After a quick lunch of noodles and dumplings we retraced our steps back to the Sea of Wisdoms. From there, down the Longevity Hill to the shore of Kunming Lake.
There we located the Marble Boat 石舫 – a 36 metres (118 ft) long lakeside pavilion, with a large stone base supporting the wooden superstructure painted white to imitate marble.
There is a saying in China which states “the water that float the boat can also swallow it” 水能载舟亦能覆舟 – meaning that the people who support the emperor can also overthrow him.” – It is said that Emperor Qianlong ordered the boat to be constructed on a solid base to indicate that this won’t be the fate of his Qing Dynasty. Ironically, when Empress Dowager Cixi restored the Summer Palace in 1888, she took the funds meant for the modernization of the Imperial Navy, the lack of which led to Qing’s defeat in the Second Opium War, furthering its decline.
It was a balmy November afternoon with spring-like atmosphere. We decided to take a walk along the West Causeway 西提.
The West Causeway is a recreation of the famous Su Causeway 苏堤 on West Lake 西湖 in Hangzhou. As with the later, it’s adorn with willow trees and connected by six bridges.
Many features of Kunming Lake are inspired by natural scenery from Jiangnan 江南 – a region south of the Yangtze River. During Qianlong’s reign, he visited the region six times, three of which were during the construction of the Summer Palace.
The most renowned bridge is the Jade Belt Bridge 玉带桥. Made of blue and white stone and white marble, resembling the look of jade, the belt-shaped arch – tall and thin with smooth curves – was designed to allow Emperor Qianlong’s dragon boat to pass through on his way to the Jade Spring Mountain 玉泉山.
The Mirror Bridge draws its name from a verse written by Poet Li Bai 李白 of the Tang Dynasty
“The two waters frame a clear mirror, (and) the double bridges fall from the sky like a rainbow.”
The West Causeway divides Kunming Lake into two waters – one facing Longivity Hill, the other backed by the view of the distant Jade Spring Mountain 玉泉山 and its towering Yufeng Pagoda 玉峰塔.
Paired seamlessly with the lake and the swaying reeds in the foreground, this is an outstanding example of the use of borrowing techniques 借景 in Chinese landscape.
Modeled after the Lugou Bridge 卢沟桥 (also known as the Marco Polo Bridge) in Beijing, the Seventeen-arch Bridge 十七孔桥 is 150 meters long and eight meters wide.
There are 128 pillars on both sides of the bridge, each engraved with beautiful stone lions of various sizes and postures – 544 in total.
By the time we got off the 17 arch bridge, it was almost time for sunset.
We strolled along the east bank of the Kunming Lake, snapping photos until we reached Xijialou 夕佳楼 – a pavilion named for sunset viewing.
Emperor Qianlong never had a chance to view sunset in the Summer Palace. This is because when Yuan Ming Yuan 圆明园 was constructed in 1709, it consumed so much labour and financial resources that Emperor Qianlong promised not to build another imperial garden (of equal scale) during his reign. He later broke the promise by building Qingyiyuan Garden – the predecessor of the Summer Palace. In reflection and as an apology, he made a rule for himself not to spend the night in the Summer Palace – he always entered in the morning, exit by noon, therefore, never saw sunset and the park in the evening.
After sunset, the temperature dropped sharply. Instead of making our way, in the dark, to the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures 谐趣园, we withdrew from the park in search of a dinner spot.
Located not far from the main gate of the Summer Palace, next to Xiyuan 西苑 metro stop is Yunhaiyao 云海肴 – one of my favorite restaurant chains in Beijing serving Yunnan Cuisine. Their tofu with Yunnan ham is an absolute must try. The baked pig’s trotter is tender and packed with collagen. The famous Yunnan chicken 汽锅鸡 is steamed in a special earthenware, which helps to preserve its flavor.
A few words about the people we met at the Summer Palace.
We saw this girl at Deheyuan 德和园. She was among a group of student volunteers from local school, giving tours to Chinese tourists. Polite and cheerful, she agreed to pose for us. When asked if she spoke any English, she said that she’s learning and hoped to be able to explain the sights in English some day.
This guy was dancing next to the Long Corridor. He was so happy and self-absorbed that he caught everybody’s attention.
Last but not least the tree protector, who were busy wrapping trees with clothes to protect them from the harsh weathers in the winter.
This concludes our first sightseeing day in Beijing.
I’m going to take a break from writing about Beijing – it had taken me embarrassingly long to finish this post due to my busy work schedule. Thanks for all my readers who conitnued to follow me! – We visited China in the autumn, I will be sure to pick up the China posts after the summer, along with food recommendations, as usual.
Coming up next in the Travel section: The Mountain Villages of Portugal