China Travel Guide

Hebei - Chengde

Incense Burner
Incense Burner

The mountain resort at Chengde (Bishu Shanzhuang) was chosen by the Kangxi emperor in 1703 as a means of eluding the hot summers in the Forbidden City. Set in a river valley surrounded by mountains, the park was strategically secure and allowed the hardy Manchu to engage in hunting and martial sports. The rural setting beyond the Great Wall reminded the Manchu rulers of their homelands to the northeast. The eclectic temple design of the surrounding Eight Outer Temples put visiting Mongol and tribal chieftains at ease, so the emperor could exploit their allegiances.

hebei - chengde

Visitors' checklist

  • Chengde. 150 miles (250 km) NE of Beijing
  • 5, 7, 11, 15 from Chengde station

Bishu Shanzhuang

  • Bishu Shanzhuang
  • 5:30am–6:30pm daily

Outer Temples

  • Outer Temples
  • daily (temples are not all open at the same time)

Star sights

  • Putuozongcheng Miao
  • Puning Si
  • Bishu Shanzhuang

Xumifushou Zhi Miao
This temple was built to impress the visiting Panchen Lama who came to Chengde on the occasion of the Qianlong emperor’s birthday in 1780.

Puning Si
This temple combines Han Chinese designs at the front with typical Tibetan structures at the back. The highlight is the majestic wooden statue of Guanyin in the main hall (see Puning Si, Chengde).

Pule Si
The most impressive hall in Pule Si, the Temple of Universal Joy, is the yellow-tiled twin conical-roofed hall which has strong echoes of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Bishu Shanzhuang
The southern section of the resort contains an array of simple but elegant palaces, cool shaded lakes and waterside pavilions, best viewed from a rowing boat.

Putuozongcheng Miao
Built to resemble the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the temple is the largest of the Eight Outer Temples and has displays of thangkas (Tibetan religious scrolls), Tibetan religious ornaments, and two scaled-down sandalwood pagodas.

Getting around
It is possible to see the temples and resort in a one-day minibus tour. However, it is quite a tough day. If time allows, try a more leisurely walk around the resort one day and hire a taxi for the temples the next.

The Kangxi emperor pictured in his library
The Kangxi emperor pictured
in his library

The Kangxi Emperor
Kangxi (1654–1722) was the second Qing emperor to reign from Beijing, and held on to power for 61 years, the longest reign in China’s history. His rule was, in comparison with other emperors, frugal, practical, and conscientious. During his reign the empire increased in size and wealth, and generally enjoyed peace and prosperity. He taxed the farmers moderately and protected the peasantry, building up a healthy rural economy. An outstanding militarist, he was also a patron of the arts and sciences inviting Jesuit scholars to the Chinese court. He was followed by his fourth son, Yongzheng (r.1723–35), and then his grandson Qianlong (r.1736–95), who idolized him so much that he resigned as emperor after sixty years so as not to outdo him.

Puning Si, Chengde
One of the most impressive outer temples at the Imperial Summer Retreat at Chengde, Puning Si (Puning Temple) was built in 1755 by the Qianlong emperor to commemorate the defeat of Mongol rebels. The whole temple complex is a harmonious synthesis of Chinese and Tibetan styles of architecture. As part of a series of halls ascending the slope of a mountain, the temple’s pinnacle is the Mahayana Hall, in which towers one of the world’s largest wooden statues, a vast 72-ft (22-m) high representation of the Buddhist goddess of compassion, Guanyin.

Visitors' checklist

  • 5 miles (8 km) NE of Chengde, Hebei Province
  • 8:30am–4:30pm daily
  • Chengde International Travel Service, 0314 203 0741

Star features

  • Guanyin
  • Mayahana Hall
Incense Burner
Incense Burner

Puning Si
This illustration shows the Tibetan-styled rear section of the temple complex. This part uses several terraces to emphasize differences of height and scale, whereas the traditional Chinese part of the complex consists of a symmetrical series of buildings on a single axis.

hebei - chengde - Puning Si

Prayer Wheels
In Tibetan Buddhism, sacred mantras and prayers are inserted into the decorated cylinders and activated by spinning the wheel clockwise.

Stupa (Chorten)
These monuments represent Buddhas’s physical presence and traditionally held sacred relics or even the remains of revered lamas.

Mayahana Hall
Called Dacheng Ge in Chinese, the 122-ft (37-m) high hall symbolizes the palace of Buddha on Mount Sumeru, the center of the Buddhist world.

Puning Si is the only working temple at Chengde and the monks can be seen praying in the morning.

The huge effigy of Guanyin, also known to Buddhists as Avalokitesvara, is fashioned from five different types of wood. Viewing galleries can be climbed for views above ground level.

Buddhist symbols
Guanyin’s hands hold an array of Buddhist symbolic instruments – the pure sound of the bell is said to drive away evil spirits.

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