Hall of Utmost Blessing (Jingfuge)
At the apex of the eastern ridge on Longevity Hill, the Hall of Utmost Blessing began as a two-storey hexagonal Buddha pavilion. It was called Tanhua (night-blooming cereus) Pavilion back when there was the Garden of Clear Ripples rather than the Summer Palace. The war in 1860 destroyed everything, and in 1890 the one-storey Hall of Utmost Blessing was built in its place.
Tanhua Pavilion was built to honour the Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (or Bodhisattva of Universal Benevolence). Its shape symbolized the night-blooming cereus with six petals. There were Buddha statues on both levels of the pavilion. In Buddhist sutras, the night-blooming cereus is an exotic flower which blossoms only briefly once every three thousand years. The flower rejuvenates to grant the Buddha power.
Empress Dowager Cixi desired the Hall to be built to her specification for observing the moon while it rains. It was crawled back to one storey to save on expense. However, the main hall is spacious. From there visitors will see the wonderful park scenery of the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), the Hall of Virtue and Harmony, Grand Stage, and Wenchang Hall ranking in line, as well as the Nanhu Island and Seventeen-Arch Bridge far away. Trees cast blissful shadows under a hot sun and on a stormy day the hall hangs amidst the rain clouds. Cixi held a ceremony on every Qixi Festival (the seventh day of the seventh lunar month) in commemoration of a romantic legend. Cixi and imperial concubines enjoyed summer outings here together.
The Hall of Utmost Blessing is south facing and lined up with the opera tower of the Garden of Virtue and Harmony in the Court Area and Wenchang Pavilion in the East Causeway, outstanding building in the east part of the Summer Palace. There are many palace lanterns hanging along verandas. It is far more beautiful from afar at night. The plaque with the name of this hall under the eave in the entrance is notable. Reportedly, the title 'Jingfuge' was handwritten by Empress Dowager Cixi. Stone vertical surrounding wall is 1.65 meters high with a gap left for road leading to the entrance. Walking up the steps, one enters the spacious open hall in front, covering an area of more than 200 square meters. It is magnificent because of its tiling ground with decorative paintings.
Years ago a mystery print of an old picture was uncovered abroad. It was purported to be taken of a building which stood in the Old Summer Palace before the fire on October 18, 1860. However, no record of this building was ever found in the archives. The two-storey hexagonal mystery building was later identified to be Tanhua Pavilion. Apart from the Buddha pavilion itself, there were also six archways around it. The Hall of Utmost Blessing does not measure up to its predecessor.
The Hall of Increasing Longevity (used as a dispensary) is to the northeast of the Hall of Utmost Blessing. Old Cixi relentlessly pursued longevity and blessing. Along the hilly path, visitors can walk to the Pavilion of Writing Autumn (Xieqiuxuan), Cloud Cultivating Pavilion (Yangyunxuan) and Pavilion of Blessing (Fuyinxuan) and Pavilion of Rich Foliage (Yunting) nearby. They are side attractions while climbing the hill.
The Communist Party Central Committee negotiated with the Nationalist Government of Nanjing in peace talks at the Hall prior to the founding of PRC in 1949.
Next: West Causeway
Related Link: Summer Palace Travel Tips