Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imagePhoto Essay: Beijing's Summer Palace Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Feb 15, 2014 in World
Beijing - After touring the famous sights of Beijing, I found China's Summer Palace the most beautiful and healthy place, nestled by a lake, river, hills, and forest. Explore its royal halls, gardens, and temple with me.
On my third day of a whirlwind tour around Beijing, I was almost too tired to walk around Beijing's Summer Palace on a winter morning, but I'm glad I did. From the moment I stepped through its ornate gates, courtyards, and into its royal halls, I knew it was my favorite place in China. Though my photos of Tiananmin Square and the Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing, were dimmed by Beijing's infamous smog, the Forbidden City was farther away, and I saw it on a clear day.
The Summer Palace is the largest, most preserved royal park in China. It has origins in the 12th Century when a Jin Dynasty emperor built Gold Mountain Palace on its site. Later, the Qing Dynasty built the Summer Palace in 18th Century. Since then, it has been attacked a few times but restored to its present state. It is most famous as the summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi. This last, great Dowager Empress of China led a scandalous but amazing life.
She built her palaces with silver that was supposed to fund China's military forces and designed her own tomb using gold that was later stripped off by a Chinese army general who opened her tomb, threw her intact body on the ground, and removed a giant pearl from her mouth. During her long life, Cixi beheaded or poisoned people who didn't agree with her, lived in great ceremonial splendor, yet brought modern reforms that swept Dynastic China into the 20th Century. She posed for photos with European and American diplomats' wives and even invited them to tea inside the Forbidden City, which she connected to the Summer Palace by a walkway and allowed ordinary people to watch royal processions. Cixi imprisoned and then probably poisoned the next-to-last Emperor of China inside the Summer Palace because she didn't agree with his Western ideas. On her deathbed, Cixi chose another relative, Puyi, to be the Last Emperor of China.
I almost felt Cixi's presence as I explored the long, painted walkways and courtyards of the Summer Palace. Its lake shone in the winter sun, bordered by bridges and royal boat docks. I took photos of statues she must have loved, like graceful cranes, staunch lions, slithering dragons, and the fiery phoenix bird that only an Empress could wear embroidered on her garments. I peeked into the empress' dimly-lit throne room, found a painting of a female warrior that showed Cixi's fighting spirit, and climbed the thousand steps she took (even in her old age) to the top of the Summer Palace temple. My Chinese companions didn't complain, but I thought I wouldn't make it to the top. On the way out of the palace complex, I passed the royal boat dock and its ornate bridge and then through a tranquil, hilly forest with gazebos. After going through another gate, I ended up on a bridge over a frozen river which was surrounded by two-level shops like an old-fashioned village street. I watched Chinese people "ice skate" in little chairs like sleds.
Tour the Summer Palace with me and notice details like colorful roof decorations with statues of little dogs and lucky crickets. Even in winter, the evergreen trees looked healthy, and in spring all the fruit trees must have blossomed, filled with colorful birds. No wonder Empress Cixi loved her retreats to the Summer Palace.
One of the gates leading into the Summer Palace
One of the gates leading into the Summer Palace
A strange creature guards the Summer Palace while throngs of people enter
A strange creature guards the Summer Palace while throngs of people enter
This lion seemed to be playing with his ball-like creature
This lion seemed to be playing with his ball-like creature
This dragon and phoenix guarded the Dowager Empress  Royal Hall
This dragon and phoenix guarded the Dowager Empress' Royal Hall
The Dowager Empress Cixi s throne room
The Dowager Empress Cixi's throne room
A tour group listens to the story of how Dowager Empress Cixi imprisoned the young Chinese Emperor i...
A tour group listens to the story of how Dowager Empress Cixi imprisoned the young Chinese Emperor in this courtyard
A crane statue outside one of the royal buildings
A crane statue outside one of the royal buildings
A Chinese guard and deer statue by more royal halls
A Chinese guard and deer statue by more royal halls
I think they used this big brass pot to burn incense.  Notice the small dog statues and lucky cricke...
I think they used this big brass pot to burn incense. Notice the small dog statues and lucky cricket on the edge of the roof.
Past the formal halls  I got my first view of this bridge by the lake
Past the formal halls, I got my first view of this bridge by the lake
An overview of the hills  lake  and far-off temple where we had to walk
An overview of the hills, lake, and far-off temple where we had to walk
A courtyard with painted windows that look out onto the lake
A courtyard with painted windows that look out onto the lake
The lakeside hallway with painted windows looking out at the lake
The lakeside hallway with painted windows looking out at the lake
Looking through one of the windows
Looking through one of the windows
The covered walkway that leads along the lake to the hilltop temple
The covered walkway that leads along the lake to the hilltop temple
Details of the paintings on the eaves of the covered walkway (each eave had a different scene)
Details of the paintings on the eaves of the covered walkway (each eave had a different scene)
The ornate gate by the hilltop temple
The ornate gate by the hilltop temple
Entrance to the hilltop temple
Entrance to the hilltop temple
Painting of a warrior lady who might have been Mulan or the spirit of the Dowager Empress Cixi
Painting of a warrior lady who might have been Mulan or the spirit of the Dowager Empress Cixi
Stairs leading to the hilltop temple
Stairs leading to the hilltop temple
More stairs to the hilltop temple
More stairs to the hilltop temple
The museum on the stop toward the top of the temple
The museum on the stop toward the top of the temple
Details on the roofs of the hilltop temple access
Details on the roofs of the hilltop temple access
Gate to the bridge that leads to the royal docks
Gate to the bridge that leads to the royal docks
The bridge to the royal boat dock
The bridge to the royal boat dock
The royal boat dock
The royal boat dock
Path through the Summer Palace forest
Path through the Summer Palace forest
A gazebo in the Summer Palace forest
A gazebo in the Summer Palace forest
A bridge to an entrance of the Summer Palace  over a frozen river
A bridge to an entrance of the Summer Palace, over a frozen river
The Chinese version of ice skating  sitting on sleds  at the Summer Palace frozen river
The Chinese version of ice skating, sitting on sleds, at the Summer Palace frozen river
More about Beijing, China, summer palace, Temple, empress throne
More news from
Latest News
Top News