Yuan Ming Yuan: walk among the ruin
Yuan Ming Yuan Ruin scape is a portrait of a place and its visitors.
Yuan Ming Yuan was an imperial site built by the Qing Dynasty to be home and a showcase to the world of it civilization, wealth and sophistication. First in 1860 French and British soldiers on explicit orders to humiliate and extract concessions from China, burned and ransacked the entire complex. This vast area of temples, gardens, villas , hunting grounds and lakes was left a smoking heap. This is considered the beginning of a period that China calls “100 years of humiliation”. But I’m only vaguely interested in these historical facts. I’m more focused on how the Communist Party uses this historical site as propaganda to bolster its own existence and warn the population about the dangers of the West.
Yuan Ming Yuan and especially its western garden was literally built as a facsimile of an idealized Manchu conception of the world. Not only was the topography recreated with mountains and seas but the eunuchs and caretakers were to be props acting out the roles of a type of classical village. For many decades the remaining structures were torn down, sold off, filled in and made into a truly sad ruinscape. But now there is a new role for this ruin to play. Today Chinese visitors have been are prodded to see these ruins as proof of both a past glory and scolding warning about the dangers of national weakness. I’ve asked many people who are visiting the park and almost everyone says this same thing. The teacher has done well.
My fascination with the park is in seeing visitors envision a melancholy fantasy that at once puts them as actors in the royal theme park and simultaneously fresh reporters on crime that happened long ago. There is a sound track in the air.