Yuanmingyuan (Garden of perfect splendor) is renowned throughout the world for its fabled charms and association with Chinese modern history. Extolled as the "Garden of Gardens" and the "Versailles of the East" during its heyday. It was an imperial summer resort painstakingly built and repeatedly expanded under the personal supervision of five emperors of the Qing Dynasty.
Yuanmingyuan was located in the northern part of Haidian District in Beijing, Yuanmingyuan is composed of three comparatively independent but interconnected gardens: Yuanmingyuan, Changchunyuan (Garden of Eternal Spring), and Qichunyuan (Garden of Blossoming Spring). Covering an area of about 350 hectares, Yuanmingyuan was a vast landscaped garden at once grand in scale and enchanting in scenery. Its green hills and exquisite architecture were laid out with picturesque appeal, and decorated with thriving trees and beautiful flowers. As to close sights, the rolling hills and maze of streams and lakes divided the whole garden into more than 100 scenes, their captivating beauty enhanced by a host of pavilions, corridors, islands, and bridges. About 40 percent of the garden was covered by rivers and lakes, connected into an integral system by winding streams and dotted with more than 250 hills and rock formations. The water's constant murmur rendered life and soul to the hills and rocks. And together they transformed the entire complex into a landscaping and horticultural miracle that stood comparison with the beauty of the natural scenery south of the Yangtze River.
Also, the skill and sophistication of the builders of this historic "Garden of Gardens," it failed to escape the destruction inflicted on China by the Western powers. In October 1860, the Anglo-French forces sacked and looted Yuanmingyuan and burned it to the ground. From then on, the garden suffered continual damage at the hands of the warlords, bandits, and the Eight-Power Allied Forces. Its former beauty and glory no more, the entire garden lay in clusters of ruins and debris. In hushed silence it bore witness to the atrocities of the Western powers and the corruption and incompetence of the Qing rulers, and admonished the Chinese people never to forget the tragedy.
To highlight the characteristics of the ruins, the Administrative Office has put them under meticulous care during the course of restoration. They have cleared certain sites, and erected description boards for the benefit of visitors. Over the past decade, they have repaired bridges, paved roads, cleared lakes, and reforested the hills. Furthermore, they have built many service facilities and purchased more than 300 pleasure-boats to ply the serene waters of the garden. Thus visitors from all over the world can now capture some of the original beauty of this summer resort, and appreciate the glamour of more than a dozen replicas of ancient buildings, under the cooling shade of glorious trees. The district and municipal authorities and the former State Education Commission also designated Yuanmingyuan as a national education base.
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. Including the Spring Outing Festival, the Lotus Flower Festival, and the Chrysanthemum Festival.
Having been open to the public for a decade. Yuanmingyuan still has a long way to go to become a full-fledged park of historic ruins. For example, its western part is crying for development, and more funds are needed for this, as well as for many other purposes. The Administrative Office is making every effort to tackle these difficulties so that they can complete the restoration of the park in the early 21th century.
Yuanmingyuan was not only famed for its beauty. It was also an imperial museum with a vast collection of cultural treasures. The French writer Victor Hugo once remarked, "With all its treasures, Notre Dame in Paris is no match for Yuanmingyuan, that enormous and magnificent museum in the East." Furniture made of red sandalwood decorated the numerous halls in which countless rare cultural relics were on display. As one of the four most famous imperial libraries, the Wenyuan Hall (Hall of Literary Profundity) in the garden originally housed such precious ancient books as The Complete Library of Four Branches of Books, Gems of the Complete Library of Four Branches of Books, and The Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times.