Back Lake & Wanzihe

Back Lake

Dock of Back Lake
Dock of the Back Lake
Wandering behind Longevity Hill, the water of Kunming Lake forms the Back Lake. Its real name is Houxi (Back Stream) River. It is of artificial origin and didn’t exist before the dredging of Kunming Lake. The earth excavated from the Back Stream was piled up on its north bank, only a few meters from the north wall of Summer Palace but higher than the wall. So, the north palace gate can’t be seen from the Longevity Hill. Along the 1,000 meters river channel mouths, pass towers, rockeries and bridges were built. These divide the river into six small lakes set off well by the buildings on their banks to resemble a water town in South China. 

The west end of Back Lake meets Kunming Lake at Jiehu (Lake Boundary) Bridge and the river runs easterly behind the Longevity Hill from the North Ruyi Gate. The arched bridge here is called Banbi Bridge after which follows the first small lake. The lake area becomes wide then narrow again, forming the second one. To its east is the Suzhou Market Street area and there is a stone bridge with three arches above the water. After the Yinhui Pass Tower come the third and fourth lakes. From the Hall of Serenity (Danningtang), the stream becomes narrow and then forms the fifth lake after a bridge. On the other side of the bank close to the north palace wall, Studio of Distant Views stands and faces the southern outside street, it was here that Empress Dowager Cixi used to stand to see the common people's flower market on the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The last lake is in front of the Garden of Harmonious Interests. Then it turns southeastwards and flows out from the Summer Palace. 

Visitors can reach this part of the gardens passing by the Marble Boat toward the north. With fewer buildings north of the Summer Palace, the landscape surrounding Back Lake is secluded and elegant. Exuberant green forests and winding paths lend a unique beauty by contrast to the scenery to the front. Longevity Hill stands alongside Kunming Lake with water on three sides. Back Lake functions as a fireproof strolling place with a vista point. 


Memorial Archway
Memorial Archway
To the west of the Marble Boat and Xing Bridge, there is a narrow strip of island called  Xiaoxileng. The ‘万'-shaped river between the island and the western slope of Longevity Hill is called Wanzihe. When the Summer Palace was still called the Garden of Clear Ripples, the Wanzihe area was Xisuo Market Street, also known as the Small Suzhou Market Street, which is an imitation of a bazaar in South China. At that time the market featured many prominent stores. Over time it deteriorated and during the reign of Guangxu Emperor, the Xisuo Market Street  was converted to its present garden architecture.

Xing Bridge is located north of the Marble Boat and connects the south end of Xiaoxileng with the piedmont. With archways standing on each end, the bridge is considered the western starting point of Back Lake. A double-decker pavilion straddles the bridge and four life-like stone lions sit on the bridge piers. The name of the bridge came from a very old poem which portrayed women picking xing plants. Xing, 荇, is an  edible water plant having medicinal properties.  As the bridge was near Xi Si Suo, the residence of the emperor’s concubines, the meaning of this bridge implied the virtue of wives. 

To reach Xiaoxileng from the bridge, go to the wharf at Wusheng Temple (Five Saints Temple), a temple built to honour the gods of fire, mountain, earth, valley and flower. At the wharf you can catch a water ferry to Nanhu Island. Yingxu Tower and Chenghuai Pavilion are the major structures on the small island. Further to the north is the well-preserved dockyard where the largest imperial pleasure boat of Empress Dowager Cixi is anchored. The dockyard was also rebuilt during the reconstruction of the Summer Palace. In addition, two small dockyards were added beside the big one.

Opposite the dockyard on the east bank of Wanzihe is Suyunyan Pass. At one time, a silver statue of Guan Yu (a deified military in the charge of Liu Bei, Three Kingdoms Period) resided inside the pass tower, but it was plundered during wartime and now only a memorial tablet is worshiped there.

Next: Four Great Regions

 Related Link: Summer Palace eCardSummer Palace Travel Tips

- Last updated on Nov. 30, 2023 by Kate Liu -
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