The Ruins of Yuanming Garden

3/14/2003

In September 1860, an allied Anglo-French force broke down China's coastal defense and pushed their way to Beijing the Chinese capital.

This was during what came to be known as the Second Opium War, fought by Britain and France against China to pry open the isolationist ancient eastern empire for European commercial interests. Twenty years earlier Great Britain had attacked China alone, on the charge that the Chinese authorities had confiscated properties of British merchants opium which the Britons were smuggling into China for profits. The ailing Chinese empire was easily defeated in that war and had to settle the conflict by paying a heavy indemnity, conceding the island of Hong Kong to Britain, and opening a number of Chinese ports for foreign trade. In 1856, disputes with the Chinese government emerged again and Britain, this time joined by France, sent an expeditionary force of over 20,000 to China, to compel the Chinese to agree to more concessions, which included the legalization of the trade in opium. Chinese resistance was crushed and the allied forces reached Beijing in September 1960.

In October 1960, while negotiations with the Chinese government went on to settle the war, British troops stationed outside Beijing looted an imperial garden northwest of Beijing. The garden, known as Yuanming Yuan, was first constructed in 1709, initially as a residential garden for a prince. In its completed form, the garden occupied 347 acres of land, featuring lakes, hills, and architecture that combined traditional Chinese style and some European influence - the latter was a rare sight in China then. At the time when it was looted in 1860, Yuanming garden was an exclusive imperial estate, where a considerable amount of precious items had been kept. It was said that when one British officer later auctioned off his share of the plunder from the garden, he received over 90,000 dollars in payment. After their raid, the troops set fire to the garden and burned it to the ground. Today the garden is still there, but not much of it is left to see except ruins of a few buildings.

Below are a few pictures of Yuanming Yuan taken some time after its destruction.



















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