Marble Boat

The Marble Boat is located in the northwest corner of Kunming Lake and close to the western foot of Longevity Hill at the Summer Palace. It is flanked to the east by Baizhang Pavilion and to the north by Xing Bride. Hidden from the surrounding views, the boat comes as if it was just sailing from the south. The boat is also called Han Chuan (Land Boat) or Bu Ji Zhou (Unmoored Boat) because it is not navigable. In ancient China, people often built smaller versions of boats as part of the decoration in classical gardens to enrich the beautiful scenery, as well as provide a seat for people to enjoy the sight and feast.  

The Marble Boat was built in 1755 with a base made from huge stones. The base supported a wooden pavilion in traditional Chinese style imitating the sailing boats of Emperor Qianlong (1711 - 1799). The boat replaced a platform belonging to Yuanjing Temple during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Wei Zheng, a prominent prime minister under the reign of Emperor Taizhong, Tang Dynasty, once said, "Water can carry the boat as well as overturn it." He meant that water symbolizing the common people can support a good emperor or overthrow a bad emperor. Emperor Qianlong had the huge Marble Boat fastened in the water to indicate the steadfast rule of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Marble Boat Tourists in the Marble Boat
In 1860, the wooden pavilion was burned leaving only the hull of the boat remaining. Empress Dowager Cixi had the boat rebuilt in 1893 using a Western design. She financed the rebuilding using funds embezzled from the navy. The boat's name was changed to Qingyan Fang and provided a venue for Cixi to view the scenery and be entertained. When the empire was facing a military and political crisis, Cixi embezzled more funds to rebuild the Summer Palace under the guise of naval development. The only concession actually made to the navy was that they took possession of the marble boat. As magnificent as the boat was, it was, of course, no use to the navy. In fact, Qing's Navy was completely vanquished in sea battled seven years later.

The boat is now the only western-style structure in the Summer Palace. Inlaid with colorful glass windows and wheels and paved with colored bricks, the boat is 36 meters long, and two stories and eight meters high. Using the huge mirrors fixed on each deck, Cixi could enjoy the exquisite lake scene while having tea. The roof of the two-decked pavilion is made from brick carvings.  Four dragon heads mounted in each direction serve as drains, allowing rain water to be channeled out of their mouths. With its arcing stern and bow and a hull shaped like paddle wheels, the big boat looks very much like a steamer ready for sailing. A thick layer of moss covers the outside of the boat revealing its long tenure here. Visitors can view the boat by walking the length of the Long Gallery that begins at the Gate of Inviting the Moon (Yaoyuemen) close to the eastern gate of the Summer Palace.

Next: Kunming Lake

 Related Link: Summer Palace Travel Tips