Summer Palace FAQ

Kunming Lake
Kunming Lake in Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is the largest and best preserved royal garden. On the site of Kunming Lake and Longevity Mountain, the garden combines natural charm with landscape engineering. They are a throwback on the life of the ancient emperors and the visitors can enjoy the tempo of life with the royal family.

 How large is the Summer Palace? What was it constructed for?
 The imperial garden covers an area of about 300.59 hectares (742.8 acres). The complex was originally built as the temporary royal summer retreat.

 How many parts are open to the public in the imperial garden?
 The public areas consist of four major scenic areas: Court Area, built in the same way as the Forbidden City, was designed for administrative functions. The principal buildings in this group are East Palace Gate, Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Hall of Virtue and Harmony and Hall of Joyful Longevity. Front-Hill Area, centering on Tower of Buddhist Incense, covers most attractions. This place is well-known for Buddhist worshiping, and exemplified in the Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Tower of Buddhist Incense, Hall of Utmost Blessing and other buildings. Lake Area and Rear-Hill Area present an attractive view with all kind of picturesque scenery and architecture, such as Kunming Lake, Marble Boat and Seven-Arch Bridge in the Lake Area and Garden of Harmonious Interest, Four Great Regions and Suzhou Market Street in the Rear-Hill Area.     

 How long does it take to cover the whole garden?
 Generally, around 2.5 to 3 hours is sufficient. However, many visitors elect to stay half a day to get enough of the views at both the Old Summer Palace and the attached garden. Some may even need an entire day's outing. You may need to find your way in the labyrinth created by the gardener's landscaping craft. Also, you need to get there early in the day.

 Is the garden open on national holidays and what are the opening hours?
 Even during the national holidays, including the Chinese Lunar Spring Festival, it is open. However, it has its high season and the slack season: during the high season (from April 1st to October 31st), it is open from 06:30 to 18:00; during the slack season (from November 1st to March 31st in the next year), it is open from 07:00 to 17:00.

What are the features and functions of the Long Gallery?
 Long gallery reflects the architectural features of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). It is an annex or corridor to link the main architectures. But the Long Galley is much more than a linkage. As the longest corridor in the world, it is about 728 m (about 2,388 ft) long, it winds and twists on its path through different scenic terrains. You find the highlights at the Beauty-Left Pavilion (Liujia Pavilion), Strange Ripples Pavilion (Qilan Pavilion), Autumn Water Pavilion (Qiushui Pavilion) and Clear and Remote Pavilion (Qingyao Pavilion). The pillars of the corridor are bedecked with paintings similar to allegory tales on the walls of Western churches.

Long Gallery in Summer Palace
Long Gallery
Painting on Long Gallery
Color Paintings on Long Gallery

 I find all kinds of stories depicted on the pillars of the Long Gallery in the color-paintings. What are they? 
These allegories are related to mountains and forest, flowers and birds, natural scenery and human beings, as well as some historical legends. For example, Peach Garden Oath tells that Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei during the Three Kingdom Period (220 - 280) swore their oath in a peach garden. Tattooing by Yue Fei’ Mother shows that Yue Fei, a famous counter-Jin-Army general in the Southern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127), was tattooed four characters – Jing Zhong Bao Guo (to try hard and attribute all to save the country) on his back by his mother. Yue earned his spurs by fighting the invaders to a standstill. The Milky Way Meeting tells a tragic love story of the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid. The Weaving Maid is forever busy producing the clouds which separate heaven from earth on her weaving machine. When in love, the Weaving Maid left her post and the clouds thinned out appreciably. The Jade Heavenly Emperor, who ruled the heaven, decreed that the two lovers could only meet once a year on the Milky Way, on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon as penalty for the dereliction of her duty.

 How come such a wonderful Marble Boat was built here?
 The Marble Boat, or Qingyan Boat, was first built in 1755 and restored by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1893. The purpose remains a mystery. But a popular myth states that it symbolizes that the regime is rock solid as marble. However, many people think that Empress Dowager Cixi rebuilt the Marble Boat just for enjoyment and entertainment.   

 Where did the ancient emperors and their concubines reside?
 The imperial bedrooms of the Court Area fanned out from the Hall of Joyful Longevity. The Hall of Jade Ripples (Yulan Hall), Yiyun House and other several large scales of quadrangle dwellings form the household residences. Empress Dowager Cixi in her late years also lived there. Once upon a time the whole Court Area was for amusement purposes, but as the garden was rebuilt, the Hall of Jade Ripples became the bed chambers of the emperors. Since then, the Yiyun House had been used as the chambers of the empresses. And other consorts occupied lesser quarters. When Empress Dowager Cixi was in power, she lived in the Hall of Joyful Longevity.

Hall of Joyful Longevity
Hall of Joyful Longevity
Car for Empress Cixi
Car for Empress Dowager Cixi

How did Empress Dowager Cixi spend her time in the garden?
According to the historical records she usually got up early in the morning. After her toiletry, she ate a rich breakfast, and went to read the memorials. Then she handled affairs of the state with the court ministers in the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, and as was her custom, behind a curtain so that her power then was called “Reign behind a Curtain.” Afterward, it was time for a 100-course lunch, followed by a long walk. So she would go to Long Gallery and Kunming Lake for her walking exercise. She then went to the Hall of Joyful Longevity for a noon nap uninterrupted until she woke herself up. She and her entourage would then proceed to the Garden of Virtue and Harmony (Dehe Garden) to watch the Chinese operas or perhaps she could spend time painting. Dinner time again, and she plowed through about another 100-course meal tested poison free by her favorite eunuch, who acted like a canary bird by tasting everything first. After the dinner, she went to the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity to practice Chinese calligraphy, then light dessert. Sometimes she played the lantern riddles with the ministers of the imperial infirmary.

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