Old palace, new status

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail People's Daily, November 8, 2012
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Yuanmingyuan Park, also known as the Old Summer Palace and as the "Versailles of the East", was once a private pleasure garden of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). 

It has been 152 years since Anglo-French Allied Forces burned the Old Summer Palace to the ground, leaving only piles of marble lying on the ground in a desolate atmosphere.

The debate over whether the Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuanmingyuan, should be preserved as it is or restored to its former glory has been continuing in fits and starts over past 30 years. However, this question may see its final resolution in upcoming years when a decision will be made on whether to approve the Haidian district tourist attraction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

New focus

Although a few people are still debating whether to rebuild the Old Summer Palace, the main focus has shifted to preserving the site under the UNESCO banner, according to Yao Limin, vice secretary general of the Yuanmingyuan Society of China.

"Now people have shifted their focus to put this relic on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites," Yao said. The idea was first advocated in October 2008 by the ex-deputy director of the Yuanmingyuan Society of China, Xie Ninggao.

Why did the Old Summer Palace apply for world heritage status that late? Chinese people weren't aware of the importance of cultural relics protection in the early years of the People's Republic of China. Changing leaders in Beijing, complicated and long debates over whether rebuild it or not, and moving residents off of the palace grounds all delayed the proposal.

After it was set ablaze by Anglo-French invaders, the Old Summer Palace was left in ruins in 1860. Since then, people moved onto the grounds, planting crops and vegetables, gradually transforming this imperial garden into tiny villages. Many out-of-towners settled there, and private factories set up on the grounds as well.

Yao says most people who lived on the Old Summer Palace grounds moved out by 2010, with the exception of the No.101 Middle School and some government departments. Many buildings and shops circle the old grounds.

"The Old Summer Palace deserves to be included on the World Heritage Site list," Yao said. "It is now a patriotic education base, but that's not enough. If it were a World Heritage Site, then everyone including people from abroad or people whose ancestors were French or British could also come here for a visit. World heritage belongs to all human beings, and the Old Summer Palace is a place for people to look back the history. Together they could work for a world that is a harmonized one, instead of only Chinese visiting to ponder the past." Both Chinese and foreigners should learn lessons from the Old Summer Palace, Yao said, and the Old Summer Palace can only be better protected once it is included on the World Heritage Site list.

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