ChengDe (承德) is an 18th-century imperial resort, about 250 km northeast of Beijing, also known as Jehol or “Rehe.” It was discovered by the early Qing emperor Kangxi in the late 17th century, who found the cool summer climate and natural scenery appealing as a summer retreat. Kangxi and his successors built some 72 palaces there by the end of the 18th century, along with replicas of the Potala Palace of the Tibetan Buddhist lamas. Today Chengde is a popular summer retreat for Beijing urbanites.
In September 1793 Chengde was the site of the first British Embassy to China under Lord Macartney, whose part made the long journey from Beijing after finding that the Qianlong emperor had already decamped there for the summer. Macartney refused to prostrate himself before the emperor, and brought gifts from the British East India Company that were designed to open trade with China. The Qianlong emperor turned down his request, declaring that China already possessed all things, and had no use for objects of British manufacture. Although China was still near the height of its military power and commercial prosperity under Qianlong, his refusal to engage the emerging European powers on the verge of the Industrial Revolution may have contributed to China’s rapid decline as a world power.
Chengde came to be seen as unlucky after two 19th-century Chinese emperors died there, including the Jiaqing emperor who was struck down by lightning near the palace in 1820. The complex was largely neglected during the 20th century and still bears many traces of that neglect, although ongoing restoration projects were begun in the 1980’s.