-- Hall of Benevolent Longevity --
Entering the garden from East Palace Gate and turn right, one would see the magnificent
Hall of Benevolent Longevity.
Originally named the Hall of Industrious
Government, the hall was first built in 1750 and is the main hall in the
Summer Palace. It was the place where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu
took charge of state affairs. In 1860, when the Anglo-French allied forces
invaded Beijing, the original building was burned down. In 1890, the hall was
rebuilt and renamed as Hall of Benevolent Longevity by Emperor Guangxu.
In front of the hall, bronze animals, cauldrons, dragons and phoenixes were placed, in
which one called Kylin is the most attractive. With a body covered with fish
scales, the legendary animal has a dragon's head, lion's tail, deer's antlers
and ox's hooves. No wonder Chinese people often called it "Sibuxiang" (Four
Unlikenesses). Dignified and statedly, they add more solemnity to the hall.
Once enter the hall, the first thing come to your eyes is
a red sandalwood throne carved with nine dragons, which is the symbol of
supreme power. By the side of the throne, two big fans made of peacock were
put up to give a solemn atmosphere. In the Song dynasty, two eunuchs would
hold the fans, but in the Qing dynasty, the two fans were fixed by the side of
Behind the throne is a red sandalwood screen, on which 226
Chinese characters meaning "longevity" were written with 100 bats in the
background, symbolizing happiness and longevity. A tablet is hung above the
throne, on which is an inscription meaning those who show benevolence in the
government of the people will live a long life.
Besides, some incense burners in various
shapes were placed in the hall. In formal occasions, incense would be burned inside them.
The two side chambers were prepared for the emperors to
rest and receive officials on formal occasions.
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