Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Summer Palace by Royd Andalis. Sourced via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution License.

The Summer Palace in Beijing, China. This garden of 2.9 square kilometres was the leisure area of the Emperors of China. It was a particular favourite of the Emperor Dowager Cixi. The gardens were first built in 1750 and repeatedly extended over the next hundred years. In 1860, the Summer Palace was destroyed by Anglo-French troops. It was rebuilt and then destroyed again by foreign troops during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. It was rebuilt and extended yet again in 1902. The extreme cost of reconstructions is regarded as one of the contributing factors to the fall of the Qing Dynasty just ten years later.


The original name for the gardens was Qingyi Yuan which means Garden of Clear Ripples. It was constructed in 1750, during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong. It was intended to copy many of the best features from all around China. The lake, Kunming Lake, was created by enlarging an existing water feature. The spoil from creating the lake was used to form the Longevity Hill on the north side of the gardens. Palaces, temples, theatres and other buildings were built on the Hill and the islands of the Lake.

The gardens and palace have had a colourful history. By the mid 19th century, the Summer Palace had become the favourite location for the imperial family, it being considerably more comfortable than the Forbidden City palace in the centre of Beijing. It was a particular favourite of the Empress Dowager Cixi. At the end of the Second Opium War in 1860, Anglo-French troops occupied the Summer Palace. They looted and destroyed much of the palace treasures and set fire to what remained. The palace buildings, being largely made of wood, were burned down.

With the death of the Emperor Xianfeng in 1861, the Empress Dowager Cixi became regent on behalf of her young son. When her son assumed full Emperial powers in 1873 he ordered the reconstruction of the Summer Palace as a present for Cixi. The reconstruction focused on the west part of the gardens. The east part was left unrestored and is today known as The Old Summer Palace. The construction of the new Summer Palace and gardens was undertaken by Prince Chun. The Empress spent much of her time in the Summer Palace and conducted court affairs from here on behalf of, and later instead of, the emperor. At the time the finances of the country had been stretched by the many rebellions and foreign interventions. Rumours suggest that in 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi, with a fund of 30 million taels of silver embezzled from the Imperial Navy. This money was used to further enhance and expand the Summer Palace.

After Cixi's successful coup against her nephew, the Emperor Guangxu was put under effective house arrest on an island within Kunming Lake of the Summer Palace. For most of the time from 1898 until his early death in 1908, the Emperor was confined here.

Following the Boxer Rebellions in China against foreign interference and Cixi declaration of war against all foreign powers, Beijing was again occupied by foreign troops; This time an eight nation alliance of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The foreign troops carried out many acts of retribution against the Chinese. These included a second looting and destruction of the Summer Palace. The Emperor and the Emperor Dowager Cixi had fled Beijing for Xi'an city dressed in peasants' clothes and travelling by oxcart. The Empress returned to Beijing in 1902 and again restored the gardens and palaces at great expense.

With Cixi's death in 1908, just one day after the Emperor Guangxu died, the reign fell to the infant Puyi, the last emperor of China. The palace was never again used by the Emperor. After the founding of the People's Republic, the Summer Palace was converted into a public park and museum.

Attractions and Sights

Sunset at the Summer Palace in Beijing, China by Jens Schott Knudsen, Sourced via Flickr

taishan_sun by Andrew. Sourced via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.


The Summer Palace contains 2.9 square kilometres of land, of which 2.2 square kilometres is lake and 70,000 square metres is buildings. The size of the sight makes it impossible to see every part with just one day. The visitor should plan in advance what sections they most want to visit. The Summer Palace consists of a large lake bisected by a causeway. Small hills, topped with palaces and temples, surround the lake. Several islands stand within the lake which can be accessed by boat or bridges. These islands again contain yet more temples and palace buildings. Around the edge of the gardens are several attractions such as the Long Corridor, Suzhou Street and some museum displays.

