The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan is situated in the northwest of the Beijing City, west of Tsinghua University directly north of the 5th ring Road and less than 1 kilometers east of the Summer Palace. Before aggressive Anglo-French troops invaded China in 1860, the three gardens of Yuanmingyuan were part of a huge imperial residential and garden complex of the Qing Dynasty, set far away from the Forbidden City. At the beginning it was a gift from Qing Emperor Kangxi to his fourth son Prince Yinzhen(Emperor Yongzheng) and was mainly composed of water scenery. When construction began, the name, however, was still unknown. In 1709, Emperor Kangxi himself gave the plaque bearing the name “Yuanmingyuan ” to the garden.
Emperor Yongzheng explained the meaning of “Yuanmingyuan” in The Imperial Record of Yuanmingyuan by stating that the emperor should strengthen self-cultivation so as to perfect one’s character and reach the ultimate goal of becoming a sage. He had to show his wisdom, virtue and benevolence in running the country. The name Yuanmingyuan was not only a motto for Emperor Kangxi but also for future emperors.
After Prince Yinzhen succeeded the throne, he expanded Yuanmingyuan on a large scale to create a combines imperial garden and traveling residence. Starting in 1725, the emperor attended and handle state affairs during spring, summer and autumn in Yuanmingyuan.
The garden held a collection of countless jewelry pieces, cultural relics, antiques, ancient books and paintings. Yuanmingyuan demonstrate a thousand years of excellence in the art of gardening in China. Its artistic achievement is a splendid page in Chinese history, allowing Yuanmingyuan to receive the graceful name of ” the best among the gardens from the international community. “
On October 7th, 1860, soon after the Anglo-French Allied Forces first intruded into the garden, commanders of the invading troops issued an order to rob the site in three days. The treasures in the garden were looted and destroyed. On October 18th, under the command of British Minister, soldiers began to set the garden on fire, leaving them to burn for three days and three nights. The fire, smoke and ashes spread for miles. What was once the most splendid garden of gardens no longer existed.
The atrocity of burning down Yuanmingyuan by the Anglo-French Allied Forces was condemned and it aroused the indignation of all justice-upholding people al over the world. The freat French writer Victor Hugo once wrote a letter to sharply denounce the heinous crimes of the invaders Even the British Expeditionary Commander Grant had to admit what they had done was utterly unciviliaed.
After the Qing emperor abdicated, warlords unscrupulously took away huge amounts of stones for their own use of for sale. Some of the poor moved into the garden to look for treasure, cut firewood, raise cattle, and cultivate land. The garden was continually taken apart and spoiled almost daily. Carts fully loaded with broken material rolled out of the garden with interruption. The looting of wood, stone and earth lasted for decades. When New China was founded in 1949, Yuanmingyuan was already a waste land, only some barren hills, lakes, streams and western architectural debris remained along with some farmland.