Zhongnanhai - the Political Center of China
To the west of the Forbidden City lie three ‘seas’, the Northern Sea, the Central Sea and the Southern Sea. Actually they are not seas, just big lakes. The Northern Sea is now the beautiful lake inside the Beihai Park. The Central and Southern Seas are collectively referred as Zhongnanhai. With an area of 1,500 acres of which 700 acres is lake, Zhongnanhai, although a garden with exceptional scenery, is more popularly known as the symbol of China's central government and the metonym for the Chinese leadership. Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai once resided here. Now, the top leaders of the Chinese state carry out many daily administrative affairs inside Zhongnanhai.
Some sites in the Southern Sea area, including the Yingtai Island, Yinian Hall, the Chrysanthemum Study (Chairman Mao's former residence), had once been open to the public during important holidays and weekends between 1977 and 1985. At that time, some ordinary people’s long-cherished wish of visiting the garden came true. However, Zhongnanhai is not open to the public at present. Beijing Tourism Bureau has been actively promoting the reopening of the garden for common sightseeing. The garden now is a political synonym for mystery and solemnity. The following introduction provides an insight of this mysterious site in Beijing.
Xinhua Gate of Zhongnanhai, No.174, Chang'an Avenue, Xicheng District (About 500 meters (540 yards) west of the Tiananmen Square)
From Xidan Area to Tiananmen Tower (Gate of Heavenly Peace), along the north side of the Chang'an Avenue, there is a red wall extending for hundreds of meters. With the decoration of green trees and red lanterns, the red wall bears a heavy sense of history. Tourists often take pictures here as it behind the wall is the famous Zhongnanhai.
Xinhua Gate, facing the Chang'an Avenue, is the south and major gate of Zhongnaihai. China’s national flag is fluttering in the air above the gate. On both sides of the gate, there are two large plaques - the left one reads ‘Long Live the Communist Party of China’ while the right one reads ‘Long Live the Invincible Mao Zedong Thought’. Inside the gate is a screen wall inscribed with a slogan ‘Serve the People’ by Chairman Mao.
First being built in the Liao (907-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) Dynasties and expanded during the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties, Zhongnanhai witnessed the social and political changes in China for over 1,000 years. The major structure of this historic garden was formed in the Ming Dynasty when the Empire made Beijing the capital city and constructed the Forbidden City. Since the Qing Dynasty, the garden has become a political center as well as an imperial resort, where the emperor could do political work and enjoy the quiet site while escaping the summer heat. The last emperor of China, Emperor Puyi had the Regent Palace built in the garden.
Since the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Zhongnanhai had seen a number of historical events and continued to be the political center during the chaos of wartime in China. After the founding of the PRC in 1949, it became the center of CPC. The top leaders including Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De and other senior officials resided and worked in the garden at that time. The First Plenary Session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was held there, deciding the name of the country, the national flag and the national song.
At present, China’s state leaders still use Zhongnanhai as the place for handling national affairs and holding diplomatic activities such as meetings and state banquets with important foreign political leaders or delegations.
The Regent Palace, situated in the northwest corner of Zhongnanhai, has a well-preserved main gate and a main hall which is now a conference room. The hall in the West Garden of the palace was once the residence of Premier Zhou’en Lai.
Attractions of Central Sea
The Violet Light Tower (Ziguangge) on the northwestern bank of the Central Sea is the best known to the public due to its high exposure in the media during frequent important meetings held there. The two-storey tower is seven bays in width. Its single-eave roof is made of green glazed tiles with yellow edges. There is an annex with five rooms in front of the tower and the Wucheng Hall behind. The tower witnessed many significant historical events, for example, in 1873, it was here that Emperor Tongzhi of the Qing Dynasty met envoys of Japan, Russia, USA, France, Netherlands and Britain, and accepted their credentials. Since 1949, it has been set with a conference hall and become a venue for state affairs.
The Ten Thousand Benevolence Hall (Wanshandian) on the eastern bank was built by Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty. This emperor was a devout Buddhist and he built this hall for a famous monk he admired. Statues of Buddha stand in the hall. Behind the hall lies the Thousand Sage Hall with a special dome and contains a seven-story pagoda.
The Water Cloud Pavilion (Shuiyunxie), located to the west of the Ten Thousand Benevolence Hall, stands on the water. Inside the pavilion there is a stele engraved with the Qing Emperor Qianlong's (1711 - 1799) handwriting ‘Autumn Wind on the Taiye Pool’. Taiye was the old name of the lake and the inscription described one of the nine most famous scenes of Beijing at that time.
The Hall of Diligent Government (Qinzhengdian), located on the embankment between the Central Sea and the Southern Sea, once the main hall of Zhongnanhai, but it was demolished in the Period of Republic of China (1912-1949). A new building has been constructed on the original site.
With the Centipede Bridge as the division, the Southern Sea is to the south of the Central Sea. The major buildings of this area are centered on the Yingtai Island. During the reign of Emperor Shunzhi and Kangxi (1654-1722) of the Qing Dynasty, seven main palaces and nineteen further buildings were constructed on the island. A stone bridge to the north of the island connects it to the shore. Step onto the island through the bridge, there stands the Renyao Gate and the Flying Phoenix Tower, which is the main entrance. Further south is the Hanyuan Gate, and the core building of Yingtai - the Hanyuan Palace. Due to the slope on the island, the northern side of the palace has one storey, while the southern side is a two-storey pavilion name ‘Penglai’. It was here that most imperial banquets and entertainment activities were held. After the failure of the Hundred Days' Reform in 1898, the Empress Dowager Cixi had Emperor Guangxu imprisoned on the Yingtai Island. Nowadays, Yingtai serves as the site for national banquets and receptions.
Attractions of Southern Sea
The Fengze Garden is located to the north of the Yingtai Island. Its main buildings include the Yinian Hall which is a conference room now, the Chrysanthemum Study to its east, and a little garden named Quiet Valley to its west. To the northeast of the Fengze Garden lies the Huairen Hall, where a number of China’s major conferences of the State Council were held.
National Centre for the Performing Arts