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Daily History

October 18 1860 Peking’s Summer Palace destroyed


Simulated picture of the Old Summer Palace before it burned down

On October 18th 1860, British troops occupying Peking, China, looted and then burnt the Yuanmingyuan, the fabulous summer residence built by the Manchu emperors in the 18th century.

China’s Qing leadership surrendered to the Franco-British expeditionary force soon after, ending the Second Opium War and Chinese hopes of reversing the tide of foreign domination in its national affairs.

When the Jin Dynasty emperor Wányán Liàng (1122 – 1161) moved his capital to the Beijing area, he had a Gold Mountain Palace built on the site of the hill.

In the Yuan Dynasty, the hill was renamed from Gold Mountain to Jug Hill (Weng Shan).

This name change is explained by a legend according to which a jar with a treasure inside was once found on the hill.

The loss of the jar is said to have coincided with the fall of the Ming Dynasty as had been predicted by its finder.

The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), who commissioned work on the imperial gardens on the hill in 1749, gave Longevity Hill its present-day name in 1752, in celebration of his mother’s 60th birthday.

The Summer Palace started out life as the ‘Garden of Clear Ripples’ in 1750 (Reign Year 15 of Qianlong Emperor).

Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China.

Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou.

The palace complex suffered two major attacks—during the Anglo-French allied invasion of 1860 (with the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time), and during the Boxer Rebellion, in an attack by the eight allied powers in 1900.

The garden survived and was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902.In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan.

It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.

This diversion of funds away from military sources came just six years before the first First Sino-Japanese War which China lost.

In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the palace was burned again by Western troops, and it remained dilapidated until the Chinese Communists rebuilt it in the 1950s.

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