|Address:||Wenjin Jie 1, Xicheng District|
|Transport:||Bus812 from Dong Dan subway station (Exit A) to Bei Hai|
|Price:||summer ¥10 ($1.25); winter ¥5 (60¢)|
Beihai (North Sea) Park is one of the most popular parks in the city of Beijing. It covers a total area of over 68 hectares, more than half of it is taken up by the lake. Early in the 10th century, the Liao Dynasty built a secondary imperial residence here, called Yaoyu or Jade Islet. When the Jin took over, they renamed the capital Zhongdu, meaning Central Capital, and built an imperial palace. Qionghua (Jade Flowery) Islet was built of earth dug out from the lake, and the rocks used for piling on the hill were brought from Kaifeng, Henan Province. During the Yuan Dynasty, the place was rebuilt three times, and Guanghandian or the Palace in the Moon where Kublai Khan used to live and many other palace buildings were built on top of the hill.
It was in this palace that Kublai Khan received Marco Polo. Unfortunately it was destroyed. The Islet became the centre of Dadu (Great Capital) and is still situated in the heart of modern Beijing.
The Ming Dynasty saw more construction and renovation: the Five Dragon Pavilions and the Nine-Dragon Screen on the north bank of the lake and many pavilions and galleries were erected during that period. From the White Dagoba, visitors can have an excellent view of the Five Dragon Pavilions standing on the opposite bank of the lake, with colourful ferry boats travelling back and forth between the shores. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, construction lasted for 30 years. The project included many other pavilions, halls and terraces which made the park even more harmonious in design.
The layout of the park is based on an ancient Chinese legend. According to the legend, there were supposed to be three islands to the east of Bohai Bay where the gods lived. One of them was called Penglai Island where a kind of herbal medicine grew, that was supposed to prolong life. The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty wanted to live fovrever. He sent people to the islands to look for the longevity medicine, but failed. Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty also wanted to live an eternal life. He ordered that a big pool be dug at the back of his palace, complete with three artificial hills to represent Penglai and the other islands. So these legendary hills were built in the eastern capital of Luoyang during the Sui Dynasty and also in the Tang Dynasty capital of Chang'an. Such a traditional style of gardening was followed during the succeeding dynasties and Beihai Park was built after this traditional style
Towering at the top of Qionghua Islet, the White Dagoba was built in 1651 on the former site of the Palace in the Moon. At the suggestion of a famous Tibetan lama priest named Momhan, Emperor Shunzhi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty agreed to the suggestion as a gesture of devotion to the Buddhist belief and a desire for unification among China's various nationalities. The dagoba was damaged in an earthquake and reconstructed on two occasions. It stands 35.9 metres high, resting on a square base built of huge stone slabs, and is topped by two bronze parasols, with 14 bronze bells hanging around them. It resembles a huge umbrella resting on a densely-wooded island. Since it was the highest point in old Beijing, it served as a vantage point of military significance.
The lake is called Beihai in Chinese, meaning "north sea." It is 68 hectares in area, with an average depth of 2 metres. The water comes from the Jade Spring Hill and Yongding River, northwest of the city. Boating and fishing are popular here in spring, summer and autumn, and people come here to skate in winter.
Jade Islet Spring Shade
On the eastern side of the Islet stands a tablet known as the Jade Islet Spring Shade, one of the eight beautiful scenes in ancient Beijing.
Qing Emperor Qianlong was so fascinated by the beautiful scene here that he wrote a poem and an inscription that reads Jade Islet Spring Shade. The inscription was later carved on the facade of the tablet and the poem on the back. The tablet is enclosed by marble balustrades. Close by the tablet a path leads to the top of the hill.
Enter Beihai Park by the east gate, cross the bridge, turn right and walk along the lakeside for 5 minutes, you will get to Yilantang (Hall of Gentle Ripple) on the Qionghua Islet where Fangshan Restaurant is located. With a hill behind and a lake in front, the restaurant offers a picturesque view. There are 11 halls, large and small, which can accommodate a total of 250 people. The dishes and desserts are imitations of imperial cuisine.
Haopujian (As Between the Hao and Pu Streams)
It was first built in 1757. The place is surrounded by rocky formations, covered with trees. decorated with winding stone bridges and spacious halls in an environment of quiet seclusion. Sometimes Empress Dowager Cixi came here to spend her summer days and listen to traditional storytelling.
