Charmed by Chengde's dramatic setting, pleasant climate, and plentiful game, Emperor Kangxi ordered construction of the first palaces of the Mountain Resort in 1703. Within a decade, this once sleepy settlement boasted dozens of ornate temples, pagodas, and walled grasslands spread out across 1,500 acres. By the end of the 18th century nearly 100 imperial structures had been built, with Chengde becoming the epicenter of Chinese political and cultural life whenever the emperor and his entourage decamped here from Beijing.
The Mountain Resort and its surrounding temples were more than just an Imperial retreat, however. Besides luxurious quarters for the emperor and his court, great palaces and temples were constructeed to house visiting dignitaries—particularly China's border groups like the Mongols and Tibetans—and to woo them with the might and wealth of the Qing empire. Not forgetting, of course, that the Qing also came from beyond the Great Wall as the pastoral Manchu. The
location was useful, as Chengde lay far enough away from Beijing to host talks with border groups who wouldn't otherwise set foot in the capital. From the interconnected palaces, each built in different architectural styles, to the replicas of famous temples representing different Chinese religions and ethnic groups, everything about the resort was designed to reflect China's diversity. In retrospect, it was as much a Qing statement of intent as it was a holiday home.
Today, the palace and its walled-off landscape of lakes, grasslands, hills, and forests dominates the center of Chengde. The steep hills in the northern half of the park, crowned by stone walls that resemble the Great Wall, afford beautiful panoramas, as does a slog up the nine-tiered pagoda in the center. Even during peak season (April to October) it rarely feels crowded.