Chengde Mountain Resort

Little Potala Palace

Little Potala Palace by Edwin Lee. Sourced via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs License.

Chengde Mountain Summer Resort and Eight Outer Temples (避暑山庄 Bìshǔ Shānzhuāng) is in Hebei province, 230 kilometers (140 miles) north east of Beijing. The area was developed by the Qing dynasty emperors as a summer retreat to escape form the heat of Beijing. It fell form favour near the end of the dynasty and was left empty and overgrown during much of the twentieth century. As a result, it escaped the attention of the cultural revolution that affected so many historical sites in china. It is now being restored and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Building work at Chengde began in 1703, in the middle of the reign of the Emperor Kangxi.  However work extended over a considerable period of some 89 years, well into the reign of the Emperor Qianlong. When the British embassy by Lord MacArtney came to China, they were received by the Emperor in Chengde rather than Beijing. They emperors would spend several month of each year at Chengde in order to escape the heat and dust of Beijing. The location of Chengde, north of the Great Wall, in the lands native to the Qing Emperors, who were Machurian, may also have been a factor in the choice of Chengde. By situating the imperial court further north, the emperor had more control over potentially rebellious areas such as Mongolia. It also sited the Emperor within his native Manchuria and close to loyal military support should it be required. At the Chengde Resort, the Emperor could enjoy sports such as hunting. Nearby forests and grasslands were rich in game. A favourite site was the Mulan Hunting Ground on the Mongolian grasslands, over 350 km from Beijing.

The first sections of the resort were the lakes, islands in dykes that were prepared prior to building the palaces. This took from 1703 to 1714. Between 1741 and 1754, the garden areas were created. The palace structures were built progressively between 1713 and 1780.

The resort covers 5.6 square kilometres in Hebei province, north of the Great Wall of China. Almost half the area is covered by palace buildings, temples and other structures. The remaining area is parks and gardens. It is the largest imperial garden in the world. Being a royal palace, the south part of Chengde Resort consists of palaces. These are laid out in a manor similar to that of the Forbidden City in Beijing, however, on a slightly smaller scale. There are two main parts to the palaces: A court at the front where the emperor could receive guests and officials, and living chambers to the rear

The emperors Kangxi and Qianlong named 72 scenic spots around the Chengde resort. These were often copies of scenes form elsewhere in China. The resort also copies aspects of Mongolian and Manchurian landscapes such as grasslands and forests. Around the perimeter of the resort is a wall, reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. It is in fact not part of the Great Wall but built several hundred years later to protect the imperial palaces within. The Chengde resort, including it's palaces is open to the public. Entry costs 120 yuan per person.

To the east of Chengde Resort lies the Eight Outer Temples. This is the largest temple complex in China. It displays elements of many architecures including Chinese, Mongolian, Uigur and Tibetan. The eight temples are in fact twelve. The name derives from the fact that eight of them were administered by one official named Lifan Yuan. Since these temples were outside of the Great Wall, Lifan Yuan referred to them as the Eight Outer Temples and the name stuck. Construction of the temples began in 1713 and was completed in 1780. Each temple has its own particular style and character. 

Only six of the temples are open to the public. These are Putuo Zongchengzhi Temple, Puning Temple, Xumi Fushouzhi Temple, Pule Temple, Anyuan Temple, and Puyou Temple. Access is split into three tickets. The Budala Xanadu Area (including Putuo Zongcheng Temple and XumiFushou Temple) costs 80 yuan peak season and 60 yuan off peak. Puning Temple Area (including Puning Temple and Puyou Temple) also costs 80 yuan peak and 60 yuan off peak. The third area of Qingchuifeng (including Pule Temple, Anyuan Temple andQingchuifeng National Forest Park) costs 50 yuan to enter.

To the north of the Chengde Resort lies Putuo Zongchengzhi temple. This is the largest of the temples in Chengde. It was built  between 1767 and 1771 in emulation of the Potala Palace in Tibet. The occasion of the construction was Emperor Qianlong's 60's birthday and his mother's 80's birthday. Dignitaries came from Mongolia, Tibet, Qinhai and Xinjiang, and were accommodated in this temple.

The temple Puning Si is of significance. It houses a huge wooden Buddhist sculpture. This depicts Guanyin with her many arms and stands 22 metres tall. It is made from several different kinds of wood such as pine, cypress, elm, fir and linden. It was built in 1755 to commemorate Qianlong's victory over Mongolian tribes. There is a stella in front of the temple which recounts the victory story in four languages: Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese and Manchu.

Map showing location of Chengde Mountain Resort

Above: Location of Chengde Mountain Resort in Chengde, Hebei, China