... was a series of Baroque Pavillions.
Designed principally by Guiseppe Castiglione, an Italian Jesuit, between 1747 and 1783 for the Qianlong Emporer.
Yuan Ming Yuan, the Garden of Perfect Clarity or, more roundly: 'Perfection that allows one to arrive at the most mysterious realm, meaning that the gentleman always cleaves to the Middle Way; while Brightness of ability that shines over everything achieves wisdom for those who are worthy' (Interpretation by Yongzheng).
Now a Trümmerfeld the Garden was once a simulacrum where 'the very heavens and earth were transported in miniature'.
'Numerous forms of fantasy...were incorporated into the landscape...inspired by poems, or in the case of the Fairy Island and Jade Terrace in the middle of the Sea of Plenitude, by a famous painting...Manyof the scenes of the garden were miniaturizations of magical realms associated with the Universe, immortals and good fortune.
Other visions were more realistic:
For example, Yongzheng had a range of tableaux designed for the amusement of himself and his family. These included: "Crops as Plentiful as Fields", an island full of busy farmers played by toiling eunuchs, overseen by a pavillion where the Emporer could view their labours at leisure...and "The Stone Response by the Stream" with its Courtyard of Universal Happiness " a township where eunuchs masquerading as storekeepers engaged the Emporer and his ladies in make-believe village life"
In this life-size drama here were fake weddings, fake courts, jails, and police, not to mention all the attendant retail opportunities, a true make-believe where money spent went straight back into the Imperial coffers. The French Jesuit missionary Pierre Attiret described the scene in a famous letter written to M. d'Assault in Paris in 1743:
...a little township in the very midst of these park grounds...measures a quarter of a lien [one kilometre] on each side, and has gates at the four points of the compass, towers, walls with crenelated parapets, it has shops, courts of law and palaces, even a harbour. In a word, everything in the capital one may find here in little...Perhapsyou ask what purpose this serves? The chief motive has been to create for the Emporer a condensed picture of the bustling life in a great city where he wishes to see this.
Attiret then describes how the eunuchs play various roles in this make-believe township: some act the part of merchants, others of artisans, soldiers, officers, porters, coolies with baskets and barrows, and so on. Boats put into the harbour and unload their cargoes; the goods are distributed among the various shops are loudly cried by the tradesmen. There is squabbling and fighting just as there is in the markets of a real city.
...Nor are the thieves forgotten at these performances. Their noble rôles are entrusted to some of the most accomplished eunuchs, who act their parts brilliantly. If they are caught in the act they are publicly shamed and punished, bastion end or exiled, according to the extent of the theft; but if they swindle and steal successfully they get the laughter on their side and reap applause.
...it was during the reign of Yongzheng's son, Qianlong Emporer (r.1736-95) that the garden was developed to its full splendour with the completion of the original Yuan Ming Yuan in 1744 and the addition of two other gardens, the Changchun yuan (completed in 1751) and the Qichun Yuan (completed in 1772). They covered an area of some 347 hectares and together with the other imperial gardens in the area became known as "The Three Mountains and Five Gardens".
After ascending the throne Qianlong embarked on a number of Tours of the South...Subsequently; back in Peking...he decided to recreate those southern wonders in his imperial pleasance...he had his builders reproduce them to scale. These imitations-over forty in number...
...The discrete scenes and Pavillions were linked by numerous bridges, over a thousand of them. They came in many shapes-straight, crooked, zigzag and humped, and were made of stone, brick and wood. Some were punctuatedby little tea houses, others were Interrupted by summerhouses built for overlooking the lakes or watching the fish that filled the streams and ponds.
From 'Moving Heaven and Earth' the second chapter of 'The Garden of Perfect Brightness, a life in ruins', an excellent essay by Geremie R. Barmé. First published in The China Heritage Quarterly, the complete essay can be downloaded from CHQ. Issue no. 8 chapter by chapter.
The gardens were begun in the twelfth century and existed until being ransacked and razed to the ground by the British and the French during the Second Opium War by order of Lord Elgin, whose father purloined the Parthenon marbles. 'We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money...I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.' Charles Gordon, later of Khartoum.
The 10,000 Flower Maze
Front view of Gate to Perspective Hill
West façade of Hall of Calm Seas
The Great Fountain in front of the View of Distant Seas
South façade of Hall of Calm Seas
Front view of throne for observing the Grand Fountain
Perspective paintings east of The Lake
The Garden of Perfect Clarity as Trümmerfeld or Ruin Field
Prints of the European Pavillions by Yi Lantai, 1783-1786
From the Research Library, The Getty Research Institute