The Chengde Mountain Resort (Bishushanzhuang) or literally “Mountain Hamlet to Flee the Heat” in the northern part of the city was the biggest garden of the imperial family in the Qing Dynasty.
In order to consolidate the unity of the multi-national state and pacify the frontier areas, Emperor Kangxi, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty made many inspection tours in North China. During his inspection tours, he found that Chengde with its proximity to the capital of Beijing was beautiful in scenery and pleasant in climate. Therefore, in 1703 he decided to have a summer resort built here. Construction of the project was completed in 1790 lasting 87 years. Within the Mountain Resort, there are more than 20 building complexes scattered throughout the park, consisting of more than 100 individual halls, pavilions, studios, pagodas and terraces. Each of these complexes has its poetic name. Every year both Qing emperors Kangxi and Qianlong spent about six months enjoying the cool and handing government affairs here. Because the Qing rulers could not accustom to Beijing’s hot dry summers and sought relief by traveling north of the Great Wall. After the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911, the Mountain Hamlet to Flee the Heat had been left in disrepair. Since 1949, the new China has listed it as a major historical monument under the state protection and allocated a large sum of money to have it restored. Nowadays, it has taken a completely new look and become a bustling tourist destination.
The Mountain Resort encompasses 5.64 square kilometers (twice the size of Summer Palace in Beijing) and the wall enclosing it is as long as 10 kilometers. The Mountain Resort is divided into two parts—the palace area and the garden area. The entire scenery creates an effect often seen in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Rows upon rows of pavilions and halls bejewel the whole resort, and temples and nunneries dot the deep valleys and tree-clad, undulating mountains.
In the southern part of the lake area are the palace buildings where the Qing emperors lived, conducted state affairs and held grand celebrations. The main buildings are: Zhenggong (Front Palace), Songhezhai (Pine-Crane Hall), Donggong (East Palace) and their annexes. Tourists on their way to the Front Palace have to pass through Lizhengmen (Gate of Beauty and Righteousness). Lizheng—Beauty and Righteousness—symbolize solidarity of all the nationalities in China, the country’s prosperity and unity. Just inside is Wumen (Meridian Gate) with a horizontal tablet engraved with the golden characters for “Mountain Hamlet to Flee the Heat” in the calligraphy of Qing emperor Kangxi (1662-1722). The courtyard is paved with grey bricks and luxuriant old pines are grown here and there, surrounding the environment with a serene and solemn atmosphere. The main hall of the Front Palace is Danbojiangchengdian (Hall of Frugality and Placidity), also known as Nanmu Hall because it was built of the fine-grained fragrant hardwood called nanmu (Phoebe nanmu). This kind of nanmu can give off an unusual scent reputed to repel mosquitoes in summer. This simple and graceful-looking structure is exquisitely decorated, with superbly engraved ceilings and partitions. It is here that the Qing emperors once received court ministers and foreign envoys. Sizhishuwu (Literary of the Four “Knows”) is a place where the emperor would relax before and after holding ceremonies, and only the most important members of the Qing court were permitted to come to have audience with him. In the courtyard outside, ancient cypresses still flourish and their leaves stay green year round.
Yanbozhishuangdian (Hall of Cool Mists and Ripples), the emperors’ bedchamber, is the place where Qing emperor Xianfeng passed away on his sickbed in 1861. Yunshanshengdilou (Hall of the Panorama of Cloud-Covered Mountains) is the last structure of the Front Palace. The skillfully arranged rockeries serve as the staircase leading visitors to the tower, where, looking north, visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the lakes and hills ahead. The Pine-Crane Hall resembles the Front Palace in architectural layout. It consists of six buildings which are connected by a winding corridor in an integrated whole. The garden-like place was once the residence of empress dowagers. The Pine Soughing Valley stands majestically on a tree-covered hill, overlooking the lakes. Qing emperor Qianlong named its main hall Ji’entang (Hall for Remembering Kindness) to commemorate his study sessions here with his grandfather, Qing emperoer Kangxi. This hall used to be the place where Qing emperor Kangxi received officials and read and made comments on the memorial submitted by them. The East Palace originally had six buildings, but they were all damaged by fire before 1949.
The buildings in the palace area are unique in style, quite unlike other gorgeous palaces. Their foundations just like those of ordinary people’s houses, they are simply furnished, unembellished, austere and elegant, harmonizing well with the simplicity of the whole Mountain Resort.
