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Beihai Park

An Introduction to Beihai Park

in the center of Beijing has an area of more than 70 hectares with a water surface of 39 hectares. To its north is Shishahai Lake and to its east is Jingshan Park. The Palace Museum is to its southeast, a short distance.

History of Beihai Park

Beihai Park is said to be built according to a traditional Chinese legend. The story is that once upon a time there were three magic mountains called 'Penglai', 'Yingzhou' and 'Fangzhang' located to the east of Bohai Bay (to the east of China). Gods in those mountains had a kind of herbal medicine which would help humans gain immortality.

Consequently, many emperors in the feudal age of China constantly sought those mountains. For example, Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 B.C.), wanted to live an eternal life and had sent people to look for the magic mountains but they failed. Then at his palace, he dug a large pool and piled up three earth hills in it to imitate the circumstances described in the legend. Emperor Wudi, the fifth emperor of the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C. - 8 A.D.) did similar things.

Actually, Beihai Park was initially built in the Liao Dynasty (916 - 1125) and was repaired and rebuilt in the following dynasties including Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing (1115 - 1911).The imperial court of the Liao Dynasty a temporary palace is on the site of present Beihai Park in the 10th century. During the following Jin Dynasty a lake was dug. The excavated earth was piled to make a hill. Around the lake and on the hill palatial halls, corridors and pavilions were erected. The imperial court of the Yuan Dynasty which came after the Jin expanded Jionghua Islet in the lake and made it the center of its capital Dadu City. During the Ming Dynasty five pavilions linked with zigzag bridges were built in the northwestern part of the lake. During the region of Emperor Qian Long (1736-1796) a large-scale project was carried on over 30 years, making the palace a grand imperial garden. Beihai Park is composed of Tuancheng (Circulate City), Jionghua Islet, Eastern Shore Scenic Area and Northwestern Shore Scenic Area, with Jionghua Islet as the center. The small island is connected with other parts by a stone bridge and ferry boats.

It was believed that different mountain-water combinations in ancient Chinese architecture led to totally different effects. So from then on, almost every emperor during the succeeding dynasties would build a royal garden with one-pool-with-three-hills' layout as a fairyland near his palace. Beihai Park was surely built after this traditional style: the water of Beihai (North Sea) with Zhong Nan Hai (Central and South Seas) is the Taiye Pool; the Jade Flowery (Qionghua) Islet, the island of the Circular City and the Xishantai Island represent the three magic mountains.

The Qionghua Islet which is densely distributed with halls, rockeries and pavilions stands at the centre of the park. The Yong'an Temple (Temple of Everlasting Peace) is the largest building complex which is composed of several halls, a bell tower and a drum tower. The temple used to be a place of worship for the emperors and their empresses. A white pagoda resting on a huge stone base stands 35.9 meters (about 118 feet) high and is capped by two bronze umbrella-like canopies, with 14 bronze bells hanging around them. Inside, the dagoba holds the Buddhist Scriptures, the monk's mantle and alms bowl and two pieces of Sarira. Since the White Dagoba is the highest point in Beihai Park, it served as a vantage point with a beautiful view of the whole park. This Lamaist pagoda, 35.9 meters (117.8 feet ) high was built in 1651 where Buddhist lections, alms bowl and sarira remains of the Buddha's body are laid. West of the temple are the halls and pavilions where emperors of the Qing Dynasty had a rest, discussed official business or amused themselves. In the north of the islet, there is a two-storey corridor that offers an extensive view.

In the southeast of the park, the Circular City is surrounded by a wall and is in fact an exquisite garden. The Chengguang Hall with yellow glazed tiles and green glazed eaves is quite dignified. Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) watched firework displays on it. Since the Qing Dynasty, it has been converted into a Buddhist chapel. A statue of Buddha that is carved out of a whole piece of white jade is enshrined in the main hall. In front of the Chengguang Hall, there is pavilion with a huge wine vessel laid out. The urn is engraved with a dragon in cloud and a sea horse on waves which was once used to store the wine by Kublai Khan, the first and brave emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. Both the pine and cypress tree are around 700~800 years old, so it is worth taking a closer look. 

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