In the north China city of Chengde is a scenic spot called by the quaint name: “Mountain Hamlet for Escaping the Heat.” This was the summer resort of the Qing dynasty(1644-1911)imperial family.
Located in northern Hebei(Hopei) Province 250 kilometers from Beijing(Peking), Chengde occupies a small basin some 350 meters above sea level. The summer days here are cooled by the forests, vast expanses of water and mountains which encircle the basin. Captivated by this marvellous dale, Kang Xi, the second emperor of the Qing dynasty had an imperial palace built here where he could escape the summer heat.
Construction began in l703 and was completed in l790 Because the Qing emperors spent several months here each year, the resort became a second political center for the imperial count. It was here that Emperor Qian Long(1711-99) received an emissary from England–the first Western envoy to the Qing court.
Built in traditional Chinese style, the Mountain Resort consists of two main parts: the palace buildings and the surrounding grounds The latter embrace eight temples, lakes, valleys and mountain forests.
Lying in a hill encircled basin and looking out over placid lakes the resort covers a total of more than 560 hectares. The various palace buildings are serenely see amidst luxuriant trees and possess characteristics of the scenery of both north and south China. The whole palace is enclosed by a wall over ten kilometers long, which rises and falls with the mountain ridges, like a miniature Great Wall.
Like a small version of a traditional city gate, the resort’s main entrance has three gateways, the central one the largest, with two smaller ones on either side. A plaque over the middle one bears the name of the gate in Chinese, Mountain, Tibetan, Arabic and Manchu scripts. Just inside is Meridian Gate with a horizontal tablet engraved with the characters for “ Mountain Resort” in the calligraphy of Emperor Kang Xi. Then comes the main hall, a seven-room building facing south. The structure takes its name from the fine-grained fragrant hardwood of which it is built- nanmu. Qing emperors once received foreign envoys and the nobility of China’s various nationalities, in Nanmu Hall. Behind it is another seven—room building housing the imperial bed chambers. The rare porcelain and jade and the wall panels are all as they were in Qing days.
Most of the architecture here is austere and unadorned using only gray bricks and tiles. The wooden beams and pillars are unembellished. This simplicity harmonizes well with the natural environment here.
To the northeast is the lake area. Although not as big as the vast Kunming Lake of Beijing’s Summer Palace, these lakes are interconnected. Pavilions and towers dot the many islets which are linked by causeways. A stroll along the causeways is reminiscent of a walk through the parks of Suzhou or Hangzhou, south of Changjiang(the Yangtze). To the northwest is the famous Wenjin Pavilion, a three-story a scene much like a traditional Chinese ink painting traditional style building which housed part of the imperial library. In the courtyard are artificial hills with numerous stone caves. Among the books stored here were “Collections of ‘: Four Treasures”, compiled in the Qing dynasty. The latter alone contained 3 dot works in 79,337 tomes, almost all extant writings up to the 18th century. They fell into four categories: Confucian classics, historical works, works by ancient philosophers, and miscellaneous. After its completion, seven copies were made of this voluminous hook and one was kept in Weniin Pavilion.
A vast expanse of lush green grass lies to the north of the lake area on which herds of deer used to graze and Mongolian yurts were pitched amidst ancient trees. Qing dynasty emperors used to host banquets here to entertain the court and foreign envoys. Here, they would watch horse races, wrestling, and magnificent fireworks.