Kunming Lake is a most attractive water feature a short distance from downtown Beijing, where it covers three quarters of the total area of the Summer Palace grounds. By virtue of Beijing’s topographical location, with a gradient sloping down from the northwest to the southeast, the lake is situated at the convergence of the hills and a plain. The ground water level gives rise to a number of natural springs that formed the embryo of what ultimately was to become this fine ornamental lake.
With an existing natural lake and hill, it is understandable that Emperor Qianlong could not resist the temptation of such a great garden. However, his proposal went beyond merely wanting a pleasure garden for his amusement. The imperial gardens in Beijing needed more water and there was always a flood risk during the rainy season should water overflow the causeway and threaten the imperial city to the east. The enlarged lake would meet all the criteria. In 1750, Qianlong declared the change of ‘West Lake’ to 'Kunming Lake’, a name that was reminiscent of the inspection by Emperor Han Wu of his navy in Kunming Pool.
The dredged lake was linked to the Jade Mountain Spring and moat in the city by two water channels. The east bank of the lake was extended and the excavated earth was moved to improve the terrain on the east flank of Longevity Hill. The temple on the east bank remained on what was to become an island – Nanhu Island, connected by the picturesque Seventeen-Arch Bridge to the newly reinforced causeway. The western reach of the lake is small and shallow so, later the West Causeway was built as an ancillary support to the vista on the western aspect of the garden. This narrow causeway was built mostly as an enhancement of the landscape. Six bridges in various styles broke up the monotony of the previously uninspiring view. Today, there is no lack of exquisitely designed attractions creating endless surprises around the lake.
Next: Back Lake & Wanzihe
Related Link: Summer Palace Travel Tips