History of BeiHai Park

Beijing, China

A guide to the 1,000 year history of BeiHai Park and its main elements.


Early History (Liao and Jin Dynasties)

The imperial court of the Liao Dynasty built a secondary palace on the site of the present BeiHai Park in the 10th century. It was called YaoYu.

When the Jin came to power, they renamed the capital ZhongDu ('Central Capital'). During the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), a lake was dug at BeiHai Park and the excavated earth was used to create an island. Rocks used for building the hill on the island were brought in from KaiFeng in Henan Province.

Around the lake and on the island, palatial halls, corridors and pavilions were erected. In 1179, a Jin Dynasty emperor declared the BeiHai Park to be an imperial garden.



The Yuan Dynasty and Kublai Khan

The history of BeiHai Park continues when in the 13th century the Mongols conquered the Jin and established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). They expanded the site and made it the center of DaDu ('Great Capital'), its capital city (what is now Beijing).


Kublai Khan, the first Yuan emperor, carried out large-scale reconstruction of the gardens of BeiHai Park. One of his most magnificent feats was the construction of GuangHanDian Palace ('Palace of the Moon') on Jade Island. This was an imposing and splendid edifice extending 40 meters from east to west, 20 meters from south to north, and standing 16 meters high. It was a pleasure palace of the imperial famiIy and also the scene of grand ceremonies and banquets. And it was where Kublai Khan lived.


A view of the white dagoba on Jade Island from near the south (main) gate.

When Marco Polo visited Beijing in his travels through China at the end of the 13th century, he heard much praise of this imperial garden of the Yuan rulers. After meeting Kublai Khan there, he wrote that BeiHai Park seemed like paradise. Unfortunately, GuangHan Palace was badly shaken by an earthquake and it collapsed three hundred years later.


The Ming Dynasty and Emperor YongLe

When the entire city of Beijing was reconstructed and laid down in its more or less current plan (1406 - 1420) during the reign of 3rd Ming dynasty Emperor YongLe, Beihai Park was restructured. The lake was expanded and turned into the centerpiece of this magnificient and classical example of a chinese garden.


BeiHai Park continued to function as one of the imperial family's pleasure gardens. The primary imperial palace - here under the Yuan Dynasty - was from now (1420) to be the newly created Forbidden City.


The Qing Dynasty and the White Dagoba

In 1651, the White Dagoba, a Buddhist tower in Tibetan style, was constructed on the ruins of GuanHan Palace at the suggestion of a famous Tibetan Lama priest by the name of NomHan. Emperor Shun Zhi of the Qing dynasty agreed to this project as a gesture of his devotion to the Buddhist faith - and from a desire for unity among China's diverse nationalities.


There are many interesting shops and cafes around the park.

Emperor Shun Zhi also saw in this towering structure, which would be the highest in the capital for many years to come, a vantage point with military significance. In times of danger, flags could be hoisted and lanterns lit around the White Dagoba to summon the imperial troops into battle. An iron cannon was actually installed for the purpose of subduing invading forces but it was later dismantled without a shell ever being fired.


The Qing Dynasty (2) and Emperor QianLong(清朝乾隆期间)

During the reign of Emperor QianLong (1736-1796), a large-scale project was carried out over 30 years to make BeiHai an even grander imperial garden. He spent a large amount of money and mobilized enormous manpower to redecorate it entirely. It was during this time that the five pavilions linked with zigzaging bridges were built at the northwestern shore of the lake. The famous double-sided Nine Dragon Screen was also added during this period.

The project included many other pavilions, halls, galleries and terraces, which made the park even more harmonious in design.

在乾隆统治期间(1736-1796), 他用了30年大规模的改建和扩建北海,使之成为了更为宏伟的皇家园林。他动用了大量的人力物力,耗银220万量。那链接桥梁的五龙亭和著名的双面九龙壁就是那个时候建造的。这个工程还包括很多其他的庙宇、寺庙、长廊、桥、碑等使整个公园的设计更和谐了。

A description by Emperor QianLong of the scenery and the process of reconstruction was inscribed on a stone stele that is mounted in a pavilion at the foot of the hill (YinSheng Pavilion). The inscription is in four languages - Han, Manchurian, Mongolian and Tibetan.

The garden now includes a variety of important imperial family shrines and emperor QianLongs' resting and studying quarters (of which he had many).

The White Dagoba as we see it today was rebuilt in 1741. The basic layout of BeiHai now is much as it was after this reconstruction and remains essentially as it was after Emperor QianLong's additions.




The Legend of the Islands in BoHai Sea

The basic layout of Beihai Park is based on an ancient Chinese legend. According to the legend, there were supposed to be three islands to the east of BoHai Bay where the gods lived. One of them was called PengLai Island where a type of herbal medicine grew that was supposed to extend life.

The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty was keen to live forever so he sent explorers to the islands to look for the longevity medicine, but they failed.

Emperor WuDi of the Han Dynasty also wanted to an eternal life. So he ordered that a lake be dug at the back of his palace, complete with three artificial hills to represent PengLai and the other islands. These legendary hills were also built in the eastern capital of LuoYang during the Sui Dynasty, and in the Tang Dynasty capital of Chang'An.

Such a traditional style of gardening was followed during the succeeding dynasties and Beihai Park was built in this traditional style.

There were, indeed, originally three islands in BeiHai Park lake, but over the years two have been joined to nearby land.

北海的基本布局是根据中国一个古老的神话故事 《西王母传》中描写的仙境建造的。相传渤海东面有“蓬莱”、“瀛洲” 、“方丈”3座仙山。山上神仙居住,藏有长生不老的草药。





The Circular City

Beihai Park Introduction

Beihai Park Videos All ten videos

Beihai Park Introduction
Layout and Map

South Scenic Area

The Circular City

On the Island

Jade Island
YongAn Temple
Pavilion of Benevolent Voice
The White Dagoba
The Long Corridor
FangShan Restaurant
Chamber for Reading the Classics
ZhiZhu Hall

East Scenic Area


North West Scenic Area

Peaceful Heart Garden
Heavenly King Hall
DaCi ZhenRu Hall
The 9 Dragon Screen
The 5 Dragon Pavilions
The 5 Dragon Pavilions (2)
ChanFu Temple and Garden
The Pavilion of Complete Happiness
Boating at BeiHai Park

Beijing Guide

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