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Summer Palace

The Summer Palace Yiheyuan was originally a present from the Chinese emperor Qianlong to the 60th birthday of his mother Cixi in 1752. Qianlong had the palace built on a hill known as Wanshou Shan, the hill of longevity, right next to a sea in the northwestern part of Beijing. Although the hill’s grounds already offered several pavilions, a temple and a little palace from the former Jin-dynasty in the 12th century, it still was not enough to satisfy Qianlongs desire for pompous und massively impressive buildings.

The emperor therefore had the sea enlargened, the canals connected to the emperor’s palace in the city center, the swamps drained and the shore and the hill’s grounds embellished with trees, palaces, temples, pavilions and pagodas altogether covering an area of 290 km2. Famous architects such as Castiglione and Benoit were ordered to create an amazing ambiance for the emperor’s mother. And some of the palaces were even created in the European rococo style.

The garden is examplary for Chinese garden architecture as it is the perfect symbiosis of rock, water and plants all arranged into a certain order to fulfill the natural laws of harmony. Unfortunately the original Summer Palace does not exist anymore, as most of it was burned down by British and French troops at the end of the third Opiumwar. Unable to live with this abasement, Cixi had the Summer Palace rebuilt and in her wastefulness disregarded the country’s lacking financial resources and the appalling living situation among the Chinese population.

In order to realize her lavishing idea of an equally splendid Summer Palace as before, she went so far as to finance her project with money which was supposed to support the Chinese navy. The marble boat which she had built instead reflects her actions until today. Cixi, who in fact was reigning China as the emperor’s mother, frequently visited the Summer Palace to escape the summer heat.

As the state affairs still had to be settled, numerous diplomats had to follow the emperor’s mother to her favourite whereabout and this is where the Summer Palace has its designation from. Chinese people actually call the Summer Palace Yiheyuan, the “Garden of peace and harmony”. Even though the wastefulness of the emperor’s mother Cixi has been criticised many times, she is the reason why the Summer Palace can still be admired as the only preserved imperial garden.

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