The original Yuanmingyuan was located southeast of the current Summer Palace and just north of Peking University’s campus. Construction began in the early Qing dynasty (1709) and took nearly 150 years to complete. It was completely destroyed in 1860 by British and French troops in a 3 day invasion during the Opium War. All that remains is a few columns and scattered piles of marble rubble.
Although Yuanmingyuan has been burnt to the ground for over a hundred years, some sight spots still remain. We can infer the fantastic scenery in the Qing dynasty from the ruins. Let’s take three of them as examples. First of all is Remnants of a Stone Bridge. The remnants lie to the north of the Janbi Pavilion. In its prime, the three gardens of Yuanmingyuan boasted 200 bridges of different styles and materials. But only the remnants of this single-arch stone bridge remain to this day. Next one is Haoran (Noble Spirit) Pavilion. This pavilion is located on a small island to the north of the Fenglin Islet. Built before 1781, the four-sided pavilion had a double-eaved roof. The present one is a hexagonal structure with double eaves, completed in 1992. The last one is Three-Arch Bridge of the Hanqiu(Embracing Autumn)Study. The three-Arch Bridge was originally built with stone and bricks. When the garden was destroyed, the bridge was also leveled to the ground. The present one was constructed in 1979, with stone piers, cement arches, and marble railings.
Yuanmingyuan is one of the famous royal gardens in the Qing dynasty. Five emperors, Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing and Daoguang, had been building and restructuring Yuanmingming during the 18th century. The splendid construction in Yuanmingyuan was a symbol of the Qing dynasty’s prosperity. It covered an area of more than 5200 acreages and boasted over 150 sight spots. Yuanmingyuan was titled ‘the king of gardens’ as it imitated a multitude of famous tourist attractions across China, such as Pengdao yaotai. But it in 1860 during the Opium War, Yuanmingyuan was totally burnt down and destroyed by British and French troops. Countless precious paints, china were looted and transferred to Europe. Victor Hugo once made a comment on the deeds of British and French troops. He said: ‘Now, the miracle is no more! One day, two pirates broke into it. One of them went plundering; the other set every building and everything in it all ablaze! Judging by what they did, we know that the victors could degenerate into robbers. The two of them fell to dividing between themselves the spoils. What meritorious feats they had done! What a heaven-sent bonanza! One stuffed his pockets full to overflowing; the other filled in his trunk chockfull. Then, hand in hand they made off, guffawing gloatingly. This episode reflects the history of the two brigands.’