Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
A little way further along the main path, to the right, the Deheyuan (Palace of Virtue and
Harmony) is dominated by a three-storey theatre, complete with trap doors in the stage for
surprise appearances and disappearances by the actors. Theatre was one of Cixi's main pas-
sions - she even took part in performances sometimes, playing the role of Guanyin, the god-
dess of mercy. Today some of the halls function as a museum of theatre, with displays of
costumes, props and waxworks of Cixi and attendants. The most unusual exhibit is a vintage
Mercedes-Benz, a gift to the warlord Yuan Shikai in the early twentieth century and the first
car to appear in China.
The next major building along the path is the lakeside Yulangtang (Jade Waves Palace). This
is where the Emperor Guangxu, then still a minor, was kept in captivity for ten years while
Cixi exercised his powers. A pair of decorative rocks in the front courtyard, supposed to re-
semble a mother and her son, were put there by Cixi to chastise Guangxu for insufficient fi-
liality. The main hall contains a tablet of Cixi's calligraphy reading “The magnificent palace
inspires everlasting moral integrity”. One character has a stroke missing; apparently no one
dared tell her.
North of here, behind Renshoudian, are Cixi's private quarters, three large courtyards con-
nected by a winding gallery. The largest, the Leshoutang (Hall of Joy and Longevity), houses
Cixi's hardwood throne. The large table in the centre of the main hall was where she took her
infamous meals of 128 courses. The chandeliers were China's first electric lights, installed in
1903 and powered by the palace's own generator.
The north shore of Kunming Lake
From Leshoutang, the Long Corridor leads to the northwest corner of Kunming Lake.
Flanked by various temples and pavilions, the corridor is actually a 700m covered way, its
inside walls painted with more than eight thousand restored images of birds, flowers, land-
scapes and scenes from history and mythology. Near its western end is Cixi's ultimate flight
of fancy, a magnificent lakeside pavilion in the form of a 36m-long marble boat , boasting
two decks. Completed using funds intended for the Chinese navy, it was regarded by Cixi's
acolytes as a characteristically witty and defiant snub to her detractors. Her misappropriations
helped speed the empire's decline, with China suffering heavy naval defeats during the 1895
war with Japan. Close to the marble boat is a jetty - the tourist focus of this part of the site -
with rowing boats for hire.
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