Yuanmingyuan Park, the ruins of the old Summer
Palace burned down by rampaging British and French troops in 1860,
was at the center of a stir when it was announced that part of the
ruined palace would be rebuilt.
The park was last in the news when it came under fire two years
ago for lining the beds of its lakes with plastic. It eventually
had to give up the project.
Doubts were immediately raised over whether it is necessary to
rebuild the old structure when the news was announced this
The law on cultural heritage protection explicitly stipulates
that the ruins of immovable cultural heritage sites should be left
as they are if the site has already been damaged beyond recovery.
Reconstruction is prohibited. There should be little doubt that the
law applies in the case of the park.
The law further stipulates that if reconstruction is indeed
necessary because of special circumstances, then the State Council
must approve any steps that are taken. It is not clear whether the
park has obtained permission from the central government. The park
administrators' claim that they had secured the necessary documents
for the project are not enough.
Experts have already carried out a feasibility study, according
to the park's administrators, but it is not clear who those experts
are or what kind of permission the park has obtained.
There is little doubt that the general public has been kept in
the dark about the entire project, from its inception, to its
feasibility study and the final endorsement by the authorities.
As is commonly known, the ruins are a park in nature and
therefore belong to the public. But those who have been entrusted
to manage the park on behalf of the general public act as if they
own this piece of cultural heritage.
It has never been clear to the general public what was going to
be done with the ruins, despite the risk that this piece of history
could be damaged by restoration efforts.
The attempt to line the lakebeds with plastic sheets is a prime
example of planning gone wrong. Had it not been for the reports by
the press and then a debate both online and in the major media, the
environment of this site would have been damaged as the plastic
sheets harmed the quality of the water.
If the reconstruction is allowed to go forward, the integrity of
this heritage site will undoubtedly be damaged.
(China Daily September 27, 2007)