Ying'Tai or the Fairy Isle is a tiny island in Zhong'Nan'Hai or the Central and South Seas in Beijing.

Flanking the Imperial palace on the west,the two lakes,known as the Central and the South Seas,together with a third,Bei'Haior North Sea,which used to be the Winter Plalce,are often referred to collectively as San 'Hai or the Three Seas. Covering some 100 hectares half of which are stretches of water,the Three Seas were first developed in the 11 th century at the time of Liao (916---1125) and Jin (1115---1234).In the dynasties that followed,namely in Yuan,Ming and Qing, when further lndscaping was done,it became an imperial resort where the emperors and their retinues made brief stays to enjoy themselves.By the Ming Dynasty, Zhong'Nan'Hai had already been developed into something like its size today.

At that time,what is called ying'Tai today was known as Nan'Tai or the South Platform.Further south were paddy fields with hamlets.Thus the emperor and the empress and their retinue would often come to Nan 'Tai to enjoy the scene of pastoral life.It was only after large-scale landscaping efforts during the reigns of Emperor Shunzhi and Emperor Kangxi of Qing that the park resort assumed its present magnificence and grandeur.The man charged with the development of Ying'tai,one Lei Tingchang,was a master artisan nicknamed Lei the style-setter.Both in laying out the grounds to create a secluded and serene setting and in designing the buildings or in inventine names for the landscaping structures,he drew upon what people imagined about the three fairy mountains in the Eastern Seas,namely Ying'Zhou,Peng'Lai and Fang'Zhang,trying to create on this earth a real fairyland of a world that transcended all worldliness.This was the reason why the name Ying'Tai eas decided on .The inscription of this name on the horizontal board above the door of the hall was done by Emperor shunzhi. After that, Ying'Taiwas often used as the summer abod eof Qing emperors and empresses and more than once Emperor kangxi and Emperor Qianlong had held court or given banquets here.

Emperor Kangxi being an enthusiastic angler,Ying'Taiwas an ideal fishing spot for him .Unlike many other anglers,Kangxi liked to have company while angling. Acorking to historical recordsj,kangxi issued an imperial decree in the sixth moon of 1682 to the effect that ministers"may come and report on state affairs at Ying'Tai and ,if there is time to spare,net an easy fish or two ."In a feudal dynasty,it was no doubt a rare honour for a minister to be the emperor's fishing companion.On the other hand,it was an opportunity for the emperor to show his willingness to keep on friendly terms with his ministers and also to let them see how hardworking he was in not overlooking state duties even while having fun.As to what was called "netting an easy fish or two ,"it is said that the eunuchs had already been told to have some live fish tied by fine thread to the bridge pier so that angling was made as easy as merely lifting the hand while the ministers were crossing the bridge.This indeed could be called not just angling for fish but also angling for a good name.

Boating was Emperor Yongzheng's favourite pastime.He would get aboard at Ying'Tai and enjoya cruise on the South Sea.For Emperor Qianlong,one great pleasure was to accompany his mother the empress dowager to Ying'Tai to watch a fireworks display and to give banquets for his ministers in celebration of peace and prosperity in the land.

However,in the eyes of the chinese of this century,the name Ying'Tai is more often a reminder of the tragic fate of Emperor Guangxu.Enthroned when only three years old,Guangxu did not begin to participate in state affairs until 1889 when he was 18 and when the Qing regime,menaced by neighbouring powers, was progressively declining.The young emperor had once said,"I will never allow myself to see the empire fall."After the many defeats of China by foreign powers,Kang Youwei and some other intellectuals were so shaken by the humiliation and shame suffered by the country that beginning from 1888 they seven times memorialized the court stressing the need for reform.In 1895,over1300 ju'rens(second-degree scholars) who were in the capital to take part in the national examination for the third degree jin'shi drew up and signed a petition to the emperor for reform.In chinese history,this is known as Gong'Che'Shang'Shu or the public vehicle memorial,so named because second-degree scholars came to the capital to take part in the examinations by government-supplied transportation.Kang Youwei played the role of an organizer in all this.In 1898,the young emperor made a brave decision,accepting the petition for institutional reform submitted by Kang and others.On June 11 of that year,he proclaimed officially that reform was underway,and his first decree proclaiming reform was signed and issued from Ying'Tai.

The reform movement was nipped in the bud by the conservatives at the court led by the Empress Dowager Cixi who in fact did not want the emperor to have any say in state affairs,still less to allow him to carry out reforms. On the night of September20,1898,Cixi,supported by General Yuan Shikai,forced the young emperor to abdicate,declaringhypocritically mengwhile that"in compliance with the repeated entreaties of the emperor for tutelage in state affairs she has decided to be present at the court beginning form the next day to help administer the affairs of the state."It was exactly one hundred days since the proclamation of the first reform edict on June11.hence in history books,the reform movement is often referred to as the Hundred Days Reform and what happened on Sept.20,1898as the Coup of 1898.

