Over a period of 30 years, Emperor Qianlong embellished several pavilions, halls and terraces along the north western shore of the lake. To commemorate his mother’s 80th birthday, he had erected the Ten-thousand Buddha Tower (Wanfolou) at the western end of the cluster of buildings and gardens. Unfortunately, the little Buddhas were stolen.
Nearby, in front of the former Temple of Expounding Fortune (Chanfusi), now the site of a botanical garden, stands the Iron Screen, a Yuan-Dynasty wall of volcanic stone carved with strange mythical creatures. A later version, the Nine-Dragon Screen, made of glazed tiles in 1417, can be found further east, scaring evil spirits away not from the temple that used to stand behind, but from the Beihai Sports Ground.
Some of the old buildings around Beihai Lake have been converted to modern use; one of the most well-preserved is the Study of Serenity (JingxinZhai) near the northern apex of the lake. This, deservedly called ‘a garden within a garden, comprises a quiet walled enclave with a summer house, which now accommodates a literary research institute.
The Empress Dowager Cixi used to go to Beihai for picnics on the lake, and today Beihai park continues to be a favorite with citizens enjoying a snack either from some of the small pavilions serving food, or a full meal at the Fangshan Restaurant.