A Brief History of the Summer Palace

China is home to many architectural wonders filled with deep history and cultural design. The Summer Palace forms one of the largest and most well preserved imperial gardens. First built in 1750, it covers an area of 2.9 square kilometers and is dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake which covers three quarters of the palace grounds. If you’ve planned the best walking routes, know the top sites to see and have taken in the essential tips, then all that’s left is to polish up your history of the Summer Palace before arriving.


The Summer Palace dates back to the Jin Dynasty which ran between 1115 to 1234.

The Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan wanted to improve Beijing’s water supply and ordered the construction of canals. These canals were meant to transport water from the western hills to the summer palace itself. He also ordered for the main lake to act as a reservoir. This lake is now known as Kunming Lake.

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Emperor QianLong from the Qing Dynasty was known for his extensive travels throughout China. In 1750 he was responsible for adding to the overall design of the landscape and palace grounds. He appointed designers to reproduce styles from various palaces and gardens that he had seen throughout his travels in China. One of these changes was the expansion of Kunming Lake to replicate the West Lake in Hangzhou.

Approximately 100 000 laborers were involved in expanding Kunming Lake.


The Anglo-French Allied forces invaded Beijing in 1860 during the second Opium War. They set fire to many buildings within the palace grounds.

The Summer Palace was then restored in 1886. The restoration was funded by Dowager Empress Cixi who embezzled funds from the Imperial Navy.


The restoration of Summer Palace in 1886 took ten years and involved further enlargements and the addition of the Marble Boat structure.

The original name of the Summer Palace was Yuan Ming Yuan. After reconstruction was completed, Empress Cixi renamed the gardens to YiHeYuan which means Garden of Peace and Harmony. The official name still stands today although it also sometimes referred to as the New Summer Palace.


The Summer Palace was opened to the public after 1911.

In 1924 after Emperor Pu Yi was thrown out of The Forbidden City, the Summer Palace was subsequently turned into a public park for everyone.

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The palace grounds are divided into three main areas: 1) area of administration 2)area of residence and 3) browsing areas.

The administrative area includes the Halls of Benevolence and Longevity and is where Dowager Empress CiXi dealt with state affairs.


The residence area is made up of the Hall of Jade Billow, the Garden of Virtue and Harmony and the Hall of Joyful Longevity.

The browsing areas consist of Longevity Hills and beyond.

The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity forms one of the main structures within the palace grounds. This area houses a hardwood throne and is attached to a courtyard with bronze animals. Here you will find the mythical hybrid animal known as a qilin which is said to appear on earth only at times of harmony.

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I'm Shalinee - a Geminian scientist who loves to travel, write, draw and eat chocolate. I've visited over twenty countries, published a Environmental Science encyclopaedia and somewhere along the way started a science communication company to help students and corporates translate that hard-to-read data generated in a lab. Other than that, I'm just searching for the magic still hidden in the world.

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