A welcome respite from the afternoon sun and long walks through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City awaited us on our first full day in Beijing. We were headed to the Summer Palace, a peaceful, expansive park complete with lakes, bridges, temples, walkways, and artwork. On the bus, our guide asked us if we would like to walk the Long Corridor, a walkway defined by hand-decorated beams and over 14,000 scenic paintings over the length of about two miles. We hesitated, waiting to see if we were the only ones who might prefer a boat ride to a walk and found that we weren’t alone: no one chose the stroll!
So, when we arrived at the Summer Palace, we were greeted by a welcome sight: a dragon boat to float us slowly across the placid Kumming Lake while we sat back and admired the idyllic scene of Qing Dynasty buildings and the people of China enjoying their summertime leisure activities.
Originally designed as a summer retreat from the confines of the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace was transformed between 1736 to 1795 to its current layout. However, it was the Empress Dowager Cixi who had the complex rebuilt after the destruction by French and English troops in 1860 and then again in 1902 after the Boxer Rebellion exacted even more damage.
Pictured below, Longevity Hill with its octagonal, four-eaved Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha dominates the landscape with accompanying religious buildings, gardens, and shops. The Long Corridor stretches along the shore beneath.
We strolled the grounds, purchased some items in a tucked-away antique shop, and watched as people enjoyed the breezes from the arched bridges and gathering areas.
A painting of the Marble Boat, also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease, covers the structure currently undergoing renovation. One of the extravagances of the Empress Dowager Cixi who used funds originally intended to improve the navy to build it, the boat was never meant to serve as a boat at all. The Marble Boat, made of wood painted to look like marble, may be representative of an idea proposed by Wei Zeng: “the waters that float the boat can also swallow it” meaning that the people who support the emperor can also overturn him. As a symbol of stability, the Marble Boat stands firm at the Summer Palace.
Not all visitors were roaming the grounds or riding nonchalantly in the colorful dragon boats. Some were using the quiet time under the trees for other activities. We were amused with this family checking emails, playing with apps, and using technology — just as we do in America!
The Summer Palace covers 716 acres, but even the small portion we saw — Kumming Lake and Suzhou Street — were well worth the visit. No wonder it’s a star destination for locals and visitors alike.
If you want to learn more about our travels in China on a Viking River Cruise from Beijing to Shanghai, go to the top of this page and click on China in the green bar. We hope you enjoy seeing this beautiful land through our eyes.
For more information:
Beijing & Shanghai (2011). Eyewitness Travel. New York: DK Publishing
“Marble Boat.” Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marble_Boat
Viking River Cruise: Imperial Jewels of China: http://www.vikingrivercruises.com/rivercruises/china-yangtze-beijing-shanghai-2013/itinerary.aspx