Yuanmingyuan Park --An Eternal Monument
Yuanmingyuan (Garden of perfect splendor)
is renowned throughout the world for its fabled charms and
association with Chinese modern history. Extolled as the "Garden
of Gardens" and the "Versailles of the East" during its heyday.
It was an imperial summer resort painstakingly built and repeatedly
expanded under the personal supervision of five emperors of
the Qing Dynasty.
Located in the northern part of Haidian
District in Beijing, Yuanmingyuan is composed of three comparatively
independent but interconnected gardens: Yuanmingyuan, Changchunyuan
(Garden of Eternal Spring), and Qichunyuan (Garden of Blossoming
Spring). Covering an area of about 350 hectares, Yuanmingyuan
was a vast landscaped garden at once grand in scale and enchanting
in scenery. Its green hills and exquisite architecture were
laid out with picturesque appeal, and decorated with thriving
trees and beautiful flowers. As to close sights, the rolling
hills and maze of streams and lakes divided the whole garden
into more than 100 scenes, their captivating beauty enhanced
by a host of pavilions, corridors, islands, and bridges. About
40 percent of the garden was covered by rivers and lakes,
connected into an integral system by winding streams and dotted
with more than 250 hills and rock formations. The water's
constant murmur rendered life and soul to the hills and rocks.
And together they transformed the entire complex into a landscaping
and horticultural miracle which stood comparison with the
beauty of the natural scenery south of the Yangtze River.
Yuanmingyuan was not only famed for its
beauty. It was also an imperial museum with a vast collection
of cultural treasures. The French writer Victor Hugo once
remarked, "With all its treasures, Notre Dame in Paris is
no match for Yuanmingyuan, that enormous and magnificent museum
in the East." Furniture made of red sandalwood decorated the
numerous halls in which countless rare cultural relics were
on display. As one of the four most famous imperial libraries,
the Wenyuan Hall (Hall of Literary Profundity) in the garden
originally housed such precious ancient books as The Complete
Library of Four Branches of Books (《四库全书》), Gems of the Complete
Library of Four Branches of Books (《四库全书荟要》), and The Completed
Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times
Alas, the skill and sophistication of the
builders of this historic "Garden of Gardens," and the cultural
treasures contained within it, failed to escape the destruction
inflicted on China by the Western powers. In October 1860,
the Anglo-French forces sacked and looted Yuanmingyuan and
burned it to the ground. From then on, the garden suffered
continual damage at the hands of the warlords, bandits, and
the Eight-Power Allied Forces. * Its former beauty and glory
no more, the entire garden lay in clusters of ruins and debris.
In hushed silence it bore witness to the atrocities of the
Western powers and the corruption and incompetence of the
Qing rulers, and admonished the Chinese people never to forget
The wheels of history, however, move on
inexorably. Yuanmingyuan has since undergone great changes,
after the birth of the People's Republic. The Chinese government
has attached great importance to the preservation of the ruins.
The district and municipal governments have placed Yuanmingyuan
on a list of key cultural sites under special protection.
Residential land has been requisitioned, and massive reforestation
efforts have been carried out. Decades of painstaking work
has turned half of the garden into green groves teeming with
hundreds of thousands of trees. Most of the building foundations
have been unearthed, and the remains of over a dozen scenic
rock formations duly preserved. The existing carved marble
masonry of the European Palaces has been pieced together to
become a tourist attraction in its own right.
A short journey back in history is revealing.
To facilitate such a journey, the local government of Haidian
District set up an administrative office for Yuanmingyuan
in November 1976, which has made remarkable progress in protecting
the ruins and reforesting the area. The framework of the European
Palaces has been partly restored. Roads and basic facilities
for the eastern half of the garden have been built and gradually
improved. As a result, the number of tourists attracted to
the site is increasing annually.
In November 1979, the Yuanmingyuan History
Exhibition Center was formally inaugurated, to the delight
of visitors from at home and abroad. By 1997 the center had
received more than 9.8 million visitors.
On October 18, 1980, at a conference marking
the 120th anniversary of the destruction of the old imperial
summer palace, Soong Ching Ling, Shen Yanbing, Xi Zhongxun
and over 100 other state leaders and prominent personages
initiated a proposal on the preservation, restoration, and
utilization of Yuanmingyuan. The Institute for the Study of
Yuanmingyuan was established on the same day, thereby kindling
extensive public interest in the study and preservation of
this "Garden of Gardens."
A garden destroyed during a nation's most
traumatic years is bound to be revived in times of prosperity.
In 1983 the State Council endorsed the General Plan for the
Construction of Beijing. This document defined the ways and
means for the development of Yuanmingyuan as a historic park.
Yet, due to events in recent history, more than 2,000 mu (1
mu=1/15 hectare) of land in the park had been converted into
farmland. To find a way out for the farmers, therefore, became
a difficult problem. In September 1984 this problem was solved.
At the suggestion of Zhang Huanwu, Du Hui, Shi Dingchao and
other leaders of the Haidian District, and with the support
of the Institute for the Study of Yuanmingyuan and people
from all walks of life, the Administrative Office launched
a project to rally the efforts of the farmers to develop the
park collectively. This marked another major step for the
reconstruction of Yuanmingyuan.
The guiding principle for the park's development
is to transform the lakes and streams and plant trees on a
large scale, while accentuating the importance of the historical
ruins as a prominent feature of Yuanmingyuan. Accordingly,
park workers and staff members have spared no efforts to preserve
the sights, reconstruct the buildings, and restore the water
system, hills, and rock gardens. Their efforts made it possible
for the Yuanmingyuan Park to be opened to the public on a
trial basis in June 1988. In the same year, the park was designated
by the State Council as a key cultural site at the national
To highlight the characteristics of the
ruins, the Administrative Office has put them under meticulous
care during the course of restoration. They have cleared certain
sites, and erected description boards for the benefit of visitors.
Over the past decade, they have repaired bridges, paved roads,
cleared lakes, and reforested the hills. Furthermore, they
have built many service facilities and purchased more than
300 pleasure-boats to ply the serene waters of the garden.
Thus visitors from all over the world can now capture some
of the original beauty of this summer resort, and appreciate
the glamour of more than a dozen replicas of ancient buildings,
under the cooling shade of glorious trees. The district and
municipal authorities and the former State Education Commission
also designated Yuanmingyuan as a national education base.
The eastern half of the garden has gradually
taken shape, where a number of scenic areas are open to tourists,
such as the fuhai Scenic Area, the eastern part of Qichunyuan,
and the European Palaces of Changchunyuan, which have regained
their past glory with green hills and blue water enhanced
by luxuriant trees and fragrant flowers, The park has also
become the venue for a series of annual festivals. Including
the Spring Outing Festival, the Lotus Flower Festival, and
the Chrysanthemum Festival.
Having been open to the public for a decade.
Yuanmingyuan still has a long way to go to become a full-fledged
park of historic ruins. For example, its western part is crying
for development , and more funds are needed for this, as well
as for many other purposes. The Administrative Office is making
every effort to tackle these difficulties so that they can
complete the restoration of the park in the early 21th century.