Yuan­mingyuan, a re­sort used by Manchu roy­alty, was burned down by An­glo-French ex­pe­di­tion forces in 1860. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists are now study­ing the mag­nif­i­cent land­mark. re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

In China, the de­struc­tion of Yuan­mingyuan (“the gar­den of per­fect bright­ness”) or the Old Sum­mer Palace in Beijing is seen as a na­tional tragedy.

In 1860, the An­glo-French ex­pe­di­tion forces burned down this ex­quis­ite re­sort meant for Manchu roy­alty of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) dur­ing the Sec­ond Opium War (1856-60).

But now there are ef­forts to dis­cover more about this mag­nif­i­cent gar­den. And ar­chae­ol­o­gists, with the help of paint­ings and his­tor­i­cal files, are try­ing to get a bet­ter pic­ture of this land­mark.

In a project to the east of the Yuan­mingyuan ru­ins, the re­mains of Ruyuan, an ex­quis­ite gar­den in typ­i­cal Jiang­nan style (which refers to ar­eas in East China on the south­ern banks of the Yangtze River), was un­earthed.

The 19,000 square me­ter gar­den is a replica of Zhanyuan, a gar­den from Nan­jing, in eastern Jiangsu prov­ince, and it was built fol­low­ing an edict by Em­peror Qian­long (171199).

The gar­den, com­pleted in 1767, was called Ruyuan, which means “a gar­den just like Zhanyuan”.

Huge and al­most in­tact bases of build­ings have been found at the site other than a gar­den with paths paved in col­or­ful stones.

“It was a sur­prise to find the foun­da­tion so well-pre­served,” says Zhang Zhonghua, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist from the Beijing Re­search In­sti­tute of Cul­tural Her­itage and leader of the Yuan­mingyuan project.

“Only some scat­tered and bro­ken sec­tions were vis­i­ble be­fore the ex­ca­va­tion.”

For ex­am­ple, a 1 me­ter high foun­da­tion of the Yan­qing Hall is there, be­sides a 1.4 me­ter part un­der­ground, says Zhang.

“The deep foun­da­tion in­di­cates that the hall was grandiose,” says Zhang.

The 322 sq m hall was the main build­ing in Ruyuan.

The dis­cov­ery of ceramic tiles that are hol­low also in­di­cate that Ruyuan was equipped with a cen­tral heat­ing sys­tem.

The ex­ca­va­tions also show that there was an ar­ti­fi­cial lake in Ruyuan and spe­cial equip­ment to reg­u­late wa­ter flow.

As a re­sult, the em­per­ors were able to take a boat on en­ter­ing this gar­den to a pier by the Yan­qing Hall.

Zhang’s team is also an­a­lyz­ing seeds found in the area to find out what kind of flow­ers used to blos­som in Ruyuan.

Zhang says that when com­pared with the For­bid­den City, which em­pha­sized for­mal rit­u­als, Yuan­mingyuan was a place where the em­per­ors could re­lax.

“The pat­terns on walk­ing paths in Ruyuan are ir­reg­u­lar, which shows the rulers’ ca­sual life­style,” he says.

“We even found pro­to­type of a mod­ern ur­ban road net­work, like to­day’s re­lief roads and round­abouts that show ad­vanced de­sign.”

Also, though houses face south­ward in tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture, houses in Ruyuan broke the rule, which was prob­a­bly to let the em­per­ors get a view of the lake from all cor­ners of the gar­den.

Two stones with Em­peror Ji­aqing’s cal­lig­ra­phy show ren­o­va­tion on Ruyuan dur­ing the Ji­aqing reign (1796-1820).

And, Zhang says that the tiles found at the site have red­dish marks on them, in­di­cat­ing that they were burned.

“All the tiles we found had cracks,” he says.

“Th­ese tiles, only used in im­pe­rial in­sti­tu­tions were of

who heads an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team of the Yuan­mingyuan project, in­tro­duces the sur­viv­ing con­struc­tional foun­da­tion of Ruyuan.

More about Yuan­mingyuan top qual­ity. The cracks prove that they burned for a long time.”

Zhang’s team is seek­ing to es­tab­lish a date of the fire.

“But as of now I can tell you that the fire was set in the late Qing Dy­nasty,” he says.

“So, it is still pre­ma­ture to con­nect this fire to the loot­ing of 1860.”

How­ever, he says that there are no his­tor­i­cal records of Ruyuan af­ter Em­peror Xian­feng’s reign (1851-61) ended. So, this prob­a­bly means that the gar­den was de­stroyed by then, co­in­cid­ing with the An­glo-French in­va­sion.

Pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the site be­gan in 2012, but the main project was launched in 2016, and cov­ers an area of 3,800 sq m.

