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'Garden of gardens' to undergo revamping
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-17 00:57

Work to rehabilitate the beauty of Yuanmingyuan, China's great imperial garden, has achieved initial success as the western part of the garden has been excavated from the dust of ages.

The picture shows today's Yuanmingyuan in Beijing. [file]
The picture shows today's Yuanmingyuan in Beijing. [file]
The rehabilitation of the garden aims to protect its present condition, rather than reverting to the prosperity of old days, said Wang Shiren, a renowned heritage expert who is an adviser to the protection project.

The western part, including two lakes and 11 islands which cover a total area of 18 hectares, refers to the core areas of one of the three parks of Yuanmingyuan, said Wang.

Located on the northwestern outskirts of Beijing, Yuanmingyuan was first built in 1709 and underwent 150 years of construction under five emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Covering a total area of 350 hectares and consisting of three independent but interconnected parks, Yuanmingyuan was once described as the "garden of gardens" for its luxurious palaces and mansions in both Eastern and Western styles.

"Actually, Yuanmingyuan was the real imperial power centre during the heyday of the Qing Dynasty since the emperors usually spent most of their time at the garden, handling administrative affairs. The Imperial Palace in downtown Beijing was likely just a symbol of imperial authority at that time," said Wang.

However, its former prosperity vanished when the garden was looted and burned down by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War, and then further destroyed by the allied army of eight powers in 1900.

Wang said the question of whether to rebuild the ruined structures was raised as early as the 1980s and it still remains a much debated topic among experts today.

The pictures shows Yuanmingyuan before it was burned down by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War. [file]
The pictures shows Yuanmingyuan before it was burned down by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War. [file]

"Methods to protect ground ruins vary from country to country, and there are no ready paths to follow," said Wang.

He said the rehabilitation project of the western part was a first attempt, bearing in mind that the restoration work is reversible since people still have different options as to how Yuanmingyuan should be presented to the public.

Some experts suggest the park be restored according to its original design to exhibit Chinese imperial culture.

Yuanmingyuan vanishes in 1860. [file]

Others say the park could never again be its exquisite self after the 1860 war. They believe the park's main value is the lessons the ruins teach later generations about the country's humiliating past.

"We follow the second opinion to preserve the current ruins and avoid establishing any new buildings which are but a simple replica of the original," said Wang.

Zhu Hong, vice-director of the Yuanmingyuan Management Administration, said workers are busy building necessary facilities such as paths and bridges for people to visit.

She said her administration has helped more than 600 households and 13 work units move out of the garden since 2000 and invested 65 million yuan (US$8 million) to recover the original outline of hills and water systems, as well as planting trees and grass in the western part of Yuanmingyuan.

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