Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Old Summer Palace(圓明園)

We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money...I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralizing work for an army.

—Charles George Gordon, a 27-year-old captain in the Royal Engineers

The old Summer Palace or Yuanmingyuan(圓明園)was an extremely large complex of palaces and gardens 8 km (5 miles) northwest of the old city wall of Beijing (that is, 8km from XiZhiMen subway). It was also called Imperial Garden(御园). Yuanmingyuan in Chinese mean the bright round garden, yuan(圓) means round, circle, complete or reunion, ming(明)means bright,clear and yuan(園) means garden. It was built in the 18th and early 19th century. It was at Yuanmingyuan that the emperors of the Qing Dynasty resided and handled government affairs, the Forbidden City was used only for formal ceremonies at that time. It was the apex of Qing's imperial government.

Note: Ironically, Ming was the name of Ming Dynasty(明朝),yuan- ming(圓明) may have meaning of reunion with the Ming dynasty, the dynasty that Qing overthrown? a return from Qing rule to Ming rule?. Ming Dynasty was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic Hans, and Manchu overthrown the Ming Dynasty to establish Qing Dynasty(清朝)...what a coincident?....I wonder who named the garden?....the hidden political meaning that Qing emperor did not realized?...may be that was the omen for the downfall of Qing dynasty. After the opium wars, the Qing kingdom had been weaken, and the destruction of the Yuanmingyuan provided the hint that the kingdom had no longer able to defend the country from the foreigners. The building of the Yuanmingyuan also had utilized much financial resources of the imperial China, and with the large import of opium, the financial position had declined. The building of Yuanmingyuan was a burden to the Chinese people. The desire for the downfall of Qing kingdom had surfaced.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, British and French expeditionary forces, having marched inland from the coast, reached Beijing (then known as Peking). On the night of October 6 French units diverted from the main attack force towards the Old Summer Palace, extensive looting, took place...

On October 18, 1860, the British High Commissioner to China Lord Elgin, in retaliation for the torture and execution of almost twenty European and Indian prisoners (including two British envoys and a journalist for The Times), ordered the destruction of the palace....

In the history of China, two historical events were the most humiliating to them, first the Japanese War during the World War 2 and Sino-Japanese Wars, the next was the Opium Wars 1839-1860(or Anglo-Chinese Wars), where the Old Summer Palace was destroyed and the unfair treaty ports and Hong Kong was ceded to Britain and other countries including Japan. That was the time, the humiliation of China during the Opium Wars, the Chinese failed to understand the West, at the time when there were sign of adopting and adapting to some western ideals and sciences,the act of the west had destroyed all the good things that they had on the western civilization. The human right that the west talk so much; the religion that the Christian missionaries talk so much; the perception and respect go down deep to the floor...... until today. The Chinese just cannot understand the western type of human right. The China as a nation. was tormented, and had suffered mentally and psychologically until recently when they are able to stand up economically. But politically, the issue of Taiwan(Friction between China and Japan arose from Japan's control over the Ryukyu Islands from 1870, annexation of Taiwan after the First Sino-Japanese war of 1894. China was almost forced to cede more territory in Manchuria but was saved by Russian intervention. Despite this, China still paid a huge indemnity and relinquished Taiwan), China-Japan relationship, the issue of Senkaku Islands(尖閣諸島) which rightfully should be Diaoyu Islands or Diaoyutai Islands(釣魚台群島); are the leftover from the Opium Wars era. Few Chinese are able to understand human right and democracy promoted by the west, and strongly criticized China on their records; but forgot the historical event of Yuanmingyuan done by them, that destroy the confidence of Chinese on the western type of human right and democracy. The historical scar is too hurting to Chinese...

The Chinese government decided to keep the The Old Summer Palace or Yuanmingyuan ruined site as is to teach future generations about the consequences of being dominated by foreign powers.

Victor Hugo, disapproved of the action; in his "Expédition de Chine", Hugo described the looting as, "'Two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain." In his letter Hugo hoped that one day France would feel guilty and return what it had plundered from China. Victor Hugo had spoken out from the heart of a person who understand the real meaning of human right..... so legally a daylight robbery had taken place....

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(雍正帝)have actually been returned; these are displayed in the Beijing National Museum. It is high time the historical relics be returned to China, the countries which believed in human right and legal right should not keep anything that was unlawfully taken. Some of the owner of the historical relics are the world famous museums.

Will the West make things right and heel the wounds....

1. Official website of Yuanmingyuan;
2. Senkaku Islands(钓鱼台群岛),
3. People's Republic of China – Japan relations;
4. 圓明園,圓明園
5. Old Summer Palace,

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