Huafangzhai (Studio of Colourfully-Painted Pleasure Boat)
It lies on the east shore of the lake. It consists of several water-surface buildings. In the centre is a pond surrounded by winding galleries. On the left is Guketing (Courtyards with Old Trees), in front of which is an old ash-tree planted in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Nowadays, the Studio is often used for exhibitions of calligraphy, paintings and photographs.
The White Marble Pillar
The White Marble Pillar with the design of coiling dragons, located to the northwest of the Dagoba, stands midway along the hillside.
On its top is the bronze statue of an immortal holding a plate which is named Chenglupan (Receptacle of Dew). Legend has it that Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) once used this method to gather dew-drops to mix the medicine he took for longevity. It is on this basis of the legend that Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty had this structure built.
Qingxiaolou (Hall for Night Parties)
The Hall for Night Parties lies on the western part of the Islet. In the imperial days, on the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the Ist month of the Chinese lunar calendar). Empress Dowager Cixi would come to enjoy the skating games here.
Yuegulou (Chamber for Reading the Classics)
The Chamber is located on the western side of the Jade Islet. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), a collection of famous calligraphical works up to the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420), possessed by the imperial court, were on stone tablets rubbings, which constitute the "Sanxitang (Hall of Three Rarities) Model Calligraphy." The total comes to 495 pieces forming acollection of China's treasures in the art of calligraphy.
The Five Dragon-Pavilions were built in 1602 and renovated several times under the Qing.
The Qing emperors went fishing, enjoyed camp fires or moonlit nights. Since the pavilions were built over the water, they were called dragon-pavilions.
This Nine-Dragon Screen was built of 424 pieces of coloured glazed tiles during the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlona. The screen is 6.65 metres high, 25.86 metres long and 1.42 metres thick. It shows nine dragons playing in the waves. The Nine-Dragon Screen in "Beihai Park is one of the indispensable sights for foreign tourists to Beijing to take in if they wish to follow the traces or China's dragons. In nine different postures the nine dragons equally portray fierceness and vigour. Tourists marvel at the great artistic merit and the beautitul modelling of this ancient art object. There are three nine-dragon screens in China: the largest is the one in the city of Datong, Shanxi Province; the best one is in Beihai Park and the other one is in the Forbidden City.
The Tower of Ten Thousand Buddhas
Located at the northwestern corner of the compound, the Tower of Ten Thousand Buddhas was built in 1771 in honour of the 80th birthday of Emperor Qianlong's mother. The tower contained 10,000 niches, each holding a gilded Amitayus Buddha. It's a pity they were looted when the allied forces of the eight powers invaded Beijing in 1900.
Miaoxiangting (Pavilion of Buddhist Apprehension)
The pavilion is octagonal in shape. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty had Wanfolou (House of Ten Thousand Buddhist Deities) built in celebration of his mother's eightieth birthday. The pavilion is part of the construction. In the pavilion there is a stone pagoda, on which are carved sixteen buddhist figures. Each one of them is full of life and marvellous in form.
The Iron Shadow Screen
This is a cultural relic from the Yuan Dynasty. It stands 3.56 metres long and l.89 metres high. There are some simple but lively animal carvings on both sides. The colour of the screen looks like iroh, actually it is carved out of neutral igneous rock, hence the name.
Jingxinzhai (Heart-ease Study) is a fascinating garden located on the northern shores of Beihai Park. The whole garden is surrounded by a gilded and painted rigzag corridor that follows the shape of the hills.
The garden was first named Jingqingzhai (Clear Mirror Study) built wlth fine workmanship in 1758 and was known as the "miniature garden of Qianlong." The Qing emperors and empresses used to come here to relax after worshipping Gods at Xiaoxitian (Little Western Sky) in Beihai. Empress Dowager Cixi made it her favourite resort because of its quietness and seclusion and a special narrow-gauge railway line was built from her residence at Zhongnanhai right down to the entrance of the garden. In 1913, this place was renovated and renamed Jingxinzhai.
The garden combines the special feature of gardening in areas both north and south of the Yangtze River. It is ingeniously designed, novel in style, made up of three courtyards and consists chiefly of rockeries.
Behind the elegant north gate of the garden is a pond that takes up one whole courtyard and has water lilies in its clear water. In the pond stands an exquisite piece of rock from Lake Taihu and the spacious Jingxinzhai stands right behind the pond.
