Taoranting Park, situated in the southwest, derives its name from the Joyous Pavilion that once stood on the grounds of the Temple of Mercy (Cibeiyuan).
Jiang Zao, a secretary in the Ministry of Works, built the pavilion in 1695 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi. So it was also known as Jiang Pavilion. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, a brick kiln was built in the neighborhood of the Temple of Mercy at what is now the Kiln Terrace. Jiang served as a director in the kiln and came to enjoy the grounds to have a pavilion built there. The original wooden inscription still hangs inside the gate of the Temple of Mercy. The characters inscribed on it, “Taoran” (Joy), in Jiang’ s own calligraphy, are drawn from the lines of a famous poem by the Tang poet Bai Juyi:“Let us wait until the chrysanthemums are golden and our home-brewed wine matured, then with us all shall be intoxication and joy.”The original pavilion, which was built on a hill, stood higher than the city battlements. For this reason, it was a favorite destination for Beijing residents on the Double Ninth Festival (9th day if the 9th lunar month), when tradition prescribed that one should“ascend to a high place.”
During the Jin Dynasty the Taoranting Park lay in the suburbs of the capital. On the southwestern side of the Central Island in the lake was a small hillock on which stood the ruins of the Temple of Mercy of the Liao Dynasty. Today Liao and Jin dynasty stone pillars inscribed with Buddhist scriptures can still be found here.
In the past, scholars from all over China wrote poems and essays in praise of Taoranting, though in imperial times, the scenery was not particularly attractive. To the north of the pavilion was a residential district of single-story dwellings and to the east a group of desolate tombs. To the south stood the bare city walls and to the west a stretch of shallow water filled with reeds. Houses of ordinary citizens were not permitted to stand at an elevation higher than the emperor’ s palace, and apart from the hillock on the Central Island, all the highest points in the city were occupied by the imperial family. This was therefore the only place where the common people could come for a view of the city. As visitors increased, the original small pavilion was demolished to make way for a large building, which in turn was augmented by three buildings still found today inside the Temple of Mercy.
In the past century several famous revolutionaries were closely associated with the Taoranting Pavilion. At the end of the Qing Dynasty Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and Tan Sitong came here to plan the Reform Movement of 1898. Zhang Taiyan was imprisoned in the nearby Dragon Spring Temple for his opposition to the usurpation of state power by Yuan Shikai. In the early years of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen attended political meetings in the pavilion, and on several occasions Li Dazhao organized secret revolutionary activities in the most westerly of the three rooms in the northern courtyard of the Zhunti (Cundi) Hall. On the afternoon of August 6, 1920, five progressive societies from Beijing and Tianjin held a joint meeting in the pavilion which was attended by Zhou Enlai and Li Dazhao. The tombs of the revolutionaries Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei are on the northern side of the Central Island.
Noted bureaucrats and officials also flocked to Taoranting. The late Qing official Zhang Zhidong, for example, frequently held political discussions here. The Baobingshi (Room Embracing Ice), once Zhang’ s villa, has been renovated and is now a hall for cultural activities.
Although Taoranting has a long history and has numerous sites of historical interest, up until the eve of the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, it was little more than a breeding ground for flies and mosquitoes. After dark, the area became a haven for criminals and the island’ s pines were frequently used for suicides by hanging. In 1952, the People’ s Government transformed the stagnant pond into a lake. In its center, a gourd-shaped island divides the lake into three sections-West Lake, East Lake and South Lake. The earth dredged out was heaped up to form seven small hills on the lake’ s perimeter. The hills have been planted with flowers, trees and shrubs. The two memorial archways that once towered over East and West Chang’ an boulevards, and the Tower of Painted Clouds (Yunhuilou) and the Sweet-Sounding Pavilion (Qingyinge), both once stood on the eastern bank of Zhongnanhai 9Central and South Lakes), have also been moved into the park.
Inside the park, facing the northern gate are two identical memorial archways painted in brilliant colors. A path leads through to the spit of land which connects with the Central Island.
On the island, a series of steps made of Taihu stones from Jiangsu Province leads to the top of the Glorious Autumn Mound. On the southern slope pf the mound is the site of two tombs, the Fragrant Tomb and Parrot Tomb. The graveyard was originally part of the old Flower Spirit Temple and these two small tombs still have engraved stele standing before them. In the past, several different stories have been attached to the Fragrant Tomb. One relates that after the Manchus took control of Beijing in 1644, the people were forced to change their mode of dress. Adherents of the Ming Dynasty, cherishing the memory of their old rulers, buried their Ming Dynasty garments here in a gesture of loyalty.
Another story relates how a certain court official of the Qing submitted numerous memorials to the throne but received no response. In a fit of frustration, he gathered up all his memorials and other writings and buried them here. Fearing that his action might arouse imperial wrath, he covered his tracks by naming the site the Fragrant Tomb. Still another legend explains that this is the tomb of Concubine Xiang (Fragrance), a favorite of Emperor Qianlong, and yet another relates that this the spot where an unsuccessful candidate in the national imperial examinations buried his brushes, ink and examination paper in his frustration.
The Parrot Tomb stands a few meters to the west of the Fragrant Tomb. The writing on the front of the stela before the tomb. The writing on the front of the stela before the tomb is blurred, but on the back reads“Parrot Tomb.” According to the Notes from the Ten Thousand Willows Chamber, the Qing calligrapher Deng Wanbai buried his pet parrot here after it was killed by a cat. The text on the stele reads,“Here lie brushes and writings, though under the name of a bird and of fragrant grasses,”and it can be inferred that the Fragrant Tomb and the Parrot Tomb were the work of a single hand.
To the east of the Glorious Autumn Mound is a small hill formerly called the Kiln Lump (Yaogeda). When the park was formally opened after 1949, the hill was heightened and planted with trees, and a path was built leading to its peak.