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BEI HAI PARK

An imperial garden for over 1,000 years, Bei Hai was opened to the public in 1925. Filled with artificial hills, pavilions, and temples, it is associated with Kublai Khan, who redesigned it during the Mongol Yuan dynasty. These days, it is a fine place for a leisurely stroll, and a bit of boating on the lake.

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info 1 Wenjin Jie, Xicheng • 6403 3225 • [email protected] • Subway: Beihai Bei or Tian’an Men West • Buses: 5, 101, 103, 107, 109, 111 • Open 6:30am–9pm daily (Nov–Mar: to 8:30pm); buildings close 5pm (Nov–Mar: 4pm) • Adm ¥10 (Nov–Mar ¥5); Yongan Temple and Round City cost an extra ¥10 each; combined ticket for park, Yongan Temple and Round City ¥20 (Nov–Mar ¥15)

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  • There are snack kiosks in the park.
  • The park has four entry gates: the most convenient is the south gate, close to Forbidden City; the north gate is located across the road from Hou Hai, where there are good eateries.

1. Round City

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Bei Hai was the site of Beijing’s earliest imperial palace, although nothing now remains other than a small pavilion on a site known as the Round City, and a large jade wine vessel said to have belonged to Kublai Khan.

2. The Place of Serenity

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In the northwest corner of the park is this utterly beautiful garden, created in the mid-18th century by the Qianlong emperor, with rockeries, pavilions, and ornate bridges over goldfish-filled pools.

3. Three Temples

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Near the Place of Serenity is a trio of small temple buildings – the Pavilion of 10,000 Buddhas, the Glazed Pavilion, which is covered with green and yellow ceramic Buddhas, and the Xiao Xitian (Small Western Sky) Temple filled with fearsome-looking idols.

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Numerous ceramic Buddhas filling the vibrant temple

4. White Dagoba

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Topping Jade Island, this is a Tibetan-style stupa built to honor the visit of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1651. It has been rebuilt twice since.

5. Jade Island

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Accessed by bridge from the south gate or by boat from the north gate, Bei Hai’s willow-lined island was created from the earth excavated to form the lake.

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Long bridge leading to the Jade Island

6. Nine Dragon Screen

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This free-standing wall made of colorful glazed ceramic tiles depicts nine intertwined dragons. The Chinese dragon is a beneficent beast offering protection and good luck. The wall was designed to obstruct the passage of evil spirits.

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Colourful ceramic tiles creating a wall of nine dragons

7. Pavilion of Calligraphy

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A crescent-shaped hall on Jade Island contains nearly 500 stone tablets engraved with the work of famous Chinese calligraphers. If the exhibits are less than enthralling, the walkways that lead to the pavilion are enchanting.

8. Zhong Nan Hai

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Bei Hai means “North Lake”; the Middle (Zhong) and South (Nan) Lakes are part of an area occupied by China’s political leaders and are off-limits to all except government officials. Zhong Nan Hai is regarded as the new Forbidden City.

9. Yongan Temple

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Located beneath the Dagoba on Jade Island, this temple comprises a series of ascending halls, including the Hall of the Wheel of Law, with its central effigy of the Buddha Sakyamuni.

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The magnificent figure of Buddha Sakyamuni at the Yongan Temple

10. Fangshan Restaurant

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Founded in 1926 by chefs of the imperial household, the restaurant bases its menus on court cuisine. Standards have slipped, but the opulent setting still has great appeal.

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The regal dining hall at Fangshan Restaurant

PARK PLAY

Beijing’s parks double as recreation centers, particularly for the city’s elderly citizens. Early in the morning, they gather to perform tai ji quan (tai chi) exercises. Many then spend the rest of the day in the park playing cards or mahjong, engaging in yang ge (fan dancing) or ballroom dancing, or just reading the paper and talking with friends.

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