Surrounded by a 10km-long wall and larger than the Summer Palace in Beijing, Bishu Shanzhuang (避暑山庄, bìshŭ shānzhuāng; also referred to as the Mountain Resort) occupies the northern third of Chengde’s area. This is where, in the summer months, the Qing emperors lived, feasted, hunted, and occasionally dealt with affairs of state. The palace buildings just inside the main entrance are unusual for imperial China as they are low, wooden and unpainted – simple but elegant, in contrast to the opulence and grandeur of Beijing’s palaces. It’s said that Emperor Kangxi wanted the complex to mimic a Manchurian village, to show his disdain for fame and wealth, though with 120 rooms and several thousand servants he wasn’t exactly roughing it. The same principle of idealized naturalness governed the design of the park. With its twisting paths and streams, rockeries and hills, it’s a fantasy re-creation of the rough northern terrain and southern Chinese beauty spots that the emperors would have seen on their tours. The whole is an attempt to combine water, buildings and plants in graceful harmony. Lord Macartney noted its similarity to the “soft beauties” of an English manor park of the Romantic style.
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