Shichahai Lake (The Three Rear Lakes)
Located in central Beijing, Shichahai consists of three lakes called Qianhai (“Front Sea” Lake), Houhai (“Back Sea” Lake) and Xihai (“West Sea” Lake) which extend from the southeast to northwest respectively. It covers an area of 5.4 million square meters, including drainage area of 340,000 square meters. With convenient transportation and favorable environment, it is a well-known scenic attraction of Beijing.
Shichahai Scenic Zone, beginning from the Second Ring Road in the north to Ping’an Avenue in the south and from Di’anmenwai Street in the east to Xinjiekou Street in the west, is a paradise for tourists. It encompasses 146.7 hectares (362.5 acres). The Zone is the only area in the city center where vast open waters, comprised by Xihai (West Lake), Houhaai (back or Rear Lake) and Qianhai (Front Lake ) lakes, exist. More than 40 units for protection of historical relics are located there. They include the former residence of honorary president of People’s Republic of China Soong Ching Ling (1893_1981); Guo Moruo (1892_1978) Museum, which is devoted to the famous writer, poet and historian; and Guanghua Temple.
Located in the southwest of the Drum Tower in beautiful surroundings, Shicha Lake has a history of about 700 years in the Yuan Dynasty (1279_1368). It assumed its present name in the Ming Dynasty (1368_1644). Strolling along its shoreline, the visitor can appreciate the lake’s glimmering blue water, its graceful weeping willows, its twisting railings and the flower-and-tree-covered central island. Pleasure boats are available for rowing and the banks are amply provided with shady places to rest. A swimming area in the lake is open every summer.
In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Shichahai was the terminal of the Grand Canal, along which were abundant teahouses and businesses. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, the canal stopped operation. Shichahai changed from a bustling hub to a quiet place of leisure, regarded as “the best water scenic spot in the city”, having a great appeal to numerous literary people who came here writing poems or essays, as well as nobles and officials who built their houses here. This resulted in the building of mansions, gardens and temples circling the waters. As to the name “Shichahai”, some people believe that it comes from the fact that there were ten temples around the lake in the Ming Dynasty. “Ten” is identical in sound with the word “Shi” in Chinese. Other people hold that the name originated from a temple called “Shichahai Temple” to the northwest bank of Shichahai. Today’s Shichahai is spiritually nurturing the people who come here, adding new flavor of gentleness and beauty to this powerful, ancient Chinese capital.
Along the lake’s zigzagging bank are bars, restaurants, shops and residential houses. The absence of fences separating the buildings gives everyone the access to the beauty of Shichahai. Also, this rare drainage area provides many opportunities for the residents and visitors to hold colorful activities. Pedestrians and bike-riders can enjoy the leafy shade given by the arbors such as willows, white poplars and pagoda trees alongside the lake. In the gardens and on the benches, people socialize and rest. There are a variety of open-air activities in every season, such as skating, boating, playing chess, flying kites, kicking shuttlecock, etc. In the dusk, many people gather together in the parks alongside the lake, dancing and singing. Shichahai is like a green tie representing the community spirit to encourage people to sense the vigor of this humane city.
Shichahai, an example of the historic city of Beijing, incorporates the styles and features of old Beijing. Many of the extant houses and residences have stood for hundreds of years. Wandering around, you can see various remnant doors, piers, eaves, doorframes, carved stones… Many folk-art feature shops, located in the shopping center around Shichahai, such as the kite-shop, paper-cut-shop, embroidery-shop, lantern-shop, etc. make the place particularly attractive. Those businessmen who sell dough figurines, sugar figurines, sugar-coated haws on a stick and balloons are also eye-catching with their beautiful and vivid colors. If you want to look around Shichahai, biking is the best way to do so.
The existing streets and Hutongs (small lanes) will be preserved in Shichahai as the region has been designated as the buffer area of the Forbidden City. The narrow Hutongs are just wide enough for bikes or sightseeing pedicabs. Bicycle rentals, secure bike parking and bike repair shops are available around Shichahai. The tall aspen trees and weeping willows by the lakeside as well as the dense pagoda trees and Chinese jujubes in the Hutongs provide shades and coolness for cycling.