Thus, recognizing the true greatness of the Qianlong Emperor who was not merely Emperor, cultured and Regal but also when measured against his many predecessors of various Dynasties more Godlike, the construction of the Palace within the grounds of the Forbidden City including the Qianlong Garden must be viewed as having been both a gift from the many subjects of the Nation as well as a reward for an up to that point unusually successful and prosperous reign period, or if one wants a glorious career as Emperor and holder of the Heavenly Mandate.
Accordingly, a grandiose and unprecedented Palace was to be created, with the Qianlong Garden part of it intended to provide the Emperor with peace of mind and the proper Feng Shui and surroundings to carry him into a successful "retirement" (!) and hopefully a serene and lengthy old age.
One of the many looks through the pleasant hallways of the Palaces interior halls which allows for a glimpse of the Garden and Greenery just beyond. The Qianlong Garden as an architectural wonder represents the absolute highpoint of the Palace and Garden architecture at the time of the Qing Dynasty and in recent years the Palace, once locked away for security and political reasons, has been under renovations with many more of the treasures of the Palace of Peace of Longevity receiving much needed attention. Starting in the year 2013 new parts of the Palace have been opened to the public.
The platform of Gu Hua Xian or Study of Ancient Glory, one of the most prominent features in the "Qianlong Garden". As can be seen on this photo, the pavilion is most noted for the Nanmu Wood carvings (the originals still!) aligned along the outer rim of its platform just underneath the edge of what is a gable-rolling roof lined with green tiles.
Once having bought admittance and a colorful entrance ticket, as well as located and duly admired the colorful "9 Dragon Screen", start heading northward in order to directly walk to the Garden.
From the south main gate - Gate of the Imperial Zenith, follow the central axis of the Palace Northward and pass through or along the first ceremonial courts and their official buildings. Eventually, you will find a grand ceremonial gate surrounded by greenery and fronted with two golden lions. This is the Gate of Lasting Happiness which gives access to the more private quarters (the inner court) of this Imperial Palace.
After having reached the Yan Qi Men or Gate of spreading Blessings pass through and turn left and west to gain access to the garden proper.
The Ning Shou Gong Hua Yuan, also more easily identified as the Qianlong Emperor's Garden, is but a but a part of the larger Ning Shou Gong or Palace of Peace and Longevity. Although there are a multitude of unique walled Palace compounds combined within the maze that is the Palace Museum of Beijing according to many it is agreed that the Palace of Peace and Longevity is the greatest, for sure largest, and also the most Grandiose of the traditional Palaces found within the walls of what was once THE "Forbidden City".
Apart from being in itself a miniature copy of the design of the "Forbidden City" itself, the Qianlong Retirement Palace encompasses a huge central hall, various ceremonial gates, a fairly large Garden and as it stands today, even a three story high "Peking Opera" Theater (The pavilion of cheerful melodies).
In addition it was constructed and crafted using the latest often foreign derived technologies and techniques available at the time of the last real highpoint of traditional Chinese (and Manchu) culture.
NING SHOU GONG HUA YUAN aka QIANLONG GARDEN:
The Ning Shou Gong Hua Yuan then is the most grandiose private garden within the walls of the Palace Museum and it was the private Imperial Garden of one of the strongest and most successful Emperors of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty (1644 AD - 1911 AD), the Emperor who among things completed the defeat and successive conquest of the Inner Asian nomadic peoples.
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A scene from the garden as it is today, arranged as a museum and getaway for the multitudes who visit the splendid Palace Museum of Beijing. In the background one of the massive outer walls of the Ning Shou Palace, which chalked scarlet red is topped by its very own roofing with golden imperial ceramic tiles. Just beyond stands the western wall of the Forbidden City proper with a wide moat adjacent.
(It should be noted that, according to the ranking within the Imperial Family system and established tradition, the Emperor never really retired. Until the moment of his death, the Old Emperor would outrank anyone within the Palace including his own son if he had been made Emperor meanwhile. According to Confucian principles of filial piety the elder generations always retain authority over younger generations, hence no Emperor felt he had really retired. Not even abdication could absolve an Emperor of his responsibility.)
The construction of the garden itself was decided upon in the year 1776 AD concurring with the 41st year the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.
