The Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuan Ming Yuan (the Gardens of Perfect Brightness), and originally called the Imperial Gardens, was a complex of palaces and gardens in Beijing. It is located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) northwest of the walls of the Imperial City, built in the 18th and early 19th century, where the emperors of the Qing Dynasty resided and handled government affairs (the Forbidden City was used for formal ceremonies).
Known for its extensive collection of garden and building architectures and other works of art.In 1860 during the Second Opium War, two British envoys, a journalist for The Times and their small escort of British and Indian troopers met with the Royal Prince to negotiate. Instead they were confined and tortured, resulting in twenty deaths.The British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin, retaliated by ordering the destruction of the palace, which was then carried out by French and British troops.
The Old Summer Palace is located in Haidian District just outside the west gate of Tsinghua University, north of Peking University, and east of the Summer Palace. The postal address is: 28 Qinghua West Road, Beijing, 100084.
Overview Of The Site
The Imperial Gardens at the Old Summer Palace were made up of three gardens:
- Garden of Perfect Brightness proper
- Garden of Eternal Spring
- Elegant Spring Garden
Together they covered an area of 3.5 square kilometres (860 acres). They were almost 5 times the size of the Forbidden City grounds, and 8 times the size of the Vatican City
.On the grounds stood hundreds of structures: such as halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, gardens, lakes, and bridges. Several famous landscapes of southern China had been reproduced in the Imperial Gardens, hundreds of masterpieces of Chinese art and antiquities were stored in the halls, making the Imperial Gardens one of the largest collections in the World
. Some unique copies of literary work and compilations were also stored inside the Imperial Gardens.
The Old Summer Palace is often associated with the 'Western mansions' (Xīyáng Lóu) section of 18th century European-style palaces, fountains and waterworks, and formal gardens. The designers of these structures built of stone were the Jesuits Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoist, who were employed by the Qianlong emperor to satisfy his taste for exotic buildings and objects.
Sometimes, visitors unfamiliar with the former layout of the Old Summer Palace are misled to believe that it consisted primarily of European-style palaces. In fact, the area of the Imperial Gardens where the European-style buildings were located was along the back of the Eternal Spring Garden, and was small compared to the overall area of the gardens. More than 95% of the Imperial Gardens were made up of essentially Chinese-style buildings. There were also a few buildings in Tibetan and Mongol styles, reflecting the diversity of the Qing Empire.
There are currently several plans in China for rebuilding the Imperial Gardens, but such moves have been opposed on the grounds that they will destroy an important relic of modern Chinese history. In addition, any rebuilding would be a colossal undertaking, and no rebuilding of above-the-ground structures has been approved. However, the lakes and waterways in the eastern half of the gardens have been dug up again and refilled with water, while hills around the lakes have been cleared of brushwood, recreating long-forgotten vistas. Several temples located inside the Old Summer Palace grounds have also been refurbished and rebuilt.
To this day many relics which were taken from the gardens remain in foreign museums and private collections. Although the Chinese government has tried to recover them, only a few statuettes from The Eternal Spring garden of the Yongzheng Emperor have actually been returned. These are displayed in the National Museum.