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Yuan Ming Yuan, Beijing

YuanMingYuan, located at north-west Beijing, is called the Old Summer Palace by tourists to distinguish it from the nearby Summer Palace. Actually YuanMingYuan was a large imperial park of three separate parks viz. the Garden of Perfection and Brightness to the west, the Garden of Ten Thousand (Eternal) Springs to the south and the Garden of Everlasting Spring to the east, all centered around Fuhai. The latter two gardens were added during the Qianlong Reign. The Garden of Ten Thousand (Eternal) Springs Wanchunyuan was also known as Yichunyuan.

A pavilion in the ruins of the Old Summer PalaceInitial construction began in 1707, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi and was on a much smaller scale. It was intended as a gift for the emperor's fourth son, later Emperor Yongzheng. In 1725, under Emperor Yongzheng, the Imperial Gardens were greatly expanded. Yongzheng introduced the waterworks of the gardens which created some of the lakes, streams and ponds which greatly complemented the rolling hills and grounds. Yongzheng also named 28 scenic spots within the garden.

By Emperor Qianlong's reign, the second expansion was well underway. Qianlong personally took interest and directed the expansion works. Qianlong also increased the number of scenic spots in the gardens to 50. By the middle of the 19th century, the Imperial Gardens had undergone expansion in one form or another for over 150 years.

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.

Part of the Old Summer Palace. Feb/2005The Imperial Gardens were made up of three gardens: the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper, the Garden of Eternal Spring, and the Elegant Spring Garden; together they covered an area of 3.5 km2 (865 acres). They were almost 5 times the size of the Forbidden City, and 8 times the size of the Vatican City. On the grounds stood hundreds of structures such as halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, gardens, lakes, etc. 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 European-style palaces (Xi Yang Lou) built of stone. The designers of these structures, the Jesuits Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoist, were employed by Emperor Qianlong 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 at the back of the Eternal Spring garden where the European-style buildings were located 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.

Edited By Athena Lee

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