The Imperial Dwelling Palace (Chengde Ligong), derives its name from the Warm Spring (Requan) located in the northeast of the complex. The area is also known as Bishushanzhuang (Mountain Manor for Escaping the Summer Heat) due to its location among lush, tree-covered mountains, and its pleasant temperatures in summer, which average 19.3ºC in the hottest months of the year.
In the early Qing Dynasty, a palace complex and a park were built here to provide a temporary dwelling palace for the emperor when away from the capital and fulfill some key political demands. According to historical records, the resort was built as"conciliatory gestures to the ethnic groups, and to provide a place to practice military skills and to receive important guests."From the reign of Emperor Kangxi through that of Emperor Qianlong, nobles and important personages from every ethnic group of China were invited here to take part in contests of strength, horse racing and hunting, all of which served to draw the ethnic group leaders closer to the throne. Between Beijing and Chengde as many as 20 imperial palaces were constructed for the emperors to stay on their sojourns and for the storage of various imperial belongings. The temporary dwelling palace at Chengde was the largest and most important and had administrative control over all the palaces beyond the Gubeikou Pass. After the Chengde Resort was constructed, Emperor Kangxi and his grandson, Emperor Qianlong, entertained Mongolian princes and nobles and the upped classes of the Tibetan, Kazak, Uygur and Khalkhas ethnic groups here in an effort to consolidate Qing rule and unite the empire by gaining the allegiance of regional rulers through bestowing favors upon them.
Political factors were an important consideration when the palace was being built. Behind the emperor's bed in his sleeping quarters, the Hall if Cool Mists and Ripples (Yanbozhishuangdian), a concealed door was installed offering the emperor a means of escape in time of danger. In addition, the Hall of the Wind in the Pines of Ten Thousand River Valleys (Wanhesongfengdian) was constructed especially for Emperor Kangxi to receive officials and peruse memorials to the throne.
Despite these provisions, a large number of political incidents occurred here. In 1860, when Emperor Xianfeng yielded to the pressure of foreign powers, the"Beijing Treaty," concluded in Beijing by Prince Gong (Yi Xin, Xianfeng' s younger brother) with France, Germany and Russia, was ratified while the emperor was residing in his mountain retreat.
On July 17,1861, Emperor Xianfeng, sensing his vitality draining away, called his most trusted ministers to his sleeping quarters in the West Warm Pavilion (Xinuange) and entrusted them with overseeing his five-year-old son (by Empress Dowager Cixi), Zai Chun (later Emperor Tongzhi), in running the country until he attained maturity. Xianfeng presented a precious stone seal engraved with"Yu shang"(Imperial Award) to Empress Ci' an and another engraved"Tongdaotang"(Hall of Accord with the Way) to Zai Chun with the instructions that the eight ministers were to assist him in state affairs and to take responsibility for drafting and issuing official decrees. Xianfeng also stipulated that these decrees had to be marked at eh beginning and end with the two newly presented seals to prove their validity.
Unknown to them, the ambitious Imperial Concubine Cixi had crept into the room via the secret passage and hid herself behind the emperor's bed. On the day the emperor died, she took immediate actions and issued an imperial decree in the name of Zai Chun declaring that she, as the emperor's mother, would become the Empress Dowager in both title and fact. Originally, the Imperial Concubine's position was much lower than that of the empress, but Cixi raised her position to the equal of Empress Ci' an. Later, she gained possession of the"Tongdaotang"seal and personally ratified imperial edicts in her son's name. This paved the way for her subsequent large-scale manipulation of state affairs.
In addition to being the most important political center of the early Qing period after Beijing, the Chengde Dwelling Palace was equally famous as a summer retreat. The Manchu nobles who ruled at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty could not accustom themselves to Beijing's hot dry summers and sought relief by traveling north of the Great Wall. In 1650, under Emperor Shunzhi, the Prince Regent Dorgon made plans to build an imperial retreat in the suburbs of Chengde, but the project was abandoned when he died that year. When Emperor Kangxi ascended the throne he made it a habit to head north whenever he needed to recuperate from an illness. Kangxi wrote that touring to the area in the summer strengthened his spirit by contact with the fine Mongolian landscape and comfortable climate. In 1702, Kangxi settled on a site which combined the"elegance of southern China with the grandeur of the north"and began to construct a large-scale palace.
