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Beijing, Monday, Oct. 15
After our morning in the hutong, a visit to Yiheyuan, the imperial summer palace, presented quite a contrast. The wealth and power of the Qing dynastic rulers—and their ultimate corruption and downfall—are embodied in the famous marble boat built by the Dowager Empress Cixi with money that had been set aside by her counselors to strengthen the Chinese Navy and resist foreign influence.
The marble boat went nowhere, as did Qing efforts to resist the Europeans and Japanese. The palace—actually a complex of buildings and parks along a large lake—lies in the northwest quadrant of present-day Beijing. First built in the late 18th century by the Qianlong emperor, the palace became a convenient pressure point for European generals who, perhaps in order to prove that they could easily do the same to the Forbidden City, twice destroyed Yiheyuan.
It was here that the Guangxu emperor lived under house arrest for the last 10 years of his life. In 1898, he tried to institute reforms and move toward a constitutional monarchy, but the reactionary Dowager and her supporters put a stop to that.
After Guangxu’s death, Cixi’s 3-year-old nephew became the last emperor. Today, Yiheyuan is a major tourist attraction and a beautiful park (with an admission fee) for the citizens of Beijing. In the end, its history is less important than its beauty. We visited on the most perfect of October days, so I’ll keep this posting short and let the pictures speak for themselves.