. Yuan Ming Yuan made great impression on me this time because of significance of this place for Chinese culture and history.
Now on my daily plan only remained one part of this amazing palace to see, which is sometimes better not to see. It reminds on sad part of Chinese history and big injustice which colonial empires did to this great land which has much longer history and oldest civilization. So this part of palace where I came now is known as European Palace or Western Mansions. Emperor Qianlong wanted to have part of his palace with lakes, fountains, decorations and architecture which will remind on European gardens like Versailles in France, Shonbrun in Vienna, Petergof in Russia or various gardens across all Italy. Qianlong Emperor wanted to have something what rulers of powerful European monarchies and states had. Therefore he employed Italian architect Giuseppe Castiglione to project his gardens in European style. Many stories say that this European style gardens were very beautiful and that this combination of European and Asian gardening made Yuan Ming Yuan to be amazing and very specific place. Unfortunately I couldn’t be witness of it, like many other Chinese or foreign people which came here. It is like that because you cannot be assured in beauty of something what doesn’t exist anymore. For this we should thank colonial empires, to those who wanted to write history of China. In this their writing they deleted this beautiful place. They destroyed it in severe canon bombing. Briatain and France at that time controlled half of world- Africa, India, Indochina and in semi-colonial way China.
China didn’t gave up to them completely. They exploited people and raw materials from this countries. They were often proudly considering themselves above colonized countries and their people. Even in relation to China, which has many thousand years longer history and older culture than they have, country which used powder, paper money, typing machine, and compass few thousand years before it was discovered in Europe they behaved like that. Who gave them right to do this to country with such history and civilization??? They by themselves, because they were in XIX more strong than China, which was isolated from Western world where new advancements appeared, industrial revolutions and new way of producing, modern armies with new weapons. China didn’t followed this trends because it was self-sufficient. Colonial powers used their strength to try to colonize China completely and distribute its large land and wealth between them.
In 1860- Second Opium War, China rejected buying opium from France and England which were harvesting it from colonized India. It became reason of war. British and French armies had more modern and better equipped armies. That caused their victory and with aim to frighten China and show their power they destroyed this palace like many palaces and temples they destroyed and robbed. They bombed and destroyed all palace, fountains and statues … English and French soldiers stole all what they could all ancient treasures, decorations, vases and statues and brought it to their homes as war trophy. Only what remained from Western Mansions, what I saw was mess of white pillars and arches from pavilions and parts of palace. Many of pillars are still standing while some pillars are on ground. It really looked sad, so much people watching and walking around this empty and dead place. It looked like some ghost town or post-apocaliptic world., especially on this foggy day. Like ruins of some rich and advanced civilization, which ceased to exist after some disaster. I passed through one stone maze which stayed preserved. It is called Huang Hua Zhen. Maze is in circled shape and seems complicated and easy to get lost but in fact isn’t . It leads to the white pavilion which is in middle of maze and in good condition. That pavilion is rare thing which remained from Western Mansions. But I didn’t felt very good here. While sitting in pavilion nearby were visible pillars of destroyed pavilions.
As a conclusion of my visit of these 2 large palaces in one day I can say that one day isn’t sufficient to know them completely. I also regretted because day wasn’t sunny. If it was sunny both palaces would look even more wonderful. Next time I want to devote 2 days for 2 palaces. One day I want to spend completely in Yihe Yuan- to pass around lake and over 17 Arch Bridge, to check every corner, every pavilion and to review it in detail… Another day I want to spend in Yuan Ming Yuan since dawn till dusk and calmly walk through this great palace. .