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Cultural Variety Show Uncovers New Charm of the Summer Palace

2020-11-03 15:47:00 Source:China Today Author:ZHANG XIAO
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The well-known Longevity Hill faces the Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace.

A recent trendy cultural variety show is inspiring people to rediscover the Summer Palace, a royal garden in Beijing built about 270 years ago. The show, with its artful and entertaining revelation of the globally renowned palace’s scenic beauty, cultural relics, and history, has attracted billions of views and comments online.

An Imperial Garden’s Maiden Variety Show

Following on from cultural variety shows about such important historical sites as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall, the 10-episode new show titled “Waiting for You at the Summer Palace” has received much positive public attention since its first airing in early July this year. Popular celebrities Zhang Guoli, Zheng Shuang, and Wang Ziyi starred in the show as tour guides of the imperial garden, showing viewers the garden’s rarely visited corners and sharing little known stories with new perspectives.

Most Chinese are very familiar with the Summer Palace. Even foreigners who have been to China know the scenic spots of the imperial garden well, such as the Long Corridor, the Kunming Lake, and the 17-Arch Bridge. However, the stories behind these spots and some details of the garden usually go unknown by visitors. And this is precisely what the new show aims to explore.

Along with its high ratings, the show has sparked heated discussions online leading to more than two billion views and comments on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website. Derivative topics have seen more than five billion comments and views. Official newspapers like the People’s Daily and Guangming Daily also endorsed the show for its innovative format.

According to Yang Hua, director of the Summer Palace, the garden management organized an expert panel to fact check every detail of each episode before airing them. During the filming, to balance the show’s entertainment value and cultural connotations, Summer Palace’s experts and filming crew always worked together to get the best results. Much of the show’s success is due to the devotion and meticulous work of the participating staff.

However, the biggest challenge was how to select the optimum parts of the Summer Palace for filming. “We followed the following principles: first, impart the correct historical information and base each story on historical facts; second, add fashion elements in order to appeal to more young people; third, focus on the history around Suzhou Street, present the prosperity of the centuries-old ‘business street’ with the newly established creative cultural stores; fourth, show viewers around those areas not open to visitors to appease their curiosity,” said Zhao Xiaoyan, director of the Summer Palace’s research office.

All these efforts shaped the 10-episode quality show, adding to viewers’ understanding and aesthetic appreciation of the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace Lifestyle

Apart from historical stories, the Summer Palace show also features creative cultural kiosks. The show found an innovative way to better present traditional cultural values embodied by the Summer Palace in the new era. To do this, the celebrity tour guides were tasked to explore eight creative cultural kiosks along the Suzhou Street. During the show’s explorations, the unique cultural charms of the imperial garden were fully revealed.

The Summer Palace’s creative cultural products incorporating modern fashionable elements create a new unique craft sector, while also helping ordinary people to get to know more about traditional culture.

The Summer Palace’s innovative cultural products mesh modern people’s needs for a quality life with traditional Chinese horticulture. Thus, quintessential traditional Chinese culture can be fused in all aspects of people’s life.

In March 2019, the Summer Palace released its collection of cosmetic products featuring creative designs, which soon gained popularity among female consumers. Its “Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix,” series of lipsticks, saw a sale of more than 4,000 on its debut day.

What’s more, in August 2019, the Summer Palace released its sightseeing passports, which included pictures of nine classic scenic spots. The passport soon became a trendy item for visitors, who would take a photo at each selected scenic spot, holding up the passport page featuring the spot they were at. In addition, by scanning the QR codes printed on each passport page, it links to a web page which provides stories behind each scene. There are plans to add music and games to the web page.

Cultural creativity is also found in jewelry. The Summer Palace and the famed Chinese jewelry brand Caibai collaborated to release a collection of jewelry accessories, which were inspired by the landscaped gardens and sculptures of the Summer Palace. The rich cultural connotations soon made the jewelry collection a sensation.

Behind a succession of successful creative cultural products is a team only formed about a year ago. According to Yang Hua, the Summer Palace formally started to make cultural products in 2018. Its cultural product creation office was formally established in early 2019. During the short span of only one year, the Summer Palace witnessed its creative cultural products increase to more than 1,000 in 2019 from only around 100 in 2018. Revenue rocketed accordingly to RMB 90 million (US $13.39 million) from RMB 10 million (US $1.49 million).

According to Du Juan, director of the Summer Palace’s cultural product creation office, their products’ popularity should be accredited to their unique positioning: accentuating the lifestyle embodied by the Summer Place. Given the success of the culturally crafted products, more are planned to meet the demand of a growing young consumer base.


A model demonstrating traditional Han Chinese attire and cosmetic products featuring creative cultural designs, introduced by the Summer Palace.

New Experience

The 10-episode Summer Palace show has made the royal garden’s scenic spots even more enchanting and the lifestyle it represents more appealing. It also sparks an interest in people to take a trip to the Summer Palace to experience the lifestyle it represents.

The Summer Palace has prepared for this. According to Yang Hua, by digging into its cultural and historical background, the imperial garden is introducing a range of exhibitions, giving an even broader dimension to visitors’ experience.

At the Summer Palace, what you can always spot are families boating on the Kunming Lake, girls dressed in traditional Han garments strolling on the lake’s bank, and visitors meandering along Suzhou Street, tasting traditional snacks, and enjoying the ancient peaceful lifestyle. An ideal retreat for urbanites to unwind, the Summer Palace is waiting for people to explore its many charms.  

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