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Beihai Park

About half a kilometer to the west of the north gate of the Forbidden City is the famous Beihai Park; North Lake Park. It used to be the former palace of the emperors in successive dynasties, called the Winter Palace by Westerners.

Early in the 10th century, during the Liao dynasty, a secondary imperial palace and an island; Jade Islet, were built here. It was expanded by digging a lake, adding more palace halls when Jin Empire took over; it was rebuilt 3 times during the Yuan dynasty. The Ming and the Qing saw more construction and renovation: The Five Dragon Pavilions and the Nine dragon Screen and pavilions were added. A White Dagoba, an onion-shaped shrine pagoda in Tibetan style, was erected in honor of the 5th Dalai Lama's visit to Beijing in 1651.

Now it is a popular park with a total area of over 68 hectares, half of which is a lake. It boasts one of the best of China's classical gardens with artificial hills, pavilions, halls, temples and covered corridors.

Most visitors enter the park through its south gate, touring the island and then walk along the eastern bank to the north gate. Further along the western bank you'll find halls, temples and pavilions. Another choice is to enter from the south gate crossing the Beihai Bridge touring the western bank first and then ferry by boat across the lake to the Islet.

Besides the lake, the main things to see are the Round City, which contains a jade vase from the time of Kublai Khan; the Temple of Eternal Peace; the Nine Dragon Screen, which is actually a 5 m high, 27 m long wall covered with glazed tiles carved into 9 intertwining dragons; and the White Dagoba on Jade Islet in the center of the lake. In summer, Beihai is also an ideal place to escape from heat.

Round City

A round building surrounded by a 5 m high wall, the Round City stands at the south gate of Beihai Park, and has a distinctive courtyard studded with halls, pavilions and ancient trees.

The Hall of Receiving Light (Chengguangdian) houses a statue of Buddha, 1.5 m high, carved from a block of lustrous jade, a present from Burma to Empress Dowager Cixi.

In the Jade Urn Pavilion at the center of the Round City is a jade urn, 0.66 m in height and 1.5 m in diameter, which was believed to be a wine vessel by Kublai Khan. Fancy decorative patterns of clouds, dragons and animals on the surface reveal the exquisite craft of consummate craftsman.

Jade Islet

The Jade Islet, the center of the park, features luxuriant trees and a host of temple halls.

Atop the isle is the 35.9 m high White Dagoba. The dagoba together with a painting depicting Emperor Shunzhi (the first emperor of the Qing) meeting with the 5th Dalai Lama is the witness of the Central Government-Tibet alliance at that time.

The top is a gold-gilded copper lid decorated with dozens of bells with jingle far in the wind. In front of the Dagoba stand the Temple of Enternal Peace (Yong'an si) and Hall of Universal Peace. At the back of the island is the Hall of Rippling Water.

West Bank

Opposite the Jade Islet across the lake on the west bank are unique buildings. The Five-Dragon Pavilions; a zigzag line of 5 glaze-tiled pavilions over the water were built in 1602 and renovated several times under the Qing. The Qing emperors used to go fishing there. The Iron Shadow Screen (Tieyingbi), 3.56 m long and 1.9 m high, was built in the Yuan. The iron-colored screen was carved out of neutral igneous rock.

Nine Dragon Screen

Just like the Nine Dragon Screen in the Forbidden City, the screen is built with colored glazed-tiles. It was used to protect a temple (no long there now) from invading evil spirits, and is considered an art treasure and one of the best of its kind.