A Chinese firm yesterday announced a plan to build a full-sized replica of Beijing's famed Yuanmingyuan Garden in Hengdian, Zhejiang province this year.
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) garden-also known as the Garden of Perfect Brightness-was a vast compound of greenery and palatial buildings. But in 1860, it was looted and burnt down by Anglo-French allied forces, and become a somber memorial to China's humiliation at the hands of Western aggressors.
Now, the privately owned Hengdian Group has unveiled a five-year, 20-billion-yuan (US$2.8 billion) plan to recreate all 126 of Yuanmingyuan's key areas on a new site covering 400 hectares.
"The burning and destruction of the garden was a humiliation for our country," Xu Wenrong, founder of the Hengdian Group and head of the project team, said at a news conference held to attract funding for the scheme.
"Building a new garden is a good way to wipe away this disgrace from our country and stimulate people's hopes for peace," the 73-year-old former farmer said.
At least 13 billion yuan will be needed to replicate and recover the garden's lost relics, some of which are now abroad, Xu said.
Most of that money will have to come from the private sector and donations from the public, he said.
Xu said the project will take about five years to complete, with the investment being returned in seven years.
Profits will come from ticket sales to visitors and also from the site's use as a film and TV set, he said.
In the past, Hengdian has provided locations for many Chinese films and television dramas, and the new gardens will be the perfect setting for imperial soap operas, which are popular with domestic audiences, he said.
Xu Jialu, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, said at the conference: "I support this idea because in a cultural sense it restores some of Yuanmingyuan's glory and splendor."
However, Ruan Yisan, a historian at Tongji University in Shanghai, was quoted by local media as saying: "The remnants of the old ruins are witnesses to a specific period of history, there is no value in recreating them elsewhere."
Wang Daocheng, a professor at the Qing History Institute under the Renmin University of China, said the current government funding was insufficient to properly care for the original Yuanmingyuan in long term, and too much infighting between officials had slowed protection work.
"It's impossible to reconstruct Yuanmingyuan at the old location, so the Hengdian plan could give people a chance to see how Yuanmingyuan would have looked before 1860," he told China Daily yesterday.
"We can't wait any longer, as there are only a few craftsmen left who understand the building techniques," he said.
(China Daily February 19, 2008)