From the Stretch-A-Leg Blog

Beijing Summer – Not Cool!

The time of  short sleeves, skirts, sweat and naked bellies has arrived once more to the capital of China. Yes, it is hot. And no, it's not global warming. Beijing's summers have always been hot. But not always has the solution been similar for everyone.

Summer? Summer Palace!

As the common man was trying to escape the heat by finding a place underneath Beijing's trees, dynasties were looking for something greater. To the northwest of Beijing, Longevity Hill - long used by emperors to varying degrees - was turned into the fantastic summer retreat it is today on commission of the Qianlong emperor of the Qing dynasty in 1749.

One thing that we all have in common, no matter how much blue blood flows through our veins, is that during heat we crave water. And water they craved. The massive lake at the Summer Palace, Kunming Lake, took the diligent digging work of 10,000 men. Shovel by shovel the small moat was turned into a lake resembling China's most famous lake, the West Lake in Hangzhou. If you don't feel like traveling all the way down to Hangzhou, just bring the most beautiful part of Hangzhou to Beijing. A thought that must have crossed the Qianlong emperor's mind when ordering the massive works.

Glimpse of Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace

From its distinct resemblance to the West Lake to the positioning of its islands, bridges and buildings, nothing is coincidental. Myriads of stories weave an intriguing story of this beautiful place, merging myth and legend, past and present. But if all you want is to escape the heat, you cannot do much worse than the imperial cure to a boiling Beijing.

Belly of the Beast

There are however times when you don't have access to the Summer Palace. You're stuck in the city, perhaps sitting in a taxi slowly being roasted into a local delicacy. What to do? What do local Beijingers do?

Katrina, one of the expert guides at Stretch-a-Leg, has the answers we've all been looking for.

"Much like in other countries ice cream is a favorite with children. Of course these days there is so much choice it's likely you'll sweat even more just trying to decide what to pick. When our generation was younger ice creams called “Snow doll” (雪娃娃), “Ice Brick”(冰砖), “Torch”(火炬), and “Bitter Coffee”(苦咖啡) were really popular. These days there are 'improved' versions in shops but quite frankly we miss the old taste."


"Old Beijingers still keep their summer tradition to avoid the heat--swimming in the public lakes, such as Qianhai and Shichahai, the most popular Lake District in Beijing. For safety reasons the government doesn't allow swimming in public waters, but that won't stop locals. They have been swimming there since their childhood and know the water better than the rules."

"If you have ever been to Beijing during the summer something you must have noticed is something some people call the Beijing Belly. If you see a man with his shirt pulled up showing his belly (not always good-looking bellies) in public places don't be surprised. It might seem crazy, but if you're hot perhaps it's time to flaunt it."

"While guys show their bellies, girls have a better tool to avoid the heat besides wearing less. During the summer, girls use a “sun umbrella” (太阳伞) for the shade it offers and UV light it blocks. You may also have heard that Asian girls don’t like to get too tanned because of different standards of beauty. Some ladies won't even leave the house without their umbrellas."

"If you forget to bring your umbrella and also refuse to show your belly, then you can always find a couple of people resting in the shade. Someone might even take a nap if he has a long afternoon to kill. Don’t be shy. You are always welcome to join them."

Shrubbery or snobbery

What helps you best to combat the heat? The imperial strategy of getting the hell out of the city and into the beautiful summer retreat with man-made lake or do you swear by Beijing's ice cream and a tanned belly?

Explore the Summer Palace and hutongs with one of our top guides! Cool down imperial style with the full history behind everything you want to know at the Summer Palace. Then go down the hutong alleys, finding the shade and bellies around every corner, fully experiencing the local remedy to Beijing's scorching sun.

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