In order to both honor and please the Emperor, and not to mention to woo his extra-ordinary wealth and aqcuired tastes, the staff of the Imperial Court ordered the use of the most exquisite materials usually to be imported and taken from far away lands. As a result, the garden counts a variety of exotic trees and many of the rocks and rockeries found here have been brought up from the Tai Hu Lake, a region then legendary for its sceneries, ladies and rockeries (apparently). In its completeness the garden was envisioned to resemble some of the magical landscapes found in the southern provinces and the Yangtze River delta thus recounting the glorious and extravagant tours of China's lower regions used for dispensing favors and enlarging his powers as well as leisure, hunting and collecting of exotic wares as well as Ladies in waiting.
As one may find reflected inside the Palace Halls and Pavilions as well as the gardens proper, the Emperor was a lover of the finest crafts and arts, as well as poetry, in his extraordinary wealth and powers collecting around him not only the most exquisite objets d'art but building around him his own ideal world, composed, designed and executed by the best artisans available, all - painters, sculpters and architects and even engineers alike - working together to create the finest living space and garden imaginable at the time.
ARCHITECTURE OF THE QIANLONG GARDEN:
Altogether, the Qianlong Emperors Garden measures 160 meters from south to north and 37 meters from east to west. Although this is by no means immediately clear to the passing visitor dwelling about inside the garden, within the confines of this space sit not only the so called "Ancient Flowery Porch", but also a multitude of Pavilions and other structures. Overall, no fewer than 20 buildings have been set among the obligatory green trees and rockeries that provide the proper Feng Shui within the healthy setting of a traditional Chinese Garden.
The Qianlong Garden itself is largely subdivided into four seperate large courtyards, which, in order to "balance" the Feng Shui of the architectural arrangements of the complex, had to be arranged along two axis, a southern line and a northern line.
Within the spaces of the Palace Garden the structures of the southern and most important line are (roughly from south to north) the Gate of Lasting Happiness (Yan Qi Men), the Pavilion of Ancient Glory (Gu Hua Xuan), the Hall of Nostalgia (Sui Chu Tang) and the Pavilion of Paramount Elegance.
The structures of the Northern ine (Axis) include the poetically named Pavilion of Excellent Views (previously and for long off limits to but the most exclusive visitors), the Green Shell Pavilion (Bi Luo Ting) and last but certainly not least the Tower of Elusive Dreams (Fu Wang Ge).
And these are not all. As described below a few more highlights are easily found among the gems of the impressive yet pleasant garden.
Up until the year 2014 sizeable parts of the Qianlong Emperor's Garden, specifically pavilions in the north west corner of the Palace Complex have been kept off limits to the visiting public. In fact, some parts of both garden and palace remained sealed for almost 100 years.
Known to hold treasures that ranked among the most precious still preserved within the garden as well as Palace Museum entire, the contents of several pavilions in this garden were jealously shielded from the outside world, not only after the ousting of then already former Emperor Pu Yi but well after.
Although the Palace was opened as the Palace Museum of Beijing as a great show of political propaganda of the new Government of the Peoples Republic in 1949, most likely for political reasons the newly established rulers in a now Communist Beijing elected not to show the superior and clearly foreign European styled artistic achievements of the European artisans and assistants of the Qianlong Emperor.
Above: an screen wall as part of the extravagant and unique inner decorations applied to the Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service. Clearly identifyable are the 3d painting techniques imported by Jesuit Priests from Europe. The Jesuits Christians first arrived at the Beijing Court at the end of the Ming Dynasty Era and had achieved considerable advisory post during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, grandfather to the Qianlong Emperor.
By the time of the construction of the Retirement Palace however, relations between the Christian Church and the Manchu court were excessively strained.
An obviously non-Chinese but western-inspired and made Map of the Manchu Qing Dynasty Empire in the year 1910 AD, a year in which China's sovereignty has been under threat and siege for over 70 years.
In this Map of 1910 AD, made one year before the abdication of Last Qing Emperor Xuan Tong and the final end of China's Feudal History, China is depicted as in it's smallest boundaries and definition. Most notably Manchuria, Inner and Outer Mongolia, Tibet and even East Turkestan (Xinjiang) are depicted as separate area's. Manchuria is the ancestral home of the Aisin-Gioro Clan of the Ching Dynasty from whence they 1st subjugated China and subsequently Mongolian Peoples and Territory, Turkmen and Kazakh lands and thereafter all traditional Tibetan areas as well as the Nation of Tibet.
