Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chengde: Summer Palace (避暑山庄) Part 1

Chengde is a small provincial city about 230km northeast of Beijing. It took the tour bus close to eight hours to reach the city. Eight hours of butt-numbing boredom in the bus. I remember telling Aaron, that this place had better be worth it!

Early the next morning, we woke up to this castle-like gate that opens up to the world-famous Summer Retreat. Its Chinese name literally means Mountain Resort to Escape The Heat. The Emperors built this retreat in the mountainous Hebei province where they would escape to during the stiflingly hot summer months.

The Palace grounds is situated on a hill and according to the guide, it is typically 3ºC colder than Chengde City. Which means it's at least 5 - 6ºC cooler than Beijing. This may be welcomed during the hot summer months, but since it's autumn and Beijing was currently experiencing a cold snap, 5 - 6ºC cooler meant dipping below the freezing point!

In Imperial China, as the Emperor WAS the government, Chengde became the defacto seat of government during the summer months when the Emperor went there. And I assumed all the other ministers and eunuchs and palace officials had to tag along for the ride.

These days, you probably won't be able to find any palace officials here anymore. In their place, I found some army police officers patrolling the grounds. This lady officer took the opportunity to practice some qigong and also wushu. Better not mess with her.

The garden was very well kept, and most of the walkways were lined with tall cypress trees, which shielded us from the bright late morning sun. But don't let the brightness fool ya... it was still only 3ºC!

As befitting its status as the Imperial retreat, the palace grounds contained a vast complex of palaces, administrative and ceremonial buildings as well as temples of various architectural styles.

We only had one morning to cover the entire place, so needless to say, it was quite a hurried and superficial walk through the main attractions.

One of the more interesting exhibits were these stone drums within the Confuscian Temple.

Actually they're not drums. They're really just drum-shaped stone sculptures used by the emperors to record their civil and military decrees for posterity.

And this was one of Emperors who made use of the Summer Palace, Emperor KangXi, whose 61-year reign made him the longest reigning Chinese Emperors in all of Chinese history.

We were given a glimpse of life during the 18th and 19th century imperial China through the living room displays which were all glassed up. There were a lot of interestingly weird ornaments and exotic gifts given to the emperors by visiting diplomats from far and near.

On Oct 28, 1960, it was on this bedside table in the Warm Chamber that Emperor Xianfeng was forced to ratify the Beijing Treaty with Britain, Russia and France, which resulted in China ceeding vast areas of land to the foreign powers.

It was indeed an eye-opener to be able to learn so much about Chinese history just by visiting this beautiful and awe-inspiring place.

As we got back out into the open garden, the cool air was indeed very refreshing, even as our hands had begun to freeze again....

...and the solution was wrapping our hands around a very hot can of Nescafe heated up using coal-fire, which was ingeniously prepared by the people manning this stall. Oh and the souvenirs sold here were quite cheap too. ;)

1 comment:

Josh said...

Oh yes, I love this summer palace. When I was there a few years ago, it was off season and the place was so peaceful.
Hm.. u should put more photos of u in the blog :-)