china edition


Summer Palace - Hall of Benevolence and Longevity

The main hall of the Summer Palace, first built in 1750, it was then called the Hall of Industrious Government, but the building was burnt down by the Allied Anglo-French Force in 1860, the present building was reconstructed in 1890 and the name of the hall was given by Emperor Guanxu. This is the most important hall for political activities in the Palace, it was the place for Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Ci'xi to handle state affairs and receive foreign envoys.

Like the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City, this hall houses a red sandalwood throne carved with nine dragon design-the symbol of supreme power. Behind the throne is a red sandalwood screen, on the mirror 226 characters of the word "Longevity" were written, with 100 bats in the background to symbolize happiness and longevity, because the word "bat" is homonymous with the word happiness in the Chinese language, very often bat designs were used to indicate happiness. The big character 'Longevity' was believed to be written by Empress Dowager Ci'xi.

Hall of Benevolence and LongevityAbove the throne on the tablet is an inscription which says that those who show benevolence in the government of the people will live a long life.

A pair of peacock fans were put up by the side of the throne to give a solemn atmosphere, in the Song Dynasty, 2 imperial waitresses would hold the fans, but in the Qing Dynasty, the 2 fans were fixed by the side of the throne. These objects were all incense burners, they were in different shape, all for burning incense on formal occasions. The elephant symbolises Great Peace, and the ship was named Great Peace Ship, on which were such designs like 'The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea'.

The 2 side chambers were places for the Emperor to rest and receive officials on formal occasions.

The cost involved in the construction of the hall is hard to imagine. One example was that only the frame of the big mirror took a skilled craftsman ten years to finish. What's more, in order to create the atmosphere for longevity, the glazed tiles around the roof of the hall were all baked in the pattern of the word "Longevity", altogether 412 tiles of such design. Even the well north of the ball was named "Longevity Well" because when the Empress Dowager Ci'xi drank the water inside the well to take her medicine, she was soon recovered. The well was so named to express her wish for a long life, and she did have a long life (73 years old!).