This area has served ad a royal summer home since the Jin dynasty, but not until Emperor Qianlong remodeled it for his mother in 1750 did it begin to assume its present shape. Twice sacked by foreign armies-in 1860and 1900-the Palace was twice rebuilt by the indefatigable Empress Cixi, the first time using funds earmarked for China’s navy. It also didn’t become The Summer Palace until nearby Yuanming Yuan, the Old Summer Palace was razed in 1860and left fallow as a
symbol of foreign aggression against China.The marble boat in man-made Kuming Lake is often cited as a symbol of Cixi’s short sighted extravagance(it’s a tribute to China’s navy, although they probably would have rather just received their budget).Other sights include the Hall of Jade Ripples, where Cixi had Emperor Guangxu, her nephew, placed under house arrest after discovering a plot to undermine her power.
Don’t miss the Garden of Harmonious Virtue, which houses the original multiplex: a three-level Peking opera theater designed for Cixi’s amusement –her birthdays were celebrated there with multiday extravaganzas involving as many as 380 performers. It requires a separate RMB10ticket,but it’s worth it. Working the long Corridor with its 10,000differently painted scenes is a good way to contemplate Cixi’s dragon-lady reputation.
Although it’s a long drive, except for anyone based in Haidian, this is a great place to visit as the locals do: for its park and environs. Forget the big halls ans the Kodak moments.
Just buy the most basic entry ticket and stroll the grounds like Cixi herself, especially on a crisp autumn day. If the crowds become oppressive, rent a boat, walk to the north side of Longevity Hill or stroll around the lake. Avoid the kitschy ‘Little Suzhou water town.’
If you want to travel to the Summer Place in the same manner as Cixi, come by boat via canals. Boats depart from Yuyuantan Park and from behind the Beijing Exhibition Center. Daily 6.30am-8pm (6am last ticket).RMB 30(Apr1-Oct31) RMB20 (Nov1-Mar31), students half price.Yiheyuan lu,Haidian District,(62881144)