There are numerous attractions for tourists' Beijing tours. Among them is Yuanmingyuan which is a destroyed royal park. The following give you the history of this place.
YuanMingYuan, (圓明園) located at north-west Beijing, is called the Old Summer Palace by tourists to distinguish it from the nearby Summer Palace (頤和園YiheYuan). Actually YuanMingYuan was a large imperial park of three separate parks viz. the Garden of Perfection and Brightness (圓明園Yuanmingyuan) to the west, the Garden of Ten Thousand (Eternal) Springs (萬春園Wanchunyuan) to the south and the Garden of Everlasting Spring (長春園Changchunyuan) to the east, all centered around Fuhai, (福海 Lake/Sea of Fortune/Blessings). The latter two gardens were added during the Qianlong Reign. The Garden of Ten Thousand (Eternal) Springs Wanchunyuan was also known as Yichunyuan (怡和園 Garden of Exquisite Spring).
Anyone who appreciates beauty and human enterprise will be outraged when they visit the present YuanMingYuan. This was once a beautiful imperial park, with exquisite gardens, Chinese palaces and Western Baroque buildings, treasures of art and cultural relics and an imperial library of irreplaceable books. It was plundered and razed to the ground by the barbaric Anglo-French forces in 1860 under the order of Lord Elgin (James Bruce 1811-1863), son of the famous British lover of Greek art who stole the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens.
It was a tragedy that YuanMingYuan took so many years to raise to glory but only a few days of wanton destruction in 1860 to obliterate. Such was a painful waste for humanity, this fruit of man’s ingenuity, conceived as a Garden of all Chinese Gardens. Again, in 1900 the allied forces of the Eight Powers invaded Beijing and sacked the remaining buildings in the park. Many priceless artifacts that were plundered made their ways to the museums and private collections in Europe.
Under the order of Premier Zhou Enlai, Yuanmingyuan became a park to remind the Chinese and the world of the destruction wrought by European colonial powers to a harmless and priceless cultural entity that rightly belongs to mankind. The only surviving building was Zhengjuesi (正覺寺 Enlightenment Temple) at the southern part in Wanchunyuan. The other remains are the broken marble columns, some at the Peking University campus and the Beijing Library courtyard.
The garden was already in use in the 12th century AD during the Liao (Khitan) dynasty, but major construction was only started in 1709 during the Kangxi Reign, and completed 150 years later. The compound covered an area of some 350 hectares (about 150,000 square meters) equal to that of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City). Artisans were recruited from all over China to enact the exquisite Chinese garden settings, the mountain scenes and the a hundred odd palaces, pavilions and halls with bridges, pagoda and temples. A third of the ground was given to nature in the form of streams, ponds, rockeries, hillocks, cliffs, ravines and caves.
At the southern sector in Wanchunyuan was once three rows of beautifully designed palaces centralized by the Hall of Uprightness and Brilliance 正明殿, the site of official imperial business. The sole remaining building of Zhengjuesi west of the front gate of Wanchunyuan is now under restoration. It was part of a temple complex of 2.5 acres built by the Qianlong Emperor for the imperial family, and it comprises of Sanshengdian (三聖殿Hall of Three Sages), Wenshuting (文殊停 Manjusri or Wenshushiyi Bodhisattva Pavilion), Zuishanglou (最上樓 Top Tower). The European buildings and Fountains were at the north-east in Changchunyuan, and the ruins here are the best preserved relics in the garden.
The future of Yuanmingyuan was one of contending arguments as to rebuild it to its former glory or to let it stay as a lesson of destructive Western imperialism for the Chinese people. It has been formally decided that the Western relics should remain, and the remaining areas restored to their previous state. The present park has trees replanted and paths and bridges renovated, but nothing similar to the splendor before its destruction. In 1984, half a million cubic meters of water was diverted from the Minyun Reservoir into a 28 hectare lake, a renewed Fuhai (the Lake of Fortune). The restoration will affect one fifth of Yuanmingyuan and includes the enactment of the impressive Dagongmen 大宮門Palace Gate.
For the historically minded, one must not miss the museum elaborating the history of YuanMingYuan and its future restoration. In this museum is a copy of a letter written in 1861 by Victor Hugo condemning the destruction by the invading Anglo-French troops as barbaric. My visit to Yuanmingyuan in 1999 was rather painful when I saw a lake with Western boats, a Western-style fun park for children and a section with South Pacific buildings. Surely, the park administrator has no lingering knowledge of Chinese history and culture.
A smaller Yangmigyuan has been constructed in Shenyang in the northern Liaoning Province. The area is only 2000 square meters with numerous buildings, scenic sites and bridges. However, the largest building was reduced to a tenth of the original size. If Shenyang is too far, one can always visit Shezhen to see a replica of the European baroque palaces and fountains. Shenzhen is just two hours from Hong Kong or Guangzhou. The buildings in Renaissance style have Chinese glazed tiled roofs, reflecting of enhanced Sino-Western beauty. Here, one can admire the exact replicas and understand the beauty and glory of a former Yuanmingyuan in daylight or under night lighting, as in the Shenzhen photos below.
Lastly, what happened to those Yaunmingyuan artifacts stolen from China? The Yuanmingyuan fountain had twelve animal heads sprouting water from their mouths. In April and May 2000, three heads, the ox, monkey and tiger, were auctioned by Sotheby and Christie in the face of widespread protests from Chinese worldwide. However, they were bought for US $3.8 million by a Beijing company called Poly Group, which out of patriotism, had them housed in a museum. The animal heads were also sent on exhibition tours to various cities in China. Beside these three returned animal heads, the remaining ones are in France, Japan and Taiwan, plus some unaccounted for.
If you have more traveling questions about this place, you can contact with China tour operator.
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