Rebuilding of the Imperial Gardens: an Examination of Feudalism Production within the Objectives of the Chinese Modernization Project

Rebuilding of the Imperial Gardens: an Examination of Feudalism Production within the Objectives of the Chinese Modernization Project

Weiqi Chu

Department of Architecture, DAAP, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

26 September 2019
| Citation



The ‘Imperial Gardens,’ or the ‘Garden of Gardens,’ became known as the ‘Versailles of the East’ when it was built by the Kangxi Emperor in the 1700s. However, unfortunate events such as the Second Opium Wars destroyed much of its magnificent gardens, architecture, and art. Subsequent reconstruc- tion and conservation attempts have generated heated debates between conservationists and those who favour reconstructing the ruins. The Imperial Gardens has been challenged since the 1980s by nationalists who claim it should be modernized because it represents the oppressive feudal system that ruled ancient China. While some view it as a reminder of a painful and oppressive past, conservationists view it as an important treasure that is both historically and architecturally significant. Reconstruction often damages what remains of ruins. It is difficult to recreate the original appearance of a structure as well as use original materials, technology, etc.: it might not be possible to completely rebuild the magnificent and beautiful architecture that once graced the site. Reconstruction could be as damaging as complete destruction, and replacement and alteration employed would be false. In the end there is beauty, life, and truth in age. This paper discusses the importance of architecture that is rich with his- torical purpose. The Imperial Gardens is a treasure whose ruins should be protected and respected as a critical and legitimate Chinese historical monument. The Imperial Gardens has value, both historically and architecturally, and deserves to be preserved--not restored. Reconstruction would distort its value and status as a monument.


architectural, debate, historical, heritage, monument, reconstruction, restoration, value.


[1] M.Li, L., “The 40 Scenes.” The Garden of Perfect Brightness—1: The Yuanmingyuan as imperial paradis (1799–1860), MIT Visualizing Culture, p. 13, 2012.

[2] Musillo, M., Mid-Qing Arts and Jesuit Visions: Encounters and Exchanges in Eighteenth-Century Beijing. In ed. Susan Delson, Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals. Prestel Publishing. pp. 146–161, 2011.

[3] Endacott, G.B., A Biographical Sketch-Book of Early Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, pp. 45, 2005.

[4] Hugo, V.M., The Chinese Expedition: Victor Hugo on the Sack of the Summer Palace. November 1861. Online Resource:

[5] Wong, Y.T., A Paradise Lost: The Imperial Garden Yuanmingyuan, University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 2001.

[6] Wang, Y., A Comprehension of Feng-Shui and Its Relevance to Landscape Architecture, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, p. 15, 2012.

[7] Barmé, G., The garden of perfect brightness, a life in ruins. The George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology (57th: 1996: Australian National University, Canberra). East Asian History, 11, p. 111, 1996.

[8] Lip, E. & Shui, F., Environments of Power, A Study of Chinese Architecture, Academy: London, 1995.

[9] Yu, J., Lecture: Architectural Decoration and Baroque Style in European Garden in Yuanmingyuan, 2013.

[10] Image of Haitan Tang, Online Source: 17/16737474_510730313.shtml 970&wfr=spider&for=pc

[11] Image of the Water Jet in the Fountain of Haiyan Tang, Online Source:

[12] Image of Dashuifa. Online Source: html

[13] Huanghua Zhen., OnlineSource:

[14] Ahmad, Y., The scope and definitions of heritage: From tangible to intangible. International journal of heritage studies, 12(3), pp. 298, 2006. https://doi. org/10.1080/13527250600604639

[15] Lee, H., The ruins of Yuanmingyuan: Or, how to enjoy a national wound. In Places of Memory in Modern China, 7, p. 195, 2011.

[16] The Imperial Gardens, (accessed 22 October, 2015).

[17] Tsui, B., Decolonization and revolution: Debating gandhism in republican China. Modern China 41.1 (2015): 59. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File, (accessed 7 December 2015).

[18] Kleutghen, K., Imperial Illusions: Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces, University of Washington Press: Seattle, 2015.

[19] Lai, G., Demas, M. & Agnew, N., Valuing the past in China: The seminal influence of liang sicheng on heritage conservation. Orientations, 35(2), pp. 88, 2004.

[20] Du Cros, H., Bauer, T., Lo, C. & Rui, S., Cultural heritage assets in china as