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A Paradise Lost

A Paradise Lost: The Imperial Garden Yuanming Yuan

Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    A Paradise Lost
    Book Description:

    Noted for its magnificent architecture and extraordinary history, the Yuanming Yuan is China's most famous imperial garden. The complex was begun in the early eighteenth century, and construction continued over the next 150 years. While Chinese historians, and many Chinese in general, view the garden as the paramount achievement of Chinese architecture and landscape design, almost nothing is known about the Yuanming Yuan in the West. A Paradise Lost is the first comprehensive study of the palatial garden complex in a Western language. Written in a broad and engaging style, Young-tsu Wong brings "the garden of perfect brightness" to life as he leads readers on a grand tour of its architecture and history. Wong begins by inspecting the garden's physical appearance and its architectural elements. He discusses the origin and evolution of these structures and the aesthetics of their design and arrangement. Throughout he refers to maps and original models of individual buildings and other existing gardens of the Ming-Qing period, including the well-preserved Yihe Yuan and the Chengde Summer Mountain Retreat in Rehe. A special feature of the book is its exploration of the activities and daily life of the royal household.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6387-6
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-6)

    The rise and fall of the palatial imperial garden Yuanming Yuan is the history of the Sinic Qing Empire in miniature. Its rise paralleled the beginning of thePax Sinicaat the time of the great Kangxi emperor (r. 1662–1722). It took one and a half centuries of endless constructions to become arguably the greatest imperial garden China had ever built, a shining pearl of the great empire. This vast pleasance was indeed “a paradise on earth” in the eyes of the visiting French priest Attiret.

    Yuanming” literally means “round and brilliant,” implying perfection and excellence; however, the name...

  6. Part One Architecture

    • Chapter 1 PROVENANCE
      (pp. 9-23)

      Before discussing the rise of the Yuanming Yuan, the greatest garden the Chinese have ever built, let us first summarize traditional Chinese garden art. Garden design and construction constitute a vital part of the Chinese cultural tradition. Living in a beautiful and diverse natural environment with a unique landscape, the Chinese have developed a distinct garden aesthetic over the span of three thousand years. Generally speaking, Chinese artists, whether poets, painters, or garden designers, have emulated nature and appreciated the feeling of a genuine harmony between man and nature.

      It is well known that in China poetry and painting have...

    • Chapter 2 DISPOSITION
      (pp. 24-50)

      The Yuanming Yuan imperial garden consisted of the most magnificent architectural works the Qing Empire ever created. It represents a glory in the Chinese cultural tradition and the pinnacle of Chinese garden arts.

      The site on which the Yuanming Yuan was built is a plain rich in fresh water at the foot of the Jade Spring Hills near present-day Haidian, northwest of Beijing. The water from the Jade Spring has been described as cool and clear, to be admired as “pearls under moonlight”(mingyue yeying qingguang yuan)(Liu Tong and Yu Yizheng 1980, 297). The plentiful spring accounts for the...

    • Chapter 3 EXPANSION
      (pp. 51-70)

      The Qianlong emperor considered his garden project complete when he designated in 1744 the Forty (Best) views, a kaleidoscopic series of selected scenic spots in the Yuanming Yuan. But, actually, the emperor’s extraordinary passion for building more gardens had just begun. In addition to the summer retreat at Chengde and the Skinny West Lake (Shuo Xihu) in Yangzhou, he expanded the Yuanming Yuan so much that it eventually consisted of many more dozens of smaller gardens and distinct scenic units. Each unit had its own style and theme, but without losing a general sense of integrity. One scenic area overlapped...

  7. Part Two History

    • Chapter 4 RISE
      (pp. 73-100)

      The history of the Yuanming Yuan began with Kangxi, the emperor of China from 1662 to 1722. He was the Son of Heaven and the ruler of the Celestial Empire, with Beijing as his imperial capital—the center of his imperial world. When he fully secured his immense power in the final decades of the seventeenth century, he had already refurbished many desolated gardens and parklands left behind by Khitan (Qidan), Jurchen (Ruzhen), and Ming princes at the foot of the Western Hills in the northwest suburbs of Beijing. His first principal garden was the Joyful Spring Garden (Changchun Yuan),...

      (pp. 101-117)

      We have thus far recounted the physical appearance as well as the historical evolution of the Yuanming Yuan. In this chapter, we shall look into the inner operation of the garden. How was the garden administered? Who ran the daily matters? How was security maintained? What was the punishment when rules were violated or crimes committed? From recently available archival sources, the human dimension of the garden can be at least partially reconstructed. Let us delve into the sources to look at how the Yuanming Yuan functioned during a period of one hundred fifty years.

      Administratively, the Yuanming Yuan was...

    • Chapter 6 ROYAL DAILY LIFE
      (pp. 118-132)

      The emperor of China, or Son of Heaven, was entitled to the maximum pleasure. In imperial China, it was taken for granted that the country and people are both “to consecrate one person”(gongfeng yiren).Only the ruler’s own conscience could restrain his passion and desire. In this sense, the magnificent Yuanming Yuan only matched the paramount status of the Qing emperors who conquered a vast empire. The garden came of age in 1723 upon the ascendancy of the Yongzheng emperor, who added courts and office buildings to the pleasure environment and set the precedent for running state affairs from...

    • Chapter 7 THE SACKING
      (pp. 133-160)

      The fall of the Yuanming Yuan to foreign invaders must be understood in the context of Sino-Western confrontations in the nineteenth century. Although the post-Opium War (1839–1842) treaty system had secured British commercial interests that neither Macartney nor Amherst had been able to obtain, Britain sought to expand her privileges on the China coast. On the other hand, the newly ascended Xianfeng emperor, ashamed of losing to the British national interest, struggled to recover the Qing’s honor and was certainly not willing to yield more rights. The British demand for treaty revision, to acquire further concessions from China, thus...

      (pp. 161-187)

      The inferno of 1860 disfigured the Yuanming Yuan so much that the imperial garden was no longer fit for royal living. Troops and eunuchs, however, guarded the destroyed garden estate to keep out unauthorized persons. The newly ascended Tongzhi emperor, together with the two dowagers, Cian and Cixi, escorted Xianfeng’s coffin back to Beijing from Chengde. They all took residence inside the Forbidden City. They missed the pleasant garden life, and their memory was simply too fresh to forget. Tongzhi was born in the garden on April 27, 1856. The dowager Cixi, the new emperor’s biological mother, had her romance...

    (pp. 188-194)

    Regardless of the relentless natural and human assaults since the turn of the century, miraculously, the ruins of the Yuanming Yuan have survived to this day. The latest crisis was the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, during which farms, factories, and schools were established in the ruins, rendering damage to the landscape. The conclusion of the revolution in 1976 came in time to prevent the prospect of erasing the ruins entirely. Even more important, the bitter experiences of violence and destruction gave rise to a much stronger sense of treasuring cultural relics and of historical preservation. As a result, in 1976, the...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 195-200)
    (pp. 201-210)
    (pp. 211-220)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 221-226)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-230)