Palace Buildings

These palace buildings are situated to the east of the gardens:

  • Archway of Modesty
  • East Palace Gate
  • Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (Renshou Dian)
  • Garden of Virtue and Harmony (Dehe Yuan)
  • Zhichun Ting (Heralding Spring Pavilion)
  • Wenchang Yuan (Wenchang Gallery)
  • Yulan Tang (Hall of Jade Ripples)
  • Yiyun Guan (Yiyun Hall)
  • Hall of Happiness in Longevity (Leshou Tang)
  • Wenchang Ge (Wenchang Tower)
  • Wind of Virtue (Yangren Feng)

Long Corridor

This feature of the Summer Palace was first built within the original palace design for the Emperor Qianlong in 1750. It was rebuilt in 1886 after the Anglo-Frence forces had burned it down in 1860. The corridor begins at the Inviting The Moon Gate in the east and ends at the Shizhang Pavilion in the west. It is 728 metres in length and contains 273 sections running along the foot of the Longevity Hill. The corridor is a feature of classical Chinese gardens. It consists of a walkway with a low wall or fence on either side. Poles on each side support a roof structure that runs the length of the corridor. The wall is typically at a height suitable for sitting on. Such corridors allowed people to enjoy walking in the garden in all weathers. Both sheltered from rain and from the heat of the summer sun. The roof beams of the corridor are highly decorated with 8,000 paintings which depict stories from Chinese classical novels and folk tales as well as landscapes, flora and fauna. Four pavilions stand at points along the corridor's length. They are Mesmerizing Scenery, Harmonizing with the Lake, Autumn Water and Clear and Carefree. They are octahedral buildings with double eaves. In the centre of the corridor stands the Hall That Dispels the Clouds.

Kunming Lake

The vast majority of the Summer Palace is water, most of which consists of Kunming Lake. It is named after the capital city of Yunnan province and modelled on the world famous West Lake in Hangzhou city. The lake was originally a natural feature though much smaller. During the Yuan Dynasty, nearby springs were redirected into the lake, forming a reservoir used for grain production and transportation. In the Ming Dynasty, rice paddies, temples and pavilions were built around the lake. The water was planted with lotus flowers. The area now resembled that of southern China and the lake received the name West Lake, after the lake in Hangzhou.

The Emperor Qianlong choose the area around the lake for his Garden of Clear Ripples. He renamed the lake as Kunming Lake. The lake was further dredged and expanded to its current size, the wast earth forming the Longevity Hill. The lake design followed the principal of one pool and three islands. The islands are South Lake Island, Mirror of Government Tower and Hall of Recognition of Talent Island. The lake is bisected by the West Causeway in further imitation of the causeways on the West Lake in Hangzhou.

Around the Lake, and on its islands, stand several buildings and statues. These include:

  • Shiqi Kong Qiao (Seventeen-Arch Bridge)
  • Tongniu (Bronze Ox)
  • Nanhu Dao (South Lake Island)
  • Jingming Lou (Pavilion of Bright Scenery)
  • Kuoru Ting (Spacious Pavilion)
  • Hanxu Tang (Hall of Embracing the Universe)
  • Xidi (West Causeway)
  • Yudai Qiao (Jade Belt Bridge)
  • Binfeng Qiao (Bridge of Pastoral Poems)
  • Jing Qiao (Mirror Bridge)
  • Liu Qiao (Willow Bridge)
  • Lian Qiao (Silk Bridge)
  • Jiehu Qiao (Lake-Dividing Bridge)
  • Guangrun Lingyu Ci (Temple of Timely Rains and Extensive Moisture)
  • Changguan Tang (Hall of Good Sight)
  • Erkong Zha (Double Culvert Water Gate)
  • Kunlun Shi-1(Kunlun Stone-1)
  • Kunlun Shi-2 (Kunlun Stone-2)

Qianshan Area

The north side of the Summer Palace contains hills, gardens and various buildings. The main hill is Longevity Hill. This area of park can be divided into five parts. This first part, Qianshan area, contains the following:

