An Emperor's Playground

About 16 km away from the Forbidden City is the Summer Palace, or Yi He Yuan -- The Garden where Peace is cultivated. This is where the emperor and his court would come when the Beijing summers became brutally hot. Surrounded by wooded hills and lakes, it is comprised of an amazing complex of temples, pavilions, pagodas, and gardens which all work in perfect harmony with the natural surroundings. It is all constructed on a grand scale, much larger than anything Japanese or Korean.

The Sea of Wisdom Temple.

Such was an emperors fascination with the Summer Palace that many neglected their political duties to the state. The most famous was Dowager Empress Cixi who, in 1888, diverted funds meant for the modernization of China's navy to build a huge marble paddle wheel boat instead. As a result of her lack of military interests, the European forces invaded China easily, and sacked the palace in the aftermath.

A military man with not a whole lot on his mind.

I met an Australian dude talking Chinese to some military men and shaking his head in disgust. I asked him what was up. He said, "I've been living in China for the past three years, busting my ass to learn how to speak Mandarin fluently. Now that I can converse with them, I have made the unfortunate discovery that these people simply have nothing to say." That's what will happen when a government suppresses the intelligentsia.

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