Yuanmingyuan (Palace of perfectness and brightness)
Located in the northern part of Haidian District in Beijing, Yuanmingyuan is composed of three relatively independent but interconnected gardens: Yuanmingyuan, Changchunyuan (Garden of Eternal Spring), and Qichunyuan (Garden of Blossoming Spring). Covering an area of about 350 hectares, Yuanmingyuan used to be a vast landscaped garden in scale and charming one in scenery. Green hills, exquisite architectures, decorated with thriving trees and beautiful flowers, all added attractive flavor. Rolling hills and winding streams divided the whole garden into more than 100 scenes, with their beauty enhanced by a host of pavilions, corridors, islands, and bridges. Water and hill are accompanied with each other, thus made whole scene vivid and harmonious. Together they transformed the entire complex into a landscaping and horticultural miracle which is in comparison with the beauty of the natural scenery south of the Yangtze River.
The first garden is Yuanmingyuan built in late Emperor Kangxi's reign and Emperor Yongzheng’s reign. In Emperor Qianlong’s reign, it's expended and owned the famous "Forty Sceneries of Yuanmingyuan" such as 'be aboveboard and brightness', ‘hidden courtyard with lotus flowers' etc. The houses with planks are as many as 600,which made it the top of all imperial gardens; Changchunyuan was originally built in Emperor Qianlong's Reign, with houses with planks over 200; Yichunyuan was built in Emperor kangxi's reign, as a mention give by the emperor to an official at that time, but was later combined into the imperial garden; Western style building is another feature of yuanmingyuan which is built to the south of Changchunyuan, under the design of some western preachers and in craftsmanship of Chinese artisans. It's in the style of baroque belonged to the late Renaissance period in Europe, but kind of in combination with some traditional Chinese flavor. The main part of the western style building is the big artificial fountains group composed of three different fountain formations, and famous for its number and splendid. Though covers only 50 percent of the whole garden area, it enjoys the highest reputation and regarded as the best representation of the Western garden-imitating architecture once aroused great attention in the western world.
Yuanmingyuan was not only famous for its beauty, but also an imperial museum with a rich collection of cultural treasures. The French writer Victor Hugo once described "With all its treasures, Notre Dame in Paris is no match with Yuanmingyuan, the most magnificent museum in the East". Precious relics were on display in the numerous halls with red sandalwood made furniture.
However, all the fancies and splendor failed to escape the destruction when China was invaded by the Western powers in the mid-19th century. In October 1860, the Anglo-French forces invaded Beijing. As they were also told about the beauty and charm of Yuanmingyuan, so the desires and interests of owning the precious as booties, they finally had the "Garden of gardens" plundered and burned to the ground. Since then on, the garden suffered damage from the warlords, bandits, and the Eight-Power Allied Forces in the following years. Its former beauty and glory was gone with the entire garden left with ruins and debris. As a stunning evidence of the rudeness and greed of the Western powers and the corruption and incompetence of the Qing rulers, it's kept up till today as a way to remind the nowadays and upcoming people not to let the similar history repeat again in future.
Yuanmingyuan has undergone great changes since the birth of the People's Republic. The Chinese government has attached great importance to the preservation of the ruins with some sections repaired. Most of the building foundations have been unearthed, and the remains of over a dozen scenic rock formations are well preserved.
The guiding lines for the park's development is to transform the lakes, streams and plant trees on a large scale, while keeping the historical ruins as a prominent feature of Yuanmingyuan. Accordingly, park workers and staff members have spared no efforts to preserve the sights, reconstruct the buildings, and restore the water system, hills, and rock gardens. Their efforts made it possible for the Yuanmingyuan Park to be opened to the public on a trial basis in June 1988. In the same year, the park was designated by the State Council as a key cultural site at the national level.
The eastern half of the garden has gradually taken shape, where a number of scenic areas are open to tourists, such as the Fuhai Scenic Area, the eastern part of Qichunyuan, and the European Palaces of Changchunyuan, which have regained their past glory with green hills and blue water enhanced by luxuriant trees and fragrant flowers, The park has also become the venue for a series of annual festivals, such as the Spring Festival, the Lotus Flower Festival, and the Chrysanthemum Festival.
As the witness of history of that special period, yuanmingyuan would be continued to serve its purpose on the site. Though discussions and time changes, it would never loose its importance in people’s hearts and on the history stage.