Discovering China: Beijing – The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven

discovering china

你好 (Nihao) !  I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the second of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes.  Today, I bring you to The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven – two of Beijing’s most popular tourist attractions.

The Summer PalaceThe Summer Palace

The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) is a “biggie.” Once an imperial pleasure garden, it has temples, residences, pavilions, marble bridges and an enormous lake for boating. In the 19th century, the Summer Palace was a favorite spot of the extravagant Dowager Empress Cixi, who restored many buildings and added new ones. For centuries, the emperors with their entourages relocated to escape the heat in summer, and today the Summer Palace is a great place to go with kids. A whole day excursion in itself (bring a picnic), the Summer Palace can be crowded on weekends, so try to go on a weekday.

East Palace Gate – Arriving through the monumental East Palace Gate, this is the heart of the palace complex, with administrative, residential, and pleasure buildings, such as a three story theater. Don’t miss the Happiness Longevity Hall (Leshoutang) where Dowager Empress Cixi made her home from May to November. Outside the hall are exquisite bronze statues of cranes and deer, inside is the empress’ throne room.

Long Corridor – This shady walkway goes on for almost half a mile, gloriously painted on the underside of the roof. Supported by brightly painted emerald green and bright red columns, each beam has a different painting of flowers and historical figures. The Long Corridor ends at the lake, where you can check out the amazing Marble Boat, a solid marble palace built in the shape of a two-story paddle steamer!

Longevity Hill – If the kids need to expend some excess energy, climb up to the top of Longevity Hill. You’ll pass by the majestic Precious Clouds Pavilion and the Buddhist Temple of Sea of Wisdom.  When we visited it was a beautiful day and we could see clear views of Beijing in the distance, but usually it’s a bit hazy (so don’t do this expecting a view). When you walk down the north side of the hill, there’s a shady pine grove.

Kunming Lake – Rent a boat and join Chinese families on the lake. Most fun is an electric boat, where you can really explore the lake which is quite large. If you want to go under your own steam, rent a pedal boat. Boats are available for rent near the dock at the Marble Boat, and at the South Lake Island.

peking duckPeking Duck

After spending the morning at the Summer Palace, we made our way to … Restaurant meeting our foreign exchange student and her family for a traditional meal.  We were surprised to discover we had our own private dining room … what a treat!  We exchanged gifts and enjoyed one another’s company as we learned to make our own “duck taco” using the pancakes and lean meat.

If you get the chance to try Peking Duck, see if you can talk the restaurant into showing your kids the wood-fire ovens where the ducks are roasted and then ask the staff to show you how to eat it. Most restaurants assume you know what to do with each course, but many first-time visitors have no idea. Kids might really enjoy dipping the crispy skin in the sugar.

Hutongs

After our meal, we took the bus to a traditional Chinese neighborhood, called a Hutong; houses built around courtyards, like a village in the city. Kids will enjoy a fascinating glimpse into Chinese family life.  We walked around leisurely – did a little shopping and marveled at the architecture.

Temple of HeavenTemple of Heaven

A few days later, we met up with a childhood friend who happened to also be in Beijing for business.  We were delighted that he had a day free to do a little sightseeing with us – and he was delighted to have company.  We spent the morning at the Temple of Heaven and opted to forgo a tour guide – in fact, I don’t even recall anyone offering their services here which now that I think about it was rather unusual.  Anyway … we purchased a map of the garden area and Buddy was confidant he could lead us through … and he did so very well.

Each year at the winter solstice, the emperor visited the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest and sacrificed at the Altar of Heaven to ensure a bountiful harvest.  Circles and squares never looked more beautiful than they do at the Temple of Heaven complex. Shapes and numbers have cosmological meanings – circles symbolize heaven, squares symbolize earth, four columns represent the four seasons, twelve columns represent the months of the year, the number nine is divine (heaven has nine levels).

Visitors can stand on the round stone in the middle of the Altar of Heaven (Circular Mound Altar). Look down at the concentric circles around the stone, 9×9. Each circle is the number nine multiplied, out to nine circles. The round Altar of Heaven sits on a square base, which has four different entrances (and each with has nine steps). In the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest, count the columns. There are 28 columns, 4 big ones +12+12 = four seasons, plus twelve months, plus twelve Shichen hours (the day was divided into 12 hours).

The Temple of Heaven complex is bigger than the Forbidden City, so take time to explore the park. There are many other exquisite pavilions to discover, grassy areas and flowering tree, bring kites to fly, and you might hear people playing flutes and the erhu (traditional Chinese stringed instrument).  We joined in a game of Tai Chi Ball with two young men only to discover they were playing it as a means to captivate unsuspecting tourists.  We fell for it but were only too happy to bring a set home for ourselves.  It was fun!

You won’t want to miss my post tomorrow, Beijing Part 3, when I will take you to Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Encouragement for Parents of Kids with Special Needs.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

8 comments on “Discovering China: Beijing – The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven

  1. The Temple of Heaven is one of my favorite spots. Your photos bring back a lot of memories. And wasn’t that duck divine? That became our Thanksgiving meal while we were in China. Closest to a turkey we could get.

    • We loved the Temple of Heaven .. there wasn’t pressure from vendors as there was in other places and we could just walk and enjoy. The duck was divine! I’ll be looking for it when we get back to Chinatown, SF. :)

  2. The Temple of Heaven is one of my favorite spots. Your photos bring back a lot of memories. And wasn’t that duck divine? That became our Thanksgiving meal while we were in China. Closest to a turkey we could get.

    • We loved the Temple of Heaven .. there wasn’t pressure from vendors as there was in other places and we could just walk and enjoy. The duck was divine! I’ll be looking for it when we get back to Chinatown, SF. :)

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