The current day Peoples Republic of China by and large lays claim to all territories previously vanquished by the Manchu People.
Seeing his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor (Reign: 1666 - 1722 AD) finally subdue the Mongolian Peoples and in so doing ending a centuries old protracted war across the legendary "Great Wall of China" while adding almost all of their territory to that of the Manchu Qing Empire as well as the political subjugation of the Tibetan Peoples and Tibet in 1722 AD, the Qianlong Emperor in turn is credited with the completion of the work of his grandfather, which mainly included a final ethnic campaign against the non-Buddhist (Islamic) Dzungar and Kazakh Peoples of the East Turkestan Region (Dzungar Basin, Ili-Kazakh, today part of the geographical region identified as Xinjiang) and the conquest of regions in the south and south west, today identified as Guizhou Province, Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
As such, the true and final legacy of the Qianlong Emperor is the laying of claim to what today are (roughly) considered to be the borders of the modern day Peoples Republic of China.
Building on the results of great military campaigns of his grandfather Kangxi, the Qianlong Emperor himself achieved significant status within his Empire primarily by means of his final defeat of the Islamic "Dzungar" People also identified as Western Mongolians (Oirat). Already defeated in Tibet, a final military achievement of the great Kangxi Emperor, the Qianlong Emperor ordered the taking of the heartland of the Dzungars.
The Dzungar, who had previously been an arch enemy of the revered Kangxi Emperor and who had hotly contesting his attempts to gain power over Tibet and other lands paid a final price for their audacity by falling victim to a military campaign that amounted to a thorough ethnic eradication and the subsequent military occupation of the Dzungar (Kyrgyz and Kazakh) homelands by armies of the great Manchu Empire. Conveniently, the monopoly in the lucrative "Horse-Tea Trade" which had previously been held by the Dzungar Rulers henceforth befell the Manchu Empire, its eager Generals and Administrators gratefully accepting their new business opportunities. Likewise, other less important trades such a the salt trade were monopolized by the Imperial Administrative machine.
Having extirpated the nuisance of a last opposing and vehemently independent nomadic Empire (under the Galdan Khan) who's economic success and military resistance carried the added affront of adherence to a laudable foreign religion and culture, the Qianlong Emperor set the stage for what in Chinese accounts of history is described as the suppression of the "Miao Peoples Rebellion" - in fact another scheme for Manchu-Han Imperial economic and military conquest along the southern and eastern rim of the Tibetan plateaux which ultimately led to the establishment (roughly) of what today may be regarded as the final borders of the Manchu Empire.
It is the legacy of this Manchu Empire along with its supposed geographical borders which, through the idea's of the not so enlightened Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (a Han racial supremacist), has subsequently been claimed by China's Communist Party as the legitimate territory of all "Chinese" people.
Notably and significantly, after the conquest of the Dzungar West Mongolian Territories, it was during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor that the newly gained territory was designated as "Xinjiang" literally meaning "New Territory", which today is still the name used by the Government of the Peoples Republic of China to identify the lands that were originally inhabited by a collection of usually restive Inner Asian Tribes and Peoples; not only the Dzungar, but also Kazakh and Uighur People.
Apart from butchering a lot of Mongolian (Turkmen and Kazakh) people in what today is far west China, the Qianlong Emperor was also responsible for the successful suppression of a rebellion of the Miao People, a mix of not only "Miao" but various peoples who as a result of continuous Han-Chinese encroachment on- and invasions of their homelands and so driven to final despair, had launched an all out military offensive against the Han people led by their greedy administrators and Manchu overlords.
Needless to say, given the odds and the events of the time, it was a suicidal war. The desperate southern tribes peoples shared the same fate as the Dzungar before them and the The Miao Rebellion as it is known today was utterly defeated and drowned in bloodshed, allowing for the adding new Provinces to the great Imperial realm of the Qianlong Emperor.
Having - alike the Dzungars - lost most of their men (over 18 thousand tribes men are said to have perished) today their descendants find themselves a minority peoples living in Guizhou, Yunnan and the other southern provinces of the Peoples Republic of China where, by far outnumbered by the Han Chinese, they are a most popular tourist attraction.