  • Wanshou Shan (Longevity Hill)
  • Foxiang Ge (Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha)
  • Paiyun Dian (Hall that Dispels the Clouds)
  • Baoyun Ge Tongdian (Baoyun Bronze Pavilion)
  • Zhihui Hai (Sea of Wisdom Temple)
  • Zhongxiang Jie (Realm of Popular Fragrance)
  • Wufang Ge (Pavilion of Five Locations)
  • Zhuanlun Zang (Revolving Archives)
  • Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake Monument
  • Scenic Spot of the Hall that Dispels the Clouds and the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha (Paiyun Dian, Foxiang Ge)

Houshan Area

  • Xiequ Yuan (Garden of Harmonious Pleasures)
  • Sida Buzhou (Four Great Regions)
  • Danning Tang (Hall of Serenity)
  • Xiangyan Zongyin Zhi Ge (Hall of the Buddha Confirming His Doctrine)
  • Jiayin Xuan (Pavilion of Good Shade)

Dianjing Area

  • Jingfu Ge (Hall of Utmost Blessing)
  • Huacheng Ge, Duobao Liuli Ta (Tower Overlooking Flowers and the Glazed Tile Pagoda of Many Treasures)
  • Huazhongyou (Strolling through a Picture Scroll)
  • Xieqiu Xuan (Painting the Autumn Chamber)
  • Ziqi Donglai Chengguan (Purple Cloud Tower)
  • Shanxian Si (Shanxian Temple)
  • Yunhui Si (Clouds Gathering Temple)
  • Hui Ting (Pavilion of Rich Foliage)
  • Chongcui Ting (Pavilion of Multi-Layered Greenery)
  • Yichi Yunzai (Pavilion of Forgotten Desires and Accompanying Clouds)
  • Hushan Zhenyi (True Meanings of the Scenery)
  • Lenong Xuan (Chamber of the Pleasure of Farming)
  • Cao Ting (Straw Pavilion)
  • Yishou Tang (Hall of Increasing Longevity)
  • Yuanlang Zhai (Round and Bright Chamber)

Houhu Area

  • Tiaoyuan Zhai (Chamber of Distant Gazing)
  • Miaojue Si (Miaojue Temple)
  • Suzhou Jie (Suzhou Street)
  • Yinhui Chengguan (Tower of Dawn Light)

Xibu Area

  • Clear and Peaceful Boat (Qingyan Fang)
  • Suyunyan Chengguan (Tower of Cloud-Retaining Eaves)
  • Xing Qiao (Bridge of Banana-Plant)

Public Access

The Summer Palace is now a public park and museum. It is open everyday. During peak season the gates open at 6:30am and the last ticket sale is at 6pm. The gardens close at 8pm. On the off peak season, the park gates open at 7pm and last ticket is at 5pm. The Gardens close at 7pm. Some buildings and attractions within the park may close earlier.

Entry to the Summer Palace gardens costs 20 yuan off peak and 30 yuan during peak season. There are half price concession tickets for Children, old people and students. Several sections of the park require an additional entry fee. The Garden of Virtue and Harmony is 5 yuan. The Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha is 10 yuan. The Wenchang Gallery costs 20 yuan. Suzhou street and the Hall of Serenity cost 10 yuan. Through tickets for all sections of the park are available for 60 yuan peak and 50 yaun off peak.

Within the park, electric cars can provide transport. These run on a 5 stop route: Octagonal Pavilion(The 17-Arch Bridge) to Xiuyi Bridge to the south of Pavilion of Brilliant Views to Palace of Changguan to Bridge of Jade Band, and back again. There are also several boat routes which run across Kunming Lake between the various pavilions, islands and causeway.

There are several options for travel to and from the park. Many bus routes pass by the park gates. The most useful to tourists are probably route 640 and 808 which travel from Tian'anmen Square, in the centre of Beijing, and terminate outside the Summer Palace. The Palace is served by two subway stations on line 4. Xiyuan station is about 500 metres from the east gate. The next station on line 4, Beigongmen, is outside the north gate of the Palace. Alternatively, a taxi from the city centre should get to the Summer Palace in about 35 to 40 minutes.

Map showing location of Summer Palace

Above: Location of Summer Palace in Beijing, Beijing, China