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Paradise Lost

The Imperial Garden Yuanming Yuan

Young-Tsu Wong

Publication Year: 2001

Noted for its magnificent architecture and extraordinary history, the Yuanming Yuan is China's most famous imperial garden. The complex was begun in the early eighteenth century, and construction continued over the next 150 years. While Chinese historians, and many Chinese in general, view the garden as the paramount achievement of Chinese architecture and landscape design, almost nothing is known about the Yuanming Yuan in the West. A Paradise Lost is the first comprehensive study of the palatial garden complex in a Western language. Written in a broad and engaging style, Young-tsu Wong brings "the garden of perfect brightness" to life as he leads readers on a grand tour of its architecture and history. Wong begins by inspecting the garden's physical appearance and its architectural elements. He discusses the origin and evolution of these structures and the aesthetics of their design and arrangement. Throughout he refers to maps and original models of individual buildings and other existing gardens of the Ming-Qing period, including the well-preserved Yihe Yuan and the Chengde Summer Mountain Retreat in Rehe. A special feature of the book is its exploration of the activities and daily life of the royal household.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

My interest in the imperial garden Yuanming Yuan began in the summer of 1981, when I first visited its ruins site near Peking University. During the subsequent years, I read and collected books and articles on the Yuanming Yuan. In 1986, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University allowed me to teach an honors course on the Yuanming Yuan with Professor Joseph...

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pp. 1-6

The rise and fall of the palatial imperial garden Yuanming Yuan is the history of the Sinic Qing Empire in miniature. Its rise paralleled the beginning of the Pax Sinica at the time of the great Kangxi emperor (r. 1662–1722). It took one and a half centuries of endless constructions to become arguably the greatest imperial garden China had ever built, a shining pearl of the great...

PART ONE: Architecture

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Chapter 1. Provenance

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pp. 9-23

Before discussing the rise of the Yuanming Yuan, the greatest garden the Chinese have ever built, let us first summarize traditional Chinese garden art. Garden design and construction constitute a vital part of the Chinese cultural tradition. Living in a beautiful and diverse natural environment with a unique landscape, the Chinese have developed a distinct garden aesthetic over the span...

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Chapter 2. Disposition

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pp. 24-50

The Yuanming Yuan imperial garden consisted of the most magnificent architectural works the Qing Empire ever created. It represents a glory in the Chinese cultural tradition and the pinnacle of Chinese garden arts. The site on which the Yuanming Yuan was built is a plain rich in fresh water at the foot of the Jade Spring Hills near present-day Haidian, northwest of Beijing. The water from the Jade Spring has been described as cool and clear, to be admired...

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Chapter 3. Expansion

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pp. 51-70

The Qianlong emperor considered his garden project complete when he designated in 1744 the Forty (Best) views, a kaleidoscopic series of selected scenic spots in the Yuanming Yuan. But, actually, the emperor’s extraordinary passion for building more gardens had just begun. In addition to the summer retreat at Chengde and the Skinny West Lake (Shuo Xihu) in Yangzhou, he expanded the Yuanming Yuan so much that it eventually consisted of many more dozens of smaller...

PART TWO: History

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Chapter 4. Rise

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pp. 73-100

The history of the Yuanming Yuan began with Kangxi, the emperor of China from 1662 to 1722. He was the Son of Heaven and the ruler of the Celestial Empire, with Beijing as his imperial capital—the center of his imperial world. When he fully secured his immense power in the final decades of the seventeenth century, he had already refurbished many desolated gardens and parklands left behind by Khitan (Qidan), Jurchen (Ruzhen), and Ming princes at...

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Chapter 5. Structure and Function

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pp. 101-117

We have thus far recounted the physical appearance as well as the historical evolution of the Yuanming Yuan. In this chapter, we shall look into the inner operation of the garden. How was the garden administered? Who ran the daily matters? How was security maintained? What was the punishment when rules were violated or crimes committed? From recently available archival...

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Chapter 6. Royal Daily Life

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pp. 118-132

The emperor of China, or Son of Heaven, was entitled to the maximum pleasure. In imperial China, it was taken for granted that the country and people are both “to consecrate one person” (gongfeng yiren). Only the ruler’s own conscience could restrain his passion and desire. In this sense, the magnificent Yuanming Yuan only matched the paramount status of the Qing emperors who conquered a vast empire. The garden came of age in 1723 upon the ascendancy of the Yongzheng...

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Chapter 7. The Sacking

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pp. 133-160

The fall of the Yuanming Yuan to foreign invaders must be understood in the context of Sino-Western confrontations in the nineteenth century. Although the post-Opium War (1839–1842) treaty system had secured British commercial interests that neither Macartney nor Amherst had been able to obtain, Britain sought to expand her privileges on the China coast. On the other hand, the newly ascended Xianfeng emperor, ashamed of losing to the British national...

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Chapter 8. Repairs and the Final Blows

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pp. 161-187

The inferno of 1860 disfigured the Yuanming Yuan so much that the imperial garden was no longer fit for royal living. Troops and eunuchs, however, guarded the destroyed garden estate to keep out unauthorized persons. The newly ascended Tongzhi emperor, together with the two dowagers, Cian and Cixi, escorted Xianfeng’s coffin back to Beijing from Chengde. They all took residence inside the Forbidden City. They missed the pleasant garden life, and their memory...

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Epilogue: The Yuanming Yuan Ruins Park

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pp. 188-194

Regardless of the relentless natural and human assaults since the turn of the century, miraculously, the ruins of the Yuanming Yuan have survived to this day. The latest crisis was the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, during which farms, factories, and schools were established in the ruins, rendering damage to the landscape. The conclusion of the revolution in 1976 came in time to prevent the prospect of erasing the ruins entirely. Even more important, the bitter...


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pp. 195-200


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pp. 201-209


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pp. 211-220

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 221-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863876
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822262

Publication Year: 2001

OCLC Number: 50060560
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Paradise Lost

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Subject Headings

  • Landscape architecture -- China -- Beijing -- History.
  • Historic gardens -- China -- Beijing.
  • Gardens, Chinese -- China -- Beijing -- History.
  • Yuan Ming Yuan (Beijing, China) -- History.
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