Finally, faced with the impossibility of a lengthy military occupation of the Tibetan Military plateaux, the Qianlong Emperor struck a political deal with the restive Tibetans, creating the trade off between a Manchu appointed (military) regency in Tibet and the role of senior spiritual teacher-tutor of the Tibetan Leadership allowed over the Manchu Emperor. As such, relations could be kept at a pleasant in Tibet and Tibetans could largely tend their own affairs allowing for the circumstances necessary to keep the all important Horse-Tea Trade and other trades going.
In this way having subjugated (at least in name) all of Tibet, the Qianlong Emperor for the first time managed to not only unite, but also rule and successfully administer not only (the territories today recognized as) China and Mongolia, but also Tibet and a significant part of neighboring Central Asia.
Such remarkable territorial gains duplicated the earlier conquests of legendary Chinese Emperors of the Han and Tang Dynasty while at the same time untold economic opportunities were created and magnificent wealth was accumulated in the hands of the powerful and influential in the Qing Society. With all thus becoming fabulously wealthy and privileged as compared to both their nomadic ancestors as well as the average peasant dweller citizen, the court, the Capital and the various trading cities of the Qing Realm exploded in a frenzy of luxury, extravagance, arts and cultural expressions.
As one may find at various places within the Palace of Peace and Longevity but also in fact in many locations and parts of the old Imperial Capital of Beijing, the Qianlong Emperor is still considered as great patron of various classical Chinese Arts, among them painting, calligraphy and poetry.
Overall, the Qianlong reigning era is regarded as the culmination period and highpoint of traditional (Chinese) Arts, many exquisite examples can now once again be seen on display at the Palace Museum or otherwise found in various Museums and Collection in the Capital Beijing and the larger Peoples Republic of China.
As such the Qianlong Emperor, although considered to be ranked slightly below his militarily more powerful grandfather, achieved everlasting Glory, which included not only an unusually high level of respect for his martial prowess, but also great reverence for his unusual refinedness as an Emperor of nomadic foreign ancestry.
As time passed, and many intellectuals found themselves on the wrong side of the political equation, nearly all public memory of the foreign wonders of the Qianlong Garden was lost. Afterwards the secrets remained known only to a limited number of experts and ranking members of the ruling Communist Party.
It is said that but very few people had peered at the contents of these Palace Halls during the decades of rule by the Chinese Communist Party, mostly under leadership of Mao Zedong. As is mentioned in our "History of the Forbidden City and Palace Museum (2 of 2)", after the eruption of the Cultural Revolution in the fall of the year 1966 it was not until the year 1971 that the Palace Museum itself was reopened to the public.
Altogether, according to a year 2011 CNN headline story entitled "Secret garden of Beijing's Forbidden City revealed" parts of the garden had been closed to all visitors since the very day that China's last ruling Emperor (Aisin-Gioro) Pu Yi was ousted from his Palace in the year 1924, and quite possibly a 100 years longer as the last inhabitant of the Palace was the Empress-Dowager Cixi. Supposedly, Cixi, being superstitious, paranoid, as well as in steeped in great reverence of the ancestral spirit of the Qianlong Emperor, had the garden pavilions shuttered and sealed already during her old age retirement at the Palace. Possibly, the old Lady - a woman of the opposing lineage within the Manchu clan system effectively seated on what was exclusively a Man's Throne, who, having outlived, controlled and as it is said later killed two male Emperors, on top of this dared to lay claim to the sacrosanct retirement place of a truly great ancestor, did not like the idea of facing the spirit of the Qianlong Emperor emerging from his most private and most precious quarters.
Certainly she might have had reason to expect the spirit of the old Emperor to be vengeful and kill her on the spot.
However, in the recent year 2014 renovations have been completed on a number of structures of the Qianlong Retirement Palace and Garden previously off limits to the public. Among the Pavilions listed as having been under renovations and (about to be) open(ed) to the public are the lodge of the Cares of the World, as well as the Yang Qing Zhai or "The Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service" which according to popular beliefs is held to be the true and core masterpiece of the Palace complex.
Today, as a result of costly efforts and years of painstaking work by international teams, many of the dazzling treasures of the Palace of Peace and Longevity including the previously sealed and hidden pavilions, uniquely representative of a
highpoint of (Manchu-)Chinese art and culture can be seen inside the Palace Halls and the Qianlong Garden. Because the listing treasures and wonders is too long and too varied to describe here in this introduction, we advise instead to see the adjacent video Documentary "The Emperors Secret Garden" produced in the year 2010 and available for free on YouTube.