China today

Old Summer Palace reclaims its past

2017-10-13 08:04:00 (Beijing Time)         Chinadaily.com.cn

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More than 80,000 historical artifacts, along with pieces of the Old Summer Palace, were unearthed as a result of the demolition of surrounding buildings.

The objects, including building materials such as tiger-skin jade, bricks and stones from ruined palace walls, have been reclaimed by the palace administration office and are on public display along the north and south walls of the palace.

The palace - also known as Yuanmingyuan - was renowned as the Garden of Gardens during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was ransacked and largely torn down by British and French expeditionary forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The palace site was abandoned until the 1960s, but its bricks had been used as construction material by residents and businesses.

"Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, set up an institution to protect the palace, but it didn't work because of his decayed political and economic power," said Chen Hui, director of cultural relics and archaeology for the palace.

"Warlords, people associated with foreign churches and local residents took bricks and stones to build because of the lax management of the palace in the late Qing Dynasty. Many palace relics were damaged," she said.

Residences and businesses around the old palace site have been subject to demolition since 2013 under the city's urban development plans.

In 2015, the administrative office of the palace set up a team to be responsible for the reclamation of relics, and collect items from building walls and foundations in the area.

"Actually, the reclamation work had already begun in the 1980s. But it is difficult to recover these historical objects because they have been integral parts of local residents' houses and we can only reclaim them after the buildings are torn down," Chen said. "Thankfully, we have enjoyed great support from the residents."

She recalled one man who brought several bricks engraved with inscriptions of the palace to the office and then drove a few people to the site where he had found them.

"The stones and bricks may not be as impressive as looted artifacts, but we are obligated to retrieve all relics, whether they are precious pieces taken to foreign countries or ordinary bricks that were once part of the palace. Even a brick that has no exquisite engraved pattern belongs to the palace and reflects its history."

Some of the reclaimed items, such as the tiger-skin jade, have been repaired and used in the palace restoration project.

Reclaimed items are stored in two warehouses at the palace complex, in addition to those on display. New exhibition zones for these items are expected to open to the public within the year.

Cheng Si contributed to this story.