Yuan Ming Yuan - The Old Summer Palace in Beijing

North West from Beijing centre, app 30-40 minutes’ drive by underground, there is one of the most beautiful places in the Chinese capital. It is called Yuan Ming Yuan. It is a huge park complex with a beautiful system of lakes, pounds, canals and pedestrian alleys. Lakes are quite shallow because they are made by hand by Chinese people. The ground digged out from these lakes were used to form the landscape: small hills and valleys. Shallow lakes allow to grow huge amount of lotus. Right now, in July, is the lotus festival and the lotus flowers are in full blossom in a dazzling array of colours and shapes.  

The park was opened to the public in the late 1980‘s! For more than 120 years, until 1988, this area was abandoned and wild. A place with a remarkable history was just forgotten for over 100 years before it became a public park.

Old Summer Palace in Beijijng


Why? This is the story…

For more than 600 years it was the place where the Emperor used to pass the summer. His summer retreat, the Summer Palace.  The area was bigger than Vatican State. Over 360 ha, including pounds, three big lakes, channels, hills, islands, temples and houses and the summer palace which was 3 times the size of the Forbidden City. It was full of artwork, expensive pictures, sculptures, gold, silver and jewellery. Everything was robbed, destroyed and burned by the British-French military corps at the end of the Second Opium War between August and October 1860.

British who planned this barbarian act of vandalism, common crime and robbery conspired with the French to give the impression of an ‚international intervention‘ and not an act of British inversion.

The man who planned, executed and benefitted of this action of vandalism, destruction and robbery was Lord Elgin, an official representative of the British Queen and British Government, son of Edward Elgin, who a few decades earlier destroyed and robbed marble sculptures of the Parthenon, which later were sold to the British Queen. These marbles you can see today in the British Museum of London.

So the Elgin family business was to travel to different countries like Greece, Canada, India or China and to destroy and rob the other “less civilized” people.

Right now, the ruins of the Old Summer Palace of the Emperor are left to teach new generations of Chinese about the ‚white men robbery policy‘, explicitly British and French (or European) culture. It is interpreted as a sign, a warning, that western civilisations noticing military weakness of other countries will attack and steal and also, to teach not to trust white peoples governments.

However, there is a big discussion lately about this place among Chinese. There are some people who want to rebuild the Old Summer Palace as it was just to show the strength and wealth of the country whilst other people want to leave it as it is to warn and teach  new generations.

Close to the ruins site there is a small statue of Victor Hugo, who called British and French "bandits and thieves", when he heard about what happened to the Old Summer Palace. It is pretty embarrassing story if you identify yourself to “Western Civilisation”.

To view Old Summer Palace picture gallery go to:




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Piotr Szeligowski

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Burggraben 16

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