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Home : China Guide : Beijing : Shicha Lakes

The Three Rear Lakes (or Shicha Lakes), which include the Shicha Lake or Front Lake (Qianhai), Rear Lake (Houhai) and Jishui Lake, are situated to the north of downtown Beijing between the Di' anmen (Earthly Peace) Gate and the Deshengmen (Moral Victory) Gate. The lakes were given this name to distinguish them from the two lakes of Zhongnanhai and the lake in Beihai Park.

Shicha Lake, BeijingShicha Lake, to the southwest of the Drum Tower, was called the Great Lake (Dapozi) in the Yuan Dynasty. Weeping willows line its shores, and rowboats fill its waters. Young and old through the summer and autumn enjoy swimming.

North along the dyke is the gently arched stone Silver Ingot Bridge (Yindingqiao) that marks the boundary between Shicha Lake and Rear Lake. Rear Lake is much large than Shicha Lake. Standing on the bridge looking westward, Rear Lake appears to be a silver river lined by brilliant green willows. The view at sunset, when the evening clouds atop the Western Hills become tinged with color, is known as "Gazing at the mountains from the silver ingot." Among the trees on the southern bank are thatched pavilions, windbreaks of pine and flower beds, as well as swings, slides, seesaws and merry-go-rounds.

Half a kilometer west of Rear Lake lies the Jishui Lake, also known as Jingye Lake for the Jingye Temple on its northern bank. It is also called Western Lake due to its position west of Shicha Lake.

Shicha Lake, BeijingIn the northeastern corner of Jishui Lake is a small island with a temple built by Emperor Yongle (reigned 1403-1424), originally called the Convent of the Goddess of Mercy Who Calms the Waters. In 1761, Qianlong had the temple reconstructed and erected a stela inscribed with a poem in the emperor' s own calligraphy relating the story of the dredging of Jishui Lake. Behind the temple is a massive stratified rock, which, according to tradition, is a meteorite, which landed here more than 1,000 years ago. If you look very closely, you can see a lion and a chicken in the rock. So the area obtained its name of Chicken and Lion Beach.

In ancient time Jishui Lake was a river port. According to the Yuan history: biography of Guo Shoujing , "In 1923, the emperor (Kublai Khan) passed through Jishui Lake on his way back from Shangdu and observed a convoy of boats liked stern to stern, so numerous as to render the water invisible." This suggests that grain transport boats were unloaded in these lakes as early as the 13th century.

By the time of the Ming Dynasty the canals had silted up to such a degree that grain could no longer be transported so far inland by boat, Jishui Lake became a pleasure resort for high officials and members of the nobility, and pleasure boats replaced the grain convoys. In the early Ming, a scholar named Wang Huang traveled to Beijing and wrote a poem with this line: "The wine boats on the lake are taller than buildings." At that time the shores of the lake were lined with the villas and gardens of the upper class.

Under the Qing, Jishui Lake remained largely unchanged save that the villas became the residences of Manchu imperial princes and high officials. In Prince Chun' s Mansion water from the lake was diverted into the gardens to embellish the mansion grounds. Famous scholars continued to live on the lake's shores up through the Republican period despite the fact that the banks had become rather dilapidated. In 1951 the People's Government dredged the lake. Today the water is so clean that the bottom is clearly visible.

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