“Yiheyuan” 颐和园 (Summer Palace of Beijing) is an imperial garden from the Qing Dynasty. Built in 1764 as “Qingyiyuan” 清漪园 during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong. It was burned down towards the end of the Second Opium War by the Anglo-French troops and was reconstructed in 1888 by the Guanxu Emperor to celebrate the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi, adopting its present name. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for “its harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value”.
Deheyuan 德和园 is located steps away from the East (main) entrance of the park.
It is the place where the Empress Dowager Cixi – who is a fervent Peking Opera lover – hosted the performances to the princes, imperial consorts and high ranking officials.
The three-story opera stage is one of the top three opera stages in the Qing Dynasty – The other two are Changyinge 畅音阁 in the Forbidden City and Qingyinge 清音阁 in the Chengde Mountain Resort.
All three levels of the stages are connected allowing the performers, who in the role of ghosts or immortals, to “rise from earth” or “descend from heaven“. There are also five water tanks underneath the stage, serving as reservoir for props such as rain or water fountains.
The Hall of Joy and Longevity 乐寿堂 is the living quarters of the Empress. There are statues of bronze deers, cranes, and vases in front of the hall.
To understand the significance of these statues, let’s take a look at their homonyms in Chinese: Deer 鹿 ->六 Six, Crane 鹤 ->合 Union, Vase 瓶 ->平 Peace. Deer and Crane 六合 suggest the kingdom or the realm of Emperor. Together the statues signify A peaceful ruling 六合太平, and thereby, joy and longevity to the Empress.
There are also two prized magnolia tress in the courtyard from the Qianlong Era.
It was said that the Empress Dowager Cixi‘s maiden name is magnolia therefore she took these trees very seriously.
Stepping outside the Hall of Joy and Longevity come to a large body of water that is Kunming Lake 昆明湖. In front of it is the famous Long Corridor 长廊.
The corridor is 728 meters long. It contains paintings of famous places in China, and scenes from Chinese mythologies and folktales.
Situated to the right of the Long Corridor and at foot of the Longevity Hill 万寿山 is the Hall of Dispelling Clouds 排云殿
This is where the Empress Dowager received guests during her stay in the Summer Palace.
From here it is a climb to the Tower of Buddhist Incense 佛香阁
With its elaborated hallways
and flying corridors
At the top, a panoramic view of the park and its surroundings await.