Chengde Mountain Resort

A Garden-Style Imperial Palace

Even a luxurious imperial palace is still too small a palace compared with the colorful outside world, so all emperors throughout history – usually confined to this small “cage” for most of their lifetime – were keen on inspection tours, thus giving rise to innumerable temporary palaces throughout the country in the past 2000 years. Unfortunately, there are few still in existence today. The palace in Chengde,  Hebei Province, is an exception, however. Well preserved, it still possesses its original glory and is one of the most famous tourist destinations in China today, attracting millions of people every year.


The Chengde Mountain Resort is 230 kilometers from Beijing. Construction started in 1703 and lasted 89 years. Emperor Kangxi ( reigning from 1662 to 1722 ), who initiated the project, meant to make it more than an ordinary temporary dwelling place like so many others throughout the country. He wanted to make it a palace for extended residency or as a second political center. He inspected many places and decided after careful comparison that Chengde was an ideal location. Firstly, it is close to Beijing – a round trip took only two days then ( now it takes only a little more than three hours by bus ). Secondly, lying near the pass to the central region, it is geographically important. In the vicinity of the resort is a vast hunting area with abundant water and grass, lending itself to not only hunting, but also military exercises. Thirdly, it leads directly to the Manchu people’s native land where the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 ) began its history. Finally, it enjoys a fine natural environment. Emperor Kangxi once described it as “an expansive area with hot springs and rich pastures” which combined the sophistication of southern China and the rustic charm of his native land. In terms of climate, it is an ideal summer resort with an average temperature of 24.5`C in the hottest part of July.


The palace was built when the Qing Dynasty rose to the peak of its national power during the reign of emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. Keeping level-headed in spite of prosperity, Emperor Qianlong once commented, ” Since the Han and Tang dynasties, dwelling palaces outside the capital have been constructed to satisfy the desires of the emperor, leading to a waste  of resources, even the ruin of a dynasty. This we should avoid rather than imitate.” Having drawn a lesson from history, he set the tone for the construction of the palace simplicity. The natural conditions of vast area, with lakes and islands in the south, grassland in the north and mountains in the west, made it possible for Kangxi to realize his construction ideals. In 1711, the palace was renamed Summer Mountain Villa, a benevolent gesture indicating that the emperor would share happiness and bitterness with his subjects. Yet the Mountain Villa can by no means be equated with the villas of commoners.

The Mountain Resort occupies an area of 5064 million square meters with its castle-style walls extending for 10 kilometers. In terms of composition, it has two different areas –  the residential area and the garden area.

The residential area, where the emperors of the Qing Dynasty stayed annually from May to September, consists of four building clusters, namely the Central Chamber, Songhe Chamber, Wanhesongfeng and East Chamber. Grand ceremonies were held in Danbojingcheng, or the main hall of the Central Chamber. Yanbozhishuang was the sleeping chamber while Wanhesongfeng was the place where the emperors read books and memorials as well as received officials. In addition, there were special areas for dining and recreation. Wenjinge, the imperial library, houses a great number of books including one of the four copies of the Complete Library of the Four Treasures ( itself a collection of 3500 titles ).

The garden area is composed mainly of a lake and a southern-style landscape. Thirty-two of the 72 scenic spots named personally by emperors Kangxi and Qianlong are located in this area. The lake is divided into 7 parts by small islands which are connected to each other by bridges, dikes, corridors or sluice gates. Ornamenting the islands are pavilions, rocks, trees and flowers.

The vast stretch of plain in this area is covered with grasses and trees, reminding the Qing emperors their nomadic ancestors. There are also Mongolian yurts dotted on the plain, where the emperors used to meet with leaders of other ethnic groups and religious schools who came to pay tribute to the Qing court.

Hills occupy 78 percent of the resort area. A large number of temples and pavilions can be found on the hills.


The entire resort is exquisitely designed and has a harmonious layout. It well deserves its name as a garden-style imperial city.

In general, the residential area is compact in layout while the garden area is characterized by natural touches, well representing the essence of ancient Chinese horticulture.

The buildings in the residential area are completely different in architectural style and layout from those of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Palace building in ancient China are usually symmetrical in layout, with main buildings located on the central axis and other buildings arranged symmetrically on both sides, which can be best exemplified by the design of the Forbidden City. The palace buildings in the Mountain Resort, however, do not follow this style. They are well integrated into the natural topography without adhering rigidly to the principle of symmetry. What’s more, instead of glazed tiles as used in the Forbidden City, gray bricks and tiles and natural wood are employed, adding to the solemnity and elegance of the palace.

The garden area is dotted with 120 scenic spots featuring both southern and northern landscaping arts. It presents both static and dynamic beauty, with flying birds, swimming fish and roaming deer in the garden which is constructed in harmony with nature. Surrounded by the Cheng Lake to the west and facing streams, the Jinshan Hill is an imitation of the typical Zhenjiang-style (in Jiangsu Province ), of which Emperor Kangxi developed an interest during his inspection tour in the south. On the hill spread-out pavilions rise from among the bizarre-shaped rocks. Set on Qinglian Island is the Yanyu Building, an imitation of one in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, bearing the same name. Struck by the beauty of the building during his inspection tour in the south, Emperor Qianlong ordered the drawing of the design and the erecting of the building in the resort. The building clusters such as the Central Chamber and Songhe Chamber exhibit the style of the northern civilian residences, trees towering into clouds, lawns extending to the horizon and Mongolian yurts scattered here and there. Standing between the palace area and the lake area is the Water Pavilion, decorated with three kiosks resembling the Dong-style Wind and Rain bridges in Guizhou Province.

The beauty of the numerous scenic spots of contrasting styles in the Mountain Resort cannot be captured in words. Its unique charm has led to its inclusion among the Top Ten Scenic Sights of China and the 1994 listing of World Cultural Heritage sites.

From: China Today

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