Parts of Ruyuan are still buried to­day as they are be­yond the Yuan­mingyuan Ru­ins Park.

“So, it still de­pends on the ur­ban plan­ning depart­ment if they want to ex­pand our ex­ca­va­tion site,” says Zhang.

“It will cause trou­ble if we block the artery — Zhong­guan­cun North Av­enue — for ar­chae­ol­ogy.”

Zhang says that the de­signs of Ruyuan show that there was a pedes­trian over­pass con­nect­ing Ruyuan with nearby gar­dens, and he says that there are pos­si­ble ru­ins be­neath the Ts­inghua Univer­sity cam­pus, which is across Zhong­guan­cun North Av­enue.

“Yuan­mingyuan was much big­ger than the ru­ins we see to­day,” he says.

Though most on­go­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal works are not accessible to the pub­lic for safety rea­sons, t he Yuan­mingyuan site is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion as vis­i­tors are al­lowed to have a look at the ar­chae­ol­o­gists work­ing.

Yang Yu­lian from Beijing Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage says: “Ar­chae­ol­ogy is also a good op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate the pub­lic. And fans of cul­tural her­itage up­load pic­tures on so­cial me­dia and even do live broad­casts.”

Yang di­rects the bu­reau’s ed­u­ca­tion of­fice. She says the Yuan­mingyuan model could be repli­cated at other ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in Beijing.

As of now some ar­ti­facts from Ruyuan are be­ing dis­played at the ex­hi­bi­tion hall of the Yuan­mingyuan Ru­ins Park, and the event will run through Oc­to­ber.

Sep­a­rately, Zhang says that more ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work is to fol­low at the site.

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search on the Yuan­mingyuan ru­ins be­gan in 1996, and the ex­ca­va­tion of Ruyuan is a part of a five-year project that started in 2015 to fig­ure out the orig­i­nal lay­out of this com­plex.

Thanks to the sur­viv­ing stone relics like foun­tains and col­umns, peo­ple think that Yuan­mingyuan was a West­ern-style gar­den, says Chen Hui, a re­searcher at the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice of the Yuan­mingyuan Ru­ins Park.

“But West­ern con­struc­tion com­prises a small part of the ar­chi­tec­ture in Yuan­mingyuan,” says Chen.

“It’s a pity that Chi­nese-style ar­chi­tec­ture was mainly in wood that eas­ily dis­ap­peared. So, the ex­ca­va­tion can give peo­ple a panoramic view of the com­plex.”

Zhang says that it will need a long time to learn about this de­stroyed won­der in de­tail.

“I will be sat­is­fied if we can use ar­chae­ol­ogy to show what 10 per­cent of Yuan­mingyuan was like be­fore I re­tire,” says Zhang.

The con­struc­tion of Yuan­mingyuan be­gan in 1707 dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (1654-1722), and went on through­out the next cen­tury.

It was ap­prox­i­mately five times the size of the For­bid­den City.

Yuan­mingyuan was known as the “gar­den of gar­dens” for its gar­dens and palaces as well as its tem­ples, pavil­ions and gal­leries.

Many fa­mous gar­dens from Jiang­nan area in south­ern China were re­pro­duced in Yuan­mingyuan, and West­ern ar­chi­tec­tural styles also got mixed in.

The most vis­i­ble rem­nant of Yuan­mingyuan to­day is the Xiyang Lou (West­ern Man­sions). This group of Euro­pean-style palaces, foun­tains and gar­dens was planned by Giuseppe Castiglione, an Ital­ian mis­sion­ary.

A foun­tain, which had bronze heads of the 12 an­i­mals in the Chi­nese zo­diac spout­ing wa­ter, was the best known icon of this sec­tion.

Be­sides func­tion­ing as an im­pe­rial re­sort, Yuan­mingyuan was also a place where four Qing em­per­ors (Qian­long, Ji­aqing, Daoguang and Xian­feng) han­dled the af­fairs of state.

Yuan­mingyuan was burned down by An­glo-French ex­pe­di­tion forces in 1860.

Though it was pro­posed to be re­con­structed dur­ing the reign of Tongzhi (1862-74), the plan was dropped due to the lack of money.

Dur­ing an in­va­sion by the Eight-Na­tion Al­liance in 1900, Yuan­mingyuan was hit again by ban­dits.

In 1988, the Yuan­mingyuan Ru­ins Park was set up to bet­ter pro­tect the site.

Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@chi­

Re­mains of West­ern-style ar­chi­tec­ture in Yuan­mingyuan. An un­earthed rock gar­den in Ruyuan. A stone, carved with Qing Em­peror Ji­aqing’s hand­writ­ing, is dis­cov­ered and dis­played at the ex­hi­bi­tion hall of the Yuan­mingyuan Ru­ins


Zhang Zhonghua,


From Left: Park.

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