Visitors to the Summer Palace usually enter the Palace from the East Palace Gate, it is considered the front Gate of the Summer Palace because the Qing Emperor Guangxu's inscription "The Summer Palace" hangs over the Gate. In the center of the stairs is a stone carving Two dragons playing with a pearl, it was made during the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), originally, it was put in Yuan Ming Yuan Garden (Garden of Perfection and Brightness and later moved here, the two bronze lions outside the Gate were also made in Emperor Qianlong's reign, the lions were auspicious guardians to ward off evil spirits in ancient China, this Gate was actually the place where the Empress Dowager Ci'xi's sedan chair was carried in.
Entering the Gate, you'll immediately see two crowds on each side of the passage, the crowd on the left were reading the introduction of the Summer Palace, while, on the right hand side, another crowd were looking at a big map of the Palace (Standing in front of the big map and begining introduction.)
The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, it is a hall for political activities in the Summer Palace and that is the Garden of Virtuous Harmony. By the sides of the Gate of Benevolence and longevity is a pair of strange looking stones, these two stones resemble the two lovely figures in the famous Chinese classic novel "Pilgrimage to the West", the left stone is supposed to resemble the Monkey King-the first disciple of the famous Tang Dynasty Monk Xuanzang; the right hand stone looks like Pigsy, Xuanzang's second disciples the two disciples were said to put here to guard the Palace for the emperors.
Now, a three metre high rock blocks th scene, it was transported all the way from Taihu Lake area in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Therefore, it was named Taihu Rock after the Taihu Lake. In the Qing Dynasty, the rock was located in Prince Morgan's Garden in the present site of Beijing University, and it was moved here later for a better view.
The monster looking bronze animal behind the Taihu Rock was called Xuanni (also called bronze Qilin). In the real world, no such animals really existed, it was only an imaginery animal in Chinese mytholody. Just have a close look at the animal, you'll find that it has a head of dragon, the antlers of a deer, the hooves of an ox, and the tail of a lion; Xuanni was supposed to be one of the nine sons, which could distinguish right and wrong, loyal and disloyal. When enemies invaded, they would fall down when they touched the antlers of Xuanni, moreover, it could also prevent the Palace from fire. Originally, there were one pair of Xuanni in Yuan Ming Yuan Garden, but in 1,860 when the Allied Anglo-French Forces invaded China, one was destroyed.
These vats were used for storing water against fire, they were called Tai Ping Vats (bats to guarantee Great Peace), during the war against Japan, the Japanese tried to take these vats home when they invaded Beijing. After 1945, they were sent back from Tianjin.
The bronze dragons and phoenixes are incense burners, as we know, dragon and phoenix are the symbols of Emperor and Empress. When there was a ceremony, usually, the Tibetan incense was burnt to create a solemn atmosphere.
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