The Chengde temporary dwelling palace is the largest imperial park in China, occupying an area of over 560 hectares. It is surrounded by a high stonewall some 10 kilometers in length. The park is twice the size of Beijing's Summer Palace (Yiheyuan), eight times larger than Beihai Park and larger even than the Yuanmingyuan Garden, which, incidentally, was constructed contemporaneously with the resort. The park includes lakes, mountains, plains and palace halls, and, besides the total of 72 scenic spots designated by emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, there are more than 20 other building complexes scattered throughout the park, consisting of over 100 individual halls, pavilions, studios, studios, pagodas and terraces. Each the Island of Moonlight and the Sound of the River (Yuesejiangshengdao), the Mountain Pavilion of Tranquil Repose (Jingshanfang) and the Lion Forest (Shizilin) in the Literary Garden (Wenyuan).
The buildings in which the emperor handled court affairs, held celebrations and stayed away from the summer heat stand in the southern part of the palace area. Altogether there were three groups of palace halls-the Main Palace (Zhenggong) to the west, the Pine and crane Studio (Songhezhai) slightly to the north of the center, and the Eastern Palace (Donggong) to the east. The Main Palace served as the principal living quarters of the emperor and was designed with nine courtyards to represent the nine divisions of the celestial sphere symbolizing the emperor's heavenly manadate. The main gate, the Beautiful Upright Gate (Lizhengmen) stands to the south, with the Inner and Outer Meridian gates behind it. The Inner Meridian Gate (Neiwumen) was also called the Gate for Reviewing the Archers (Yueshemen). Above the gate hangs the famous horizontal tablet inscribed "Bishushangzhuang"(mountain Manor for Escaping the Summer Heat) in the calligraphy of Emperor Kangxi. Before the gate stand two exquisitely crafted bronze lions.
Through the three palace gates lies the main hall of the main palace: the Hall of Rectitude and Sincerity (Danbojingchengdian), more commonly called the Phoebe Nanmu Hall (Nanmudian). The entire building is constructed of Phoebe nanmu wood and gives off an unusual scent reputed to repel mosquitoes in the summer. This hall was the setting for the most solemn ceremonies. When the Sixth Panchen Lama arrived at Chengde from Tibet in 1780, he came here first to pay his respects to the emperor.
To the north of the hall is the Great Hall by the Lake (Yihukuangdian) which contains an inscription by Emperor Qianlong"Sizhishuwu"(Library of the Four"Knows"). The emperor would rest here before and after holding ceremonies, and only the most important members of the court were permitted to come to have audience with him. In the courtyard outside, ancient cypresses still flourish.
The third major hall is the Hall of Cool Mists and Ripples which along with the Hall of the Panorama of Cloud-Covered Mountains (Yunshanshengdi) and several other halls served as the imperial living quarters and the main office from which the emperor handled court affairs. The Pine and Crane Studio to the east of the main palace was originally the living quarters of Empress Dowager Cixi while to the north stands the Pavilion of the Wind in the Pines of Ten Thousand River Valleys, so named because the wind blowing through the river valley was said to resemble the sound of pipes and bells. When Emperor Qianlong was a child, he would come here with his grandfather Kangxi to read. Qianlong later renamed the buildings the Hall for Remembering Kindness (Ji' entang) to commemorated his study sessions here with Kangxi.
The Eastern Palace originally included the Qinzheng Earnest Government (Qinzheng) Hall and the Clear Sounds (Qinyin) Pavilion, where the Qing emperors handled the daily affairs of the court and gave audience to the nobles of the ethnic groups and to foreign envoys.
By following a stone pathway, which leads north from the palace, one will come to an area of lakes known collectively as the Frontier (Sai) Lakes. The area is made up of the Clear Lake, Ruyi Lake, Upper Lake, Lower Lake, Silver Lake and Mirror Lake, as well as a number of small islands and dikes. In the center of the area is a scenic path known as the Magic Mushroom Path and Cloud Dike (Zhijingyundi). Twisting and turning through the Lake District, the path provides a series of wonderfully views.
Ruyi Islet is one of the largest islands in the lake area. Its southernmost building, the Cool Refreshing Hall (Wushuqingliangdian), is bright and spacious, and in the morning provides an ideal retreat from the summer heat. In the center of the islet is its principal structure, the Extended Fragrance Mountain Hall (Yanxunshanguan), a simple unadorned building tastefully lay out and so situated that fresh breezes cool it from the north. When grand ceremonies were held at eh dwelling palace, feasts were held here for the princes, nobles and government ministers.
