The Beijing’s Western Hills

The Western Hills(Xishan), outside Beijing(Peking), offer five major attractions-the Fragrant Hills(Xiangshan), Temple of Azure Clouds(Biyunsi), Cherry Dale(Yingtaogou), Temple of the Sleeping Buddha (Wofosi) and the site of the Eight Temples(Badachu). An excursion to Western Hills offers relief from the hubbub of the city and from man—made landscapes such as are seen at Beihai and the Summer Palace. Their quiet sylvan charm accented by babbling brooks is interrupted only by temples of fine structure.

Fragrant Hills Park, formerly known as the Garden of Serene Beauty, was an imperial estate during the Qing dynasty. Occupying 1,600 hectares, its highest point is 550 meters above sea level. The scenes in the park change with the seasons and attract holiday-makers all year round. Late autumn is, however, perhaps the choice season, when the hills are aflame with red leaves.

A paved path leads up the hills to the quiet and elegance of Shuangqing Villa, named for two dear springs there. The late Chairman Mao Zedong stayed here after Beijing’s liberation in 1949 directing the war to liberate the whole country. Poets and scholars have since ancient times eulogized the red 1eaves of Xiangshan. The best—known reference is in the poem. A Visit to the Hill written in the 9th century by Du Mu of the Tang dynasty. Here are two lines:

Sitting in my chariot I enjoy the maple leaves in late autumn.They are more beautiful than fliowers in February. The red leaves on the Fragrant Hills are now mainly from the rustic tree. They last from two to three weeks in late autumn, while in spring and autumn these trees put forth Small feather-like pink flowers which, seen from afar, resemble A smoky mist. In Europe the fustic tree is called the “misty tree”. Its timber, of a rich golden hue, is a choice wood for furniture-making.

Climbing to the top of what is known as the Devil’s Frown is a challenge. However, with stone steps most of the way, the “Devil” may be made to smile once you’re on top in about an hour.

The park has a miniature garden laid out in the elegant imperial style. At its center is a round pond with verandas on three sides. Spring water gurgles from the mouth of a carved stone dragon into the mirror-smooth pond, which reflects the terrace, pavilion, artificial hills, pines and cypresses on the banks, while in it are fish and water plants.

Adjacent to Fragrant Hills Park is the Temple of Azure Clouds built in 1321. It is remarkable for its Ming dynasty sculptures, especially the 508 arhat disciples of Buddha statues. These sculptures, each in different pose and with a different facial expression, exemplify the rich imagination and creative ability of ancient China’s artisans.

The temple grounds, which extend over a slope, have among other grand buildings the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Occupying the center of the hall is a bust of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, leader of the 1911 Revolution which toppled the Qing dynasty. His literary works and rumple, of his handwriting are displayed in a glass cabinet. Two rooms are devoted to photographs and other pictures of his life and revolutionary activities. Sun Yat-sen was originally entombed in the base of Diamond Throne Pagoda lust behind the Memorial Hall Later, however, his coffin was moved to Nanjing, and only his hat and suit of clothes are buried here.

Diamond Throne Pagoda is actually a group of seven pagodas and dagobas elected on a terrace. The construction is entirely of white marble in a combination of Chinese and Indian architectural style. The 35-meter-high structures, like white jade set in forest green, is visible from the road long before the site io reached. The base, carved with a variety of figurines, is worth examining.

A broad path lined with ages-old pines and cypresses leads to the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha. More than a thousand years old, the temple contains a 5-meter long copper statue of Buddha reclining on his side. He lies on a red lacquer bed, one arm resting on his body and the other supporting his head. Records state that about 250 tons of copper went Into the casting of this Buddha, though it actually weighs less. Painted statues of the Buddha’s twelve disciples stand around him under a tree listening to him during an illness. The quality of casting technique of those early days may be judged from this immense copper statue.