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Beihai Park, Beijing

West of the Forbidden City sits Beijing Beihai Park which was originally built for Kublai Khan before the Imperial Palace was even imagined. The scale of the park is appropriately regal and the huge lake is divided into three parts: Beihai (the North Lake), Zhonghao (the Central Lake) and Nanhai (the South Lake).

Beihai was opened to the public in 1925 and in 1961 it was one of the first important cultural sites placed under protection by the State Council. In the garden, pavilions and towers nestle amid the beautiful scenery of lakes and hills, grass and trees. Carrying on the traditions of garden landscaping of ancient China, Beihai is a gem of garden art.

The Park has an area of more than 700,000 square meters, with a water area that covers more than half of the entire Park. At the center of this Park is an island called Qionghua Island. The perimeter of the Island is 1,900 meters and its highest point is 32 meters. In the north area of the park is a big pool called Tai Ye Pool connecting the other two pools with each other. As the other two pools are called Middle Sea and South Sea respectively, this Pool has another name of Beihai (North Sea).

There are many noticeable and important places in this Park that we suggest you to visit.

White Dagoba

On top of the Jade Flowery Islet, the White Dagoba was built in 1651 on the former site of the Palace in the Moon where Kublai Khan received Marco Polo. At the suggestion of a famous Tibetan lama, Emperor Shunzhi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty agreed to build such a Tibetan dagoba to show his belief in Buddhism and his desire for the unification among various Chinese ethnic groups. The White Dagoba was destroyed in an earthquake and reconstructed twice. Now, resting on a huge stone base, it 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.

In front of the White Dagoba is the White Dagoba Temple. There are several other buildings and halls you could visit if you have enough time. These include Zhengjue Hall, the Bell and Drum Towers, the Stone Tablets of 'Qiongdao Chunyin' (means the beautiful scenery of the Jade Flowery Islet in spring; inscribed by Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty) etc, all scattered on the slope of the Qionghua Islet.

Hao Pu Creek (Haopujian) Garden

After touring the Qionghua Islet, you can cross the Zhishan Bridge to the Eastern Shore Scenic Area which has many independent gardens within Beihai Park such as the Painted Boat (Huafang) Studio and the Hao Pu Creek Garden.

Created in 1757, the Hao Pu Creek Garden is one of the best gardens-within-gardens of the existing imperial gardens in China. 'Hao' and 'Pu' were the ancient names of two rivers in Anhui Province. There is a story that goes like this: in the Warring States Period (475 - 221 B.C.), Zhuangzi and Huizi (two famous philosophers of ancient China) argued with each other on the bridge over the Hao River. Zhuangzi said: 'How happy are the fish in the river!' Huizi responded: 'You are not a fish. Then how can you know whether the fish are happy or not?' Zhuangzi answered: 'You are not me. Then how can you know that I don't know the happiness of the fish?' This story inspired Emperor Qianlong to build the Hao Pu Creek Garden to seek happiness and relaxation as free as fish in the river. So the garden is designed for tranquility and happiness, featuring a special mountain-water structure to give the impression of a deep valley which gives seclusion from society.

Quiet Heart (Jingxin) Studio

After visiting the Eastern Shore Area, stepping westward, you will be at the Northern Shore Area. Lying to the east of this area, the Quiet Heart Studio is the most famous independent garden within Beihai Park. It was initially built in Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and enlarged in Qing Dynasty. Inside the studio, there are many magnificent palaces, halls, pavilions, towers, corridors and artificial hills, numerous odd-shaped porous rocks and stones, all artistically arranged. During Qing Dynasty, some of the royal members used to rest or study here.

Nine-Dragon Screen

To the northwest lies the well-known Nine-Dragon Screen, which is the only screen having nine huge dragons on both sides among the most famous three Nine-Dragon Screens in China (the other two are respectively in the Forbidden City and Datong, Shanxi Province). Built in 1756, the Nine-Dragon Screen is about 27 meters (about 88.6 feet) long, 6.65 meters (about 21.8 feet) high and 1.42 meters (4.66 feet) thick. It is composed of 424 seven-color glazed tiles that embossing the screen. There are nine huge coiling dragons on each side of the screen and big or small dragons in different postures decorating the two ends and the eaves, making a surprising total of 635 dragons. Even after 200 years, the Nine-Dragon Screen is still bright in color and complete in appearance, showing the high techniques of Chinese arts and crafts in ancient times.

Five-Dragon Pavilions

To the southwest of the Nine-Dragon Screen lies the Five-Dragon Pavilions - five connected pavilions with spires and pointed upswept eaves. From a distance, they appear together like a huge dragon. Built first in 1602 and repaired several times in Qing Dynasty, these five pavilions, half over the water, stand on the north bank of the lake opposite the Jade Flowery Islet. There are many exquisite carvings and paintings on the girders and pillars of the pavilions which make the Five-Dragon Pavilions a delightful place for the royal members in ancient China to relax and appreciate the natural beauty.

You can stand in the Five-Dragon Pavilions to see the Jade Flowery Islet with the gleaming White Dagoba standing in the exuberance of trees, flowers and various other plants. There are also many other worthwhile places to visit around the Five-Dragon Pavilions including the Heavenly King Hall, Chengguan Hall and the Temple of Little Western Skies, a famous Buddhist architecture.

Circular City

Finally you can visit the Circular City right at the southwestern corner of Beihai Park. The city wall stands about 4.6 meters (about 15 feet) high and has a circumference of 276 meters (about 906 feet). Among the various places to visit in the Circular City including halls, towers and pavilions, the most important construction is the Chengguang Hall which holds the extremely precious white jade statue of Buddha introduced from Burma at the end of Qing Dynasty. In front of the hall is a grand urn made of variegated dark jade. With a diameter of 1.5 meters (about 4.9 feet), a circumference of 5 meters (about 16.4 feet), a height of 0.7 meters (about 2.3 feet) and a weighing 3.5 tons, the urn used to be the vessel of Kublai Khan for storing wine.

While visiting these famous and interesting places in Beihai Park, you could have a meal and rest in Fangshan Restaurant located at the northern shore of the lake. This restaurant was started in 1925 by a cook who formerly worked in the Qing court, so the food there is said to be of delicious imperial flavor.

Besides these places of interest in Beihai Park, there are plenty of exhibitions to see. These include the yearly exhibition of water lilies and other water plants in the Botanical Garden, the exhibition of peonies, and varied picture shows, making Beihai Park not only the center of history and culture in Beijing, but also the center of ecological and natural beauty. Now, an ancient but modern Beihai Park welcomes you from all over the world.

Edited By Athena Lee

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