After seizing the throne,Cixi had the emperor put under house arrest on Ying'Tai .From then on ,Guangxu was not only a political nonperson but a victim to extremely cruel persecutions.

There was at the time a bridge connecting Ying'Tai with the north bank of Nan'Hai. The bridge floor was now replaced by movable boards.At the north end of the bridge ,a row of five-bay guard houses was put up on each side where trusted eunuchs in Cixi's personal service kept round-the-clock watch so that the young emperor was completely cut off from the outside world.Also by order of Cixi, Guangxu's favourite concubine Pearl,who had encouraged and supported the emperor all through the Hundred Days Reform,was placed under arrest and incarcerated in an out-if -the-way chamber in the Forbidden City.Story has it that the young emperor,helped bysome of his loyal eunchs ,did manage a crossing at the ridk of his life one dark night and had a secret rendezvous with Pearl.In 1900 when the Eight-Nation Allied Forces were marching on Beiing,the empress dowager fled the capital,taking the deposed young emperor with her under duress.Before her flight ,she ordered that Pearl be disposed of and the girl was drowned by some eunuchs in a well in the plalce.In memory of the ill-fated young lady,peolelater named the well,located in a small courtyard in the eastern sector of the palace, Lady Pearl's Well.

In 1908,the empress dowager said on her deathbed to the effect that on no account should Guangxu be allowed to survive herself.Thus some of her confidential eunuchs were given the secret mission of having the young emperor poisoned to death in his chamber on Ying'Tai where he had been under house arrest for a full ten yuars.He was only 37at the tiem.

It is easy to understand why it was all in vain for Guangxu,Kang Youwei and the others to try to save the Qing empire from decline and fall through reforms.But the miscarriage of the reforms did mean that one more opportunity to make China strong and prosperous and an equal partner among the world's powers was lost.Although the reform movement has not brought the people any real benefits, their sympathy has always lain with the hapless victim.When they think back on what happened on Ying"Tai,their hearts go out to the young emperor for his unfulfilled ambitions and his tragic personal life.

The Qing regime was overthrown barelyh three years after Guangxu's death,but Ying'Tai seems destined to continue to play a role in China's political life.After grabbing power in the Revolution of 1911,Yuan Shikai made Zhong'Nan'Hai his presidential residence in 1913.At the same time,he had his political rival Vice President Li Yuanhong imprisoned on Ying'Tai.Later Yuan Shikai died in grief under nationwide condemnation against his attempts to restore monarchy. In1925 when the Eighth Panchen Lama of Tibet came to Beijing,he had Ying'Tai as his residence.

The main architectural structure on Ying'Tai is a complex of three halls built on a north-south axis,named respectively Xiang'Luan'Ge,Han'Yuan'Dian and Xiang'Zhan'Dian.To the south of the last-named is a smaller architectural unit called peng'Lei'Geand right on the lake Ying'Xun'Ting.throughout the young emperor's ten-yearimprisonment,Han'Yuan'Dian was his bed chamber.East of the hall is Bu'Tong Study where all Qing emperors from Qianlong on down had had their private lessons. In the yard before the study was grown a twin-stem plane tree which gave the study its name,tong being a plane tree in Chinese.

A slope leads down south from Xiang'Zhan'Dian to a petrified ancient tree standing more than two metres tall.This was a tribute from a general stationed in Heilongjiang Rrovince.It is a rare,well-preserved fossil tree of unusual height and girth.Emperor Qianlong liked it very much and had a poem inscribed on it .Now placed in a glass shelter,the fossil tree is a treat to sightseers.

Inside Ying'Xun'Ting are ten stone tablets inscribed with what are called Bailiang-style poems.This is a classical verse composed of four or eight seven-character lines all rhyming with each other.This kind of poem dates back to the Western Han Dynasty (206B.C---A.D.25).IT is knjown that Emperor Wudi was a passionate lover of poetry.He frequently went to Bailiang errace with his ministers where they would compose poems with one person contributing a line, to be followed by others uning the same rhyme but expressing an independent idea until a poem was completed. This later was referred to as th Bailiang-style poem.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China,Ying'Tai was renovated in 1975.Now Zhong'Nan'Hai is ipen to the public.When people step on the stone bridge linking the north bank of the lake with Ying'Tai ,they involuntarily will think back on what had happened here in yuars goneby and come to feel more poignatly the many humiliations and agonies China has experienced on its long and arduous journey to a modern society.

 
        

 

 
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