Northwest of Ruyi Islet, a small bridge leads to Green Lotus (Qinglian) Island, on which stands the Tower of Mist and Rain (Yanyulou), built by Emperor Qianlong on the model of a similarly named structure on South Lake at Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province. When it rains, the building becomes clouded in mist and reminds one of the scenery south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. A second path leads east from the Lower Lake past the Juan' e Scenic Spot (named after a place recorded in the Book of Songs) to the Pavilion in the Heart of the Waters (Shuixinxie). There were 16 scenic spots here, but now only a single tumbledown rockery hill remains.
North of the pavilion, surrounded by Clear Lake, Upper Lake and Lower Lake, is a large flat island where a group of buildings peep our from among the trees. Above the main entrance hangs an inscription"Moonlight and the Sound of the River."The buildings are laid out around a square courtyard in the typical style of northern China, each hall connected to the next by a roofed corridor. Within the courtyard are ancient pines and an artificial hill made of stones. It was here that the emperor came to read, fish or listen to music.
North from here next to Clear Lake is a small, rocky island on which a model of the Gold Mountain Temple (Jinshansi) at Zhenjiang, in Jiangsu Province has been built. At the island's summit stands the Pavilion of the Supreme Emperor (Shangdige), a three-story hexagonal building, which originally served as a temple for the worship of Immortal Wu Di and the Jade Emperor, two Daoist gods. This is the highest point in the lake area and a climb to the top gives a wonderful view of the beautiful lakeside scenery.
The Rehe Spring (Warm River Spring) stands on the eastern shore of Clear Lake. Starting out from here and heading to the northwest, the five pavilions on the lake's northwestern bank can be explored. North of the pavilions lies a stretch of open plain which Emperor Qianlong called the Park of Ten Thousand Trees (Wanshuyuan). Here numerous species thrive. This was also where the emperor held Great Mongolian Yurt Banquet, watched fireworks displays and received the chiefs of various ethnic groups and foreign envoys from a throne set inside a huge Mongolian yurt.
To the west of the Park of Ten Thousand Trees is a group f building called the Literary Nourishment pavilion (Wenjinge), which served as a library used by the emperors? Here was stored one of the four handwritten sets of the Complete Library of the Four Branches of Literature, complied over the course of 10 years by more than 500 scholars.
The mountainous area, which lies to the northwest of the imperial resort, occupies some 80 percent of the park's total grounds. Rising as high as 180 meters above the lakes and plains, these hills provide a majestic backdrop to the lakeside scenery. The hills were originally dotted with numerous buildings, most of which were destroyed before 1949. Of the four-hilltop pavilions once standing, only the Snow-Capped Southern Mountain Pavilion (Nanshanjixue) remains. Four deep gullies-the Pine Cloud Gorge, Pear Tree Valley, Pine Grove Gorge and Hazel Gorge-run east and west between the mountains, forming natural scenic paths enhanced by springs which serve as the source of small streams.
The most northerly of the gorges is the Pine Cloud Gorge, where ancient pines line the ruins of the old stone-paved imperial road. The mountains, rich with their green foliage, present a scene of great natural beauty. A poet once described the gorge as follows:"As in a dream, a boundless expanse of whispering pines waves in the breeze. The splendor fills my heart with irrepressible resolution."
Running north and south between the gorges are several small gullies. Here small paths mingle with winding streams as they meander between hillsides abounding in avian life. Describing this area, Emperor Qianlong wrote:"In the rain, the green hue of the foliage deepens and the remote peaks become more tranquil. Stone steps wind down between pine trees and trailing vines; here and there patches of sunlight filter through the dense dark forest."
Walking west from the Pine Cloud Gorge and up a mountain path, one will come to the highest pavilion in the entire park, the Pavilion Surrounded by Cloud-Covered Mountains (Simianyunshan). Beyond this lies the Pavilion of the Hammer Peak in the Glow of the Setting Sun (Chuifengluozhao). Hammer (Bangchui) Mountain was recorded by name as early as 1,500 years ago by Li Daoyuan in his famous surrey of China's rivers and waterways, the water Classic (Shuijingzhu). Emperor Kangxi renamed it Qingchui Peak because of its resemblance to a stone chime, and had the poetically named pavilion erected on the west face of the mountain opposite the peak for the sole purpose of admiring the fine sunset.
Summer is the best season to visit Chengde, though it is well worth a visit at any time of the year. Located about 250 kilometers from Beijing, Chengde can be reached by direct train from the capital in less than five hours.