“Hey, why is it named 北海 if it’s not part of the ocean?”
The air was chilly, the sun was nowhere to be found, and weather forecasts predicted light drizzles of rain—basically, our visit to Beihai last Saturday couldn’t have had a worse start.
Well, despite the unfriendly weather, our buses still set off to Beihai Park (北海公园—Beihai Gongyuan) a few minutes before 8AM.
Beihai Park is a former imperial garden and now became a well-known public park located in the northwestern part of the Imperial City, Beijing. First built in the 11th century, this is one of the largest of all Chinese parks and contains many structures, palaces and temples that are historically important. Since 1925, the place has been opened to the public as a park.
The first thing I noticed as we entered Beihai’s South Gate was that there were so many locals! I had thought that Beihai would be empty because the weather was unfitting for a visit to a park; but as a boy, was I wrong? We encountered small groups of elders who preoccupied the vacant areas to do Taiji exercises, some preschool children who went on a school trip, and families who took pictures here and there.
As we were crossing one of the many bridges on Beihai’s lake, a friend of mine asked out of curiosity, “Why is this park called 北海 (Běihǎi) anyway? Is this lake part of the northern ocean?” We all laughed at her question, but it was actually very smart of her to ask!
Yes, the word “北” (Běi) means “north”, but do you know that the word “海” (Hǎi) can actually mean “a big lake”? Well, I didn’t. Hence, the name “北海” can literally be translated as “the big lake on the north”!
Based on pure curiosity, I took upon myself to dig deeper about the history behind Beihai Park. Apparently, besides it being a park that containing the city’s largest lake and a landmark of white Tibetan lamaist-styled pagoda, Beihai is the capital’s oldest Imperial garden, with a history dating to 896 years back! Besides the previously mentioned pagoda, Beihai is also the home of the Five Dragon Pavilions, the Nine Dragon Screen and the Jingxin Room—all of which we, unfortunately, did not get to see.
The Five-Dragon Pavilion is five pavilions connected by zigzag bridges built in 1543. In the old days, the emperor and his consorts came to the Five-Dragon Pavilions to fish, watch fireworks or admire the moon. And the Nine Dragon Screen (九龙壁—Jiǔ Lóng Bì) is a type of screen wall with reliefs of nine different Chinese dragons. Such walls are usually found in Chinese palaces and parks.
It really was a shame that the overall situation and weather weren’t very fitting for us to stroll for longer and see more of the hidden beauties in this history-filled Beihai Park. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky enough to get some sunshine and a nicer breeze on our next school trip!