The Lake Area
The lake area is the key scenic spot of the Mountain Resort. Of the 72 scenic wonders named by Qing emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, 31 are in the lake area. With winding banks, the lake area has a maze of islets linked by causeways and small bridges. The entire place presents a typical South China scene when a breeze rustles the willow trees along the shore and the lotus, reeds and water chestnuts sway over the shoals of fish swimming leisurely in the water. Boat-riding on the lakes, tourists will find their eyes insufficient to take in so many beautiful sights that greet them. The triple Lake-Center Pavilions located at the eastern end of the lake area are perched on a stone bridge and their reflections in the water are a feast for the eye. Wenyuanshizilin(Graceful Lion Garden), linked to the triple Lake-Center Pavilions by a causeway, is unique in style. To the east is an islet called Jinshan (Golden Hill). The towers and pavilions are strung out along the shore orderly, connected by a winding corridor. Climbing up the three-tier hexagonal tower and gaze at the hills and lakes far and near, tourists will feel as if they are surrounded by traditional Chinese landscape paintings. In the central part of the lake area is Yuesejiangsheng (Hall of Moonlit River), where emperors Kangxi and Qianlong used to study Confucian classics Here the environment is quiet and fresh and green with lotus fragrance and willows. Ruyizhou (so named for its similar shape to the Chinese ornamental object Ruyi) is the biggest one in the lake area. Looking to the north, visitors will find Yanyulou (House of Mists and Rains) perched on Qingliandao (Green Lotus Islet). When it rains, the hills and trees are shrouded in mist—a wonderful sight. It is here that Qing emperor Qianlong used to read and watch the clouds and rain. In the western part of the lake are Fangyuanju (Aromatic Garden Residence) and other four scenic spots. The buildings here are small and exquisite and scattered here and there along a winding dyke, adding charm to the entire area.
A Vast Expanse of Grassland
To the north of the lake lies a vast plain covered with luxuriant grass and trees, where reindeer and hares often roam about. The park is laid out entirely in the Mongolian style, whisking tourists to typical Mongolian grassland. Wanshuyuan(Garden of Ten-Thousand Tress) has a crouching tablet inscribed with the garden’s name in the calligraphy of Emperor Qianlong. It is here that Emperor Qianlong received Mongolian princes, the Panchen Lama of Tibet and the British special envoy, George MaCatney. Not far northeast from the garden is Yongyousi (Temple of Perpetual Blessing), the family temple of Qing emperors, inside of which is an imposing stupa, 66 meters high, with a dazzling gilded copper top. Whenever Emperor Qianlong came to the Mountain Resort, the first thing he did was to come here to offer sacrifices. In the west lies Wenjinge (Knowledge Imparting Hall) which, built in the style of the Tianyige Pavilion in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, was a book repository of the Qing ruling house.
Picturesque Mountains and Tranquil Valleys
The northwestern part of the Mountain Resort is all wooded mountains, steep crags and deep valleys, where the scenery varies from season to season. Here, 44 scenic spots, no two are the same, were built during the reigns of emperors Kangxi and Qianlong. Walking along the zigzag mountain paths to the accompaniment of the soughing of the wind in the pines, the chirping of birds and the murmuring of the streams and tourists will be transported into a haven of peace, far removed from the din and turmoil of the world. About 500 meters in the west from Lishuyu(Pear Tree Valley) lies Lihuabanyuegou (Pear Blossoms and Moonlit Ditch). The scenery is especially enchanting in spring time, when myriad of blooming pear trees emit intoxicating aroma and the moon shines through a thin veil of clouds. On top of a mountain northwest of the resort is Simianyunshanting (Cloud and Mountain-Encircled Pavilion). Standing in the pavilion, tourists will feel as if clouds and mist surrounded them, and on fine days, they can view the peaks and clouds some 50 kilometers away. North from Zhenziyu (Hazel Dale) is Chuifengluozhaoting (Pavilion of the Hammer Peak in the Glow of the Setting Sun), where, in the depth of winter, tourists’ eyes will be greeted by a spectacular northern China scene as they gaze south at the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Grotesque Peaks and Quaint Crags
With its peculiar landform, Chengde is noted for its odd-shaped peaks and crags. Qingchuifeng (Sledgehammer Peak) is 38-meter-high solitary pinnacle, which stands on a meandering ridge five kilometers to the northeast of Chengde City. The pinnacle, shaped like an inverted sledgehammer, looks ominous, with one end pointing skyward and the other end overlooking a precipitous cliff, and when viewed from afar its solitariness is shown off an advantage against the surrounding peaks tinged red by the glow of a setting sun. On the summit of a southern mountain, just across a valley, is Hamashi (Flog Crag), which is like a frog with its head rearing in the pose of making a jump. On the eastern bank of the Wlie Riveris Luohanshan (Arhat Hill), so named because it looks like an arhat sitting meditation on the riverside. On a height south of the city is the sky-piercing Sengmaoshan(Monk’s Headgear Peak), which takes its name from its shape. Fifteen kilometers in the west are two grotesque pinnacles rising sheer from the ground like two pagodas. Shuangtashan (Twin Pagoda Hill), quite by coincidence, is crowned with a tumble down pagoda erected in the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). In addition, there are Guangrenling (Broad Benevolence Ridge), Chaoyangdong (Sun-Facing Cave), etc., forming the “Ten Scenic Wonders of Chengde” noted for their sublimity, oddness or tranquility以. More interesting is that a lot of legends and myths are attributed to these scenic spots, adding mystery to the landscapes of Chengde.