May 20, 2012

0086, 0213 CHINA (Beijing) - Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing (UNESCO WHS)

Posted on 30.12.2011
On how large and populous is China, on so tumultuous and tangled is its history, which almost coincides in duration with human history, starting 780,000 years ago with Peking Man, whose fossils were discovered near of Beijing, its current capital and one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. The oldest surviving relics in Beijing date to the Liao Dynasty, which set up a secondary capital on modern Beijing's location in 938, calling it Nanjing (southern capital). In 1125 Emperor Hailingwang of the Jin Dynasty conquered Liao, and moved its capital to Liao's Nanjing in 1153, calling it Zhongdu (central capital). Mongol forces burned Zhongdu to the ground in 1215. 

Kublai Khan began to rebuild the city in 1264, and in 1272 he made it his capital, the city retaining this status throughout the Yuan Dynasty under the name Dadu (great capital - Cambuluc in Marco Polo's accounts), until 1368, when the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty razed the Yuan palaces to the ground and changed the name of the city in Beiping (northern peace). In 1403 the Yongle Emperor renamed the city Beijing (northern capital - Peking in English), and designated it the co-capital, alongside the Nanjing, for that onwards from 1421 to become the "official" capital of the Ming Dynasty, also known as Jingshi. When Dorgon established the Qing Dynasty as the direct successor of the Ming, in 1644, Beijing remained China's capital.

I stop here with history, because one of the Qing Dynasty emperors, namely Qianlong, was the one who commissioned work for what was to become the Summer Palace, the most celebrated imperial garden in China, dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. The Summer Palace started out life as the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750, and it received the current name, Yihe Yuan, in 1888. Artisans reproduced there the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China, and Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou. The palace complex suffered two major attacks, during the Anglo-French invasion of 1860 (in the Second Opium War), and during the Boxer Rebellion, in 1900. The garden survived and was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902.

The Long Corridor (Cháng Láng - in the first postcar) was erected in 1750 and it’s famous for its length (728 m) in conjunction with its rich painted decoration (more than 14,000 paintings). A wonderful place to spend an hour a day, every time admiring another painting. It takes many years, and probably none of the emperors hasn't seen it all. Maybe only Empress Dowager Cixi to be done it in those 47 years (1861-1908) in which led de facto China, especially that she loved so much the palace that diverted 30 million taels of silver, designated for the Chinese navy, into the reconstruction and enlargement of it.
The corridor, which leads from the east westwards along the northern shore of Kunming Lake, from the Gate for Greeting the Moon (Yao Yue Men) to the foot of the Longevity Hill, was constructed by Qianlong Emperor so that his mother could enjoy a walk through the garden protected from the elements. Along its course, there are four octagonal pavilions with double eaves, two on each side of the Cloud-Dispelling Gate (Pai Yun Men), that marks the center. They symbolize the four seasons and are named (from east to west): Liu Jia (retaining the goodness), Ji Lan (living with the ripples), Qiu Shui (autumn water), and Qing Yao (clear and far). The 14,000 paintings depict episodes from Chinese classical literature, folk tales, historical and legendary figures, and famous Chinese buildings and landscapes along with flowers, birds, fish, and insects.

As a part of the Summer Palace, the Long Corridor was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in December, 1998, under the name Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing. Also has been recorded in 1992 in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest of its kind in the world.

Added on 20.05.2012

Near the western end of the Long Corridor is the Marble Boat (in the second postcard), also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease (Qing Yan Fǎng), a pavilion on the southernmost edge of a peninsula, on the northwestern shore of Kunming Lake. The marble base was built in 1755, during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, and originally had a Chinese style timber suprastructure. This was destroyed in 1860, during the Second Opium War, and rebuilt in 1893, on order of the Empress Dowager Cixi, in the style of a western style Mississippi paddle-steamer with stained glass windows.

The money used to restore the Summer Palace largely came from funds originally earmarked for building up a new imperial navy. The move was unpopular at the time and became increasingly so a few years later when Japan defeated the Chinese navy. Many Chinese believed that if the money would have been used to built the navy, the war’s outcome would have been different. But probably that isn’t true, as pointed M.A. Aldrich in The Search for a Vanishing Beijing: "Many tour guids vilify her misappropriation of funds though they forget that if the Qing navy had access to such funds, this would simply have resulted in yet another Qing vessel on the bottom of the Yellow Sea during the Sino-Japanese War of 1895."

In the restoration, a new two-story superstructure was designed, made out of wood but it was painted to imitate marble. On each "deck", there is a large mirror to reflect the waters of the lake and give an impression of total immersion in the aquatic environment. The pavilion has a sophisticated drainage system which channels rain water through four hollow pillars. The water is finally released into the lake through the mouths of four dragonheads.

About the stamps
The stamps on the front, are part of a series issued on May 10, 2008, and entitled Summer Palace. The six stamps (and maxicards) in the series (all with the same value, 1.20 CNY) depicted:
• Long Corridor - in the first postcard
• Shiqikong Bridge (Seventeen-Arch Bridge)
• Marble Boat - in the second postcard
• Garden of Harmonious Pleasures
• Yudai Bridge (Jade Belt Bridge)
• Houhu Lake (Back Lake)

The stamp on the back of the first postcard is part of a series of two, Peafowl Peacock Bird, issued on 2004. The stamp on the back of the second postcard, depicting Chinese Monal (Lophophorus lhuysii), is part of a series about which I wrote here.

Sender 0086, 0213: Yue Ha (direct swap)
Sent from Beijing (Beijing / China), on 26.11.2011
Sent from Beijing (Beijing / China), on 06.02.2012 

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