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Home >> China City Guide >> Beijing >> Beihai Park - Beijing tour guide
 
 

Beihai Park

 

Beihai Park, Beijing
Beihai Park

Beihai Park located in central Beijing, is one of the oldest and most authentically perserved imperial gardens in China. It has a history of more than 1000 years. Beihai has existed throughout the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Most of the buildings now standing were constructed during Emperor Qianlong's regin in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.).

Beihai was opened to the public in 1925 and in 1961 it was one of the first important cultural sites placed under protection by the State Council. The park occupies an area of 69 hectares including a 39-hectare lake. In the garden, pavilions and towers nestle amid the beautiful scenery of lakes and hills,grass and trees. Carrying on the traditions of garden landscaping of ancient China, Beihai is a gem of garden art.

Beihai Park in Beijing is the oldest and best-preserved imperial garden in China.It was first built during thje Liao Dynasty (916-1125),then rebuilt an renovated continually during the Jin (1115-1234), Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties that followed,eventually becoming the beautifully landscaped garden we see today.As a pleasure ground for the imperial family within the Imperial City, Beihai Park was built to be more magnificent than any imperial complex outside the capital,including the Summer Resort at Chengde in Hebei Province and the Diaoyutai Imperial Lodge on the outskirts of Beijing.

Beihai Park is located in the center of Beijing and covers 71.4 hectares (176.5 acres), half of which are taken up by water.It borders on Zhongnanhai (Central and South Seas Lake) in the south,shichahai (Ten Temples Lake) in the north and the wooded Jingshan (Coal Hill) in the east.The majestic former Imperial Palace lies to the southeast.

The design of Beihai Park was inspired by a legendary story.Rising above the East Sea,the story goes, were the three fairyland mountains of Penlai, Yingzhou and Fangzhang. There the immortals lived and a miraculous potion for longevity could be found.Both the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (reigned 211-210 B.c.) and Emperor Wu Di or the Han Dynasty (reigned 140-87 B.C.) sent people over the sea to the mountains in quest of the potion, but all of them failed to find it. Longing for immortality, Emperor Wu Di ordered a large lake,which he named Taiye Lake,dug behind Jianzhang Palace in the capital city of Chang'an (now Xi'an in Shaanxi Province). Three islets modeled after the fairyland mountains were created in the lake from the earth that was dug out.

Later Chinese emperors also built lakes with islets near their palaces in hopes of living forever like the immortals.Emperor Yang Di of the Sui Dynasty (reigned 605-617) had a lake with a circumference of more than a dozen li (1 li equals 547 yards)built near his palace in Luoyang,Henan Provice.The three islets in the lake towered more than 30 meters(about 100 feet) high.Emperors of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties all did the same.Beihai,built as an inperrial garden behind the Forbidden City,also followed this pattern.Qiongdao(Jade Islet),Tuancheng (Round City) and Xishan (Rhinoceros Hill) Terrace in Beihaiwere shaped to resemble the three fairyland mountains;and all the towers,pavilions,odd-shaped rocks and caves, as well as the dew collector held by a bronze immortal located on Qiongdao, were created out of imaginations fired by the legendary story.

When the Liao Dynasty,founded by the Qidans from the North, made Yanjing(now Beijing) its secondary capital in 938, there was a vast lake on the northeastern outskirts of the city called the "Golden Sea."It was the lake that was to become Beihai Lake.In the middle of the lake was a small island called Yaoxu(Precious Islet),and the structure built on it was referred to as the Yaoxu Imperial Lodge. The Daning (Immense Tranquility)Palace complex was built around the lake by Wmperor Shi Zong between 1163 and 1179, after the Jin Dynasty drove out the Liao and took over Beijing.Before construction of his palsce began, the emperor hung a picture of Gengyue Garden,the Song Dynasty imperial garden in Bianliang (onw Kaifeng in Henan province),on a screen and ordered that his garden be landscaped exactly the same way.He change the name of Yaoxu to Qiongdao and decorated it with Taihu rocks removed fuom complex were Guanghan Palace, or the Palace in the Moon,and Yaoguang (Divine Light) Tower.

Beihai remained an imperial pleasure ground for more than 800 years.In Jim times, it was noted for two of its scenic spots - Qiongdao Chunyin (Spring shade on Jade Islet)and Taiye Qiufeng(Autumn Wind over Taiye Lake).These were two of eight wellknown scenic places in old Beijing.


It was after the Jin Dynasty that Beihai became the nucleus of Beijing.

During the reign of Kublai Khan,the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty,qiongdao was expanded three times,renamed Wanshou(Longevity)Hill and made the center of Dadu (Great Capital,a name given to Beijing by the Mongols ). The khan visited the garden often,and he held ceremonies on festive occasions, received foreigh diplomats and issued decrees fuom there. He also renovated Guanghan Palace and mande it the scenc of grand receptions
and banquets.

During the last years of the Yuan Dynasty,pleasure-seeking Emperor Shun Di,looking for a way to amuse himself,had a 40-meter-long(about 130 feet) dragon boat comstructed and made 16 palace maids dressed like legendary fairies sing and dance for him while the boat sailed around the lake.

During the Ming and Qing dynasty,Beihan was further expanded and renovated .New additions made by the Ming Dynasty included the Daxitian (Great Western skies) Workshop for printing Buddhist sutras,Taishou (Longevty) Hall,Five-Dragon Pavilion and the Nine-Dragon Screen on the northern shore of the lake; Yingcui (Viewing Foliage) Hall on the western shore; and Yinhe (Concentrated Harmony) Hall and Cangzhou (Lakeside) Dock on the garden very often.Xuan Zong also wrote prose extolling the magnificence of Guanghan Palace.

In 1965,during the reign of Shun Zhi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty,a while tower in Tibetan style was erected on the site of Guanghan Palace,whilt had collapsed sone 80 years earlier. The tower was the Baita (Whilt Dagoba). Large-scale construction at beihai took place from 1741 to 1771 during the reign of Emperor Qian Long in the Qing period.The structures added included Canfang(Altar for Worshipping the Lady of Silk worms),Chanfu (Happinese conferring) Temple, Xiaoxitian (Little Western Skies) Temple and Jingxin (Quiet Heart)Studio on the northern shore of the lake; and Haopujian (Haopu Creek) and Huafangzhai (Studio of the Painted Boat)gardens on the eastern shore,Beihai today looks much the same as it did under the rule of Emperor Qian Long.

In the last years of the Qing Dynasty,Empress Dowager Ci Xi appropriated money intended for the building of a Chinese navy to renovate the imperial pleasure grounds at railway to connect the areas,beginning at Baoguang(Precious Light) Gate outside Huairen (Benevolence) Hall in Nanhai, passing through Zhonghai, turning east at Xiaoxiatin on the western bank of the lake in Beihai,and finally stopping at Jingxin Studio. When she lived in Yiluan (Ceremonial Phoenix) Hall at zhonghai in 1888,the empress dowager often took the train to Jingxin Studio to have her dinner, accompanied by Emperor Guang Xu and his empress and concubines.

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