We manoeuvred the city’s complex subway system and visited the stunning Summer Palace – an eighteenth-century Qing palace which to this day remains China’s largest royal park. Entry to the palace cost 30 Yuan (£3) each. Inside the vast grounds themselves, we were greeted by a bridge with a river flowing under us, the banks of which were lined with craft stores and cafes, small boats cruising along the slim body of water in the sun. The grounds were stunningly decorated with greenery, but the palace itself was a sight to behold.
As a Western student of art history, my experience and encounters with architecture had, before visiting Asia, been largely Eurocentric. To see such exquisitely and colourfully decorated exteriors and interiors was a breath of fresh air for me; exceptionally ornate dragons used to protect the building and the bright reds, greens and blues so common throughout the interiors of the Summer Palace was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
From the grounds across the bridge we started to climb up to the palace itself. The view from the top was the highlight for me, on one side of the palace rolling hills seemed to continue forever, and on the other the skyline of Beijing could be seen emerging out of the green. The bright blue sky were so lucky to have in Beijing offset the white and terracotta of the buildings’ exterior wonderfully, and only complimented the green of the distant hills and mountains even more. Meandering through the paths within the higher grounds, we found another part of the palace that overlooked Kunming Lake with even more tourist boats and, in the distance, the city.
The contrast of views from one side of the palace was extraordinary; on one side the Chinese countryside seemed to stretch on endlessly and the same applied for the booming city of Beijing on the opposite side. Centre to these stood this incredible palace, high above both views; a beautiful vantage point and a wonderful opportunity to understand better the Qing dynasty history and traditional architecture and art.