Construction on the Chengde Summer Resort, also known as the Chengde Mountain Resort or the Jehol Summer Palace, began in the 42nd year of the Kangxi reign (1703). The summer resort was both the largest Qing dynasty imperial garden and also the best preserved among existing detached imperial palaces. As the Chinese name Bishu Shanzhuang suggests, the resort is a place where emperors sought refuge from the Beijing summer heat. However, it was much more than just a summer retreat. The Jehol area where the resort was located was originally Mongolian pasturelands and the frontier between the Qing Empire and north Asia. Between the 5th and 9th month of each year, Qing emperors came here for the autumn hunt and to receive Mongolian and Tibetan living buddhas and noblemen as well as foreign envoys. Many key decisions on state affairs were reached at the Chengde Summer Resort, making it an indubitable center of political power in the Qing Empire, second only to the Forbidden City.
With the resort’s increasing importance, successive Qing emperors devoted considerable resources to its upkeep. The expansion of the surrounding administrative area, the construction of palaces between Chengde and Beijing, the resort layout and landscaping, the design of the gate towers and pavilions, and the management of the hunting enclosure all reflect the diverse and multi-ethnic character of the Qing empire, which blended the political systems of the Manchus, Mongols, and Chinese, the cultures of the Chinese heartland and frontiers, and Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese religious beliefs. This exhibition is thus divided into the following six sections: The Resort as Microcosm of the Qing Empire, The Ruler’s Multiple Identities, Religious Tolerance, Local Administration in the Multi-ethnic Empire, Linguistic Diversity, and Politics and Ritual. By presenting important artifacts and archives from the National Palace Museum collection, they offer an insight into the significance of the Chengde Summer Resort.
It has been noted that the history of the Chengde Summer Resort represents half of the history of the Qing Dynasty. At the height of the Qing Empire, as the emperor and his vast entourage crossed the Great Wall, the Mongolian noble class in the north would send delegations to greet him, with no sign of tension from the battles they had fought. The Qing emperors were meticulous in their development of the northern mountain resort and deliberately set out to woo Mongolian and Tibetan leaders. As a result, the Jehol area thrived and people of various ethnicities visited and settled there, ushering in a panorama reflective of the characteristics of cultural diversity in the Qing Empire.