East of Jingxinzhai is a small courtyard. The main building facing south is Baoshu Study, said to be the study of the crown princes of the Qing Dynasty. The east wing, called Yunqinzhai (Zither Room), faces a small lotus pond fed by water from the lake, which gives a jingle-jangling sound like jade falling to the ground. In the south is a wall with different shapes of cut-outs through which one can enjoy a panoramic view of Beihai. No wonder there is a couplet in the Zither Room which reads: "A unique place to enjoy oneself; a combination of sound and view." Behind the study is a rock garden where bubbling springwater flows through crevices into the lotus pond. Right in the middle of the pond stands Qinquanlang (Refreshing Spring Corridor) decorated with vermillion beams and painted columns. It is a wonderful place for relaxation on midsummer days.
Qinquanlang is connected with the southern shores by a zigzag bridge in the east and a marble bridge in the west. This marble bridge looks like a jade belt which is supported at each end by two life-like unicorns bending their backs and looking straight ahead. Peichawu (Tea Baking Place) is located to the southeast of the bridge. It faces Yanhuaxuan (Room for Keeping Paintings) which is diagonally opposite Huafengshi (Room for Painting Peaks) in the southwest of the garden. It is so well designed that it enables visitors to enjoy views from the room from two different angles.
The different shaped rockeries were said to be modelled after the works of famous landscape painters. There are narrow paths between the rockeries. In the west of the garden is a group of rockeries made of Taihu rocks which look like a lotus flower in full bloom. Zhenluanting, an exquisite pavilion right in its centre, provides a bird's eye view of the garden. The place was named Lianduozhugong (Lotus and Pearl Palace) by Emperor Qianlong for its unique beauty.
Located in the northwestern part of Beihai Park, the Small Sukhavati (Pure Land) Garden was built in 1770 by Qing Emperor Qianlong to celebrate his mother' s birthday. The main hall in the garden is the largest square pavilion in Asia. It is surrounded with water but easy of access by bridges. It is accompanied by four glazed gateways extending in four directions with one small pavilion at each corner. Inside the hall there is a moulded Sumeru mountain with a seated Sakyamuni, with Ananda and Mahakasyapa standing by each side and Bodhisttvas and Arhats of various symbolic gestures arranged around. The mountain is embellished with ancient towers and temples, exotic flowers and rare trees, and curling mists and clouds, making it look like the legendary "Western Paradise" (Sukhavati.) Emperor Qianlong once inscribed the words "Pure Land" in mandarin Chinese on a board, which is still hung high in the hall. These features make the building a precious buddhist architectural work.
The garden was closed for reason of damages and safety since 1952. The departments concerned have made efforts to restore and conserve the garden especially during the period from 1987 to 1993. The Sukhavati Garden was finally reopened to domestic and foreign tourists in early 1994. Within the resorted Sukhavati Garden the tourist will acquire a vivid experience of the mountain itself and will find sculptures of the Buddhist Mi School in the cave.
Yong' an (Eternal Peace) Temple
Yong' an Temple on the Qionghuadao islet in the centre of Beihai Park reopened to the public after intensive renovation in 1993. The temple is hardly new. It was first built in 1651, though the history of the park dates a few centuries earlier, when the Dagoba symbol of the park, was constructed on the top of the hill. But Yong'an Temple has long been in disrepair. Part of it had toppled with the passage of time, until it was restored earlier 1993. The temple has now taken on an entirely new face with its freshly-painted wallsand roofs, dazzling-array of Buddha statues and cultural relics. And, for thefirst time in the park's history.
The components of the temple - three main halls and several auxiliaryones -are arranged along the slope on six terraces, with the White Dagobaatop the tiny island. The first statues are the four guardians of Dharmer.Heavenly Kings, as they are dubbed. they look ferocious and each has something in hand: please read Yonghegong Lamasery page 166. Sakyamuni,founder of Buddhism, and his main disciples, eight Bodhisattva and 18Arhats, are enshrined in the Falun Hall -a common sight in a temple of thiskind. The falun, or prayer wheel cylinder, is a bell-like instrument used in religious rituals. There are two falun sets in front of the hall.
Pu' an (Universal Peace) Hall houses another group of Buddhist statues, totally different from the first ones. Facing outwards, Tsong kha-pa, founder of Tibetan Buddhism's Gelugpa (Yellow) Sect, sits on an altar and his two beloved disciples, the First Dalai (the famous Songstang Kampo) and the First Bainqen are at his sides. This sect of the Tibetan Buddhism is represented by their yellow caps, a colour that actually dominates the entire hall.
In other auxiliary halls are religious implements, including silver bowls, bugles and prayer wheels which are used for rituals like Monlam, or the Grand Summoning Ceremony. Silk-woven or embroidered tangkas--scroll paintings with Buddhist images -are in traditional Tibetan style, a collage of colours against a deep blue backdrop. Green bamboo grows luxuriantly in the yard behind Falun Hall, and its sweet smell lures the visitor to linger just a little longer. It is possible to have a rest in one of the two exquisitely designed pavilions half-way to the Dagoba. Two steles erected in one of the yards tell the origins of the temple and the Dagoba. They are inscribed in Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan.
A steep stone stairway leads to the top which provides a mesmerizing view. To the south is Zhongnanhai (Central and South Sea), where the headquarters of the Communist Party of China is located. The Forbidden City nearby is a stretch of green and yellow glazed tile roofs. Toward Beihai Park, the lotuses have withered in the early autumn chill but the trees are still green. Swan-shaped pedal boats creak their way across the pond and pedestrians roam on the cobblestone paths in the imperial garden, believed to be the earliest ever built.
The White Dagoba, together with a painting depicting Emperor Shunzhi (the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty) meeting with the Fifth Dalai are witnesses of the Central Government-Tibet alliance. The 36-metre high Tibetan style building (the White Dagoba) the most famed landmark at Beihai Park, was built in honour of a visiting Dalai Lama and later to house Buddhist relics. The Dagoba was whitewashed under the renovation project in 1993. Its top is a gold-gilded copper lid decorated with dozens of copper bells. Their jingle carries far in the wind, reminding one a dreamland.
The Round City, 4,500 square metres in area, stands at the south gate of Beihai Park. It is surrounded by a 5-metre-high circular wall and has a distinctive courtyara with halls, pavilions and ancient trees. It was originally an islet formed from the lake excavations and served as an imperial garden.
The major building in the Round City is Chengguangdian (the Hall to Receive the Light) built during the Yuan Dynasty and renovated twice in the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the middle of the Round City is Yuwengting (Jade Jar Pavilion) with a blue roof and white columns. The Round City is of great artistic value in the history of ancient gardening in China.
When you go up the terrace, you can see an ancient pinus bungeane (lacebark pine) on your right about 20 metres tall. The pine was planted in the Jin Dynasty, one of the oldest in Beijing. The cypress trees in front of the Hall to Receive the Light are all several hundred years old. Emperor Qianlong is said to have granted titles to these ancient trees: for example, the General in White Robe, for the white bark pine. East of the Hall to Receive the Light there is an 800-year-old tree. It is 10.46 metres high, 94.6 centimetres in diameter, shades the sun from 107.6 square metres. The pine was named the Sunshade Marquess by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty as he once sheltered under it on a hot summer day. A lightning rod has been placed on top of the tree, and it is still growing healthily although one of its branches was broken by heavy snow in 1960.
In Beijing detailed records of 4,200 pine trees which are more than 300 years old, have been compiled. Similar work is also being carried out on some another 20,000 trees, aged between 100 and 300 years.
Since 1983, detailed records have been built up listing each tree's age, height, diameter, shade area, and environment and including photographs and any legendary story attached to the tree. The information is fed into a computer and is used for research work aiming at better protecting these aged trees.
Local groups set up to compile records in parks, at historical sites and scenic spots are also now caring for the old trees by providing manure, irrigation and insecticides.
The Jade Jar, which is O.66 metre high and 1.5 metres in diameter, was used as a wine vessel by Kublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty. It was originally kept in the Palace in the Moon. It is carved out of a single piece of black jade. On its outer surface are designs of sea-dragons and other marine beasts amidst rolling waves, and inside is inscribed a poem by Emperor Qianlong about the jar. After the Palace in the Moon collapsed in the Ming Dynasty, the Jade Jar was taken to Zhenwumiao (True Martial Temple), where it was used as a pickle jar. It was recovered in 1749. A pavilion was built especially to house it on the order of Emperor Qianlong
Hall to Receive the Light
The Hall to Receive the Light was built in 1746 after the style of the watchtower in the Palace Museum. It has two verandahs, one on the east side and the other on the west. To the west in the rear are the Pavilion of Penetrating Fragrance and the Pavilion of Clear Ripples. To the east are the Ancient Musical Pipe Pavilion and the Pavilion of Scattered Clouds.
In the hall is a statue of Buddha, l.5 metres high, carved out of a very fine piece of white jade. The head and clothes are inlaid with red and green precious stones. The statue is said to have come from Burma during the reign of Qing Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908). The knife scar on its left arm was made by the allied forces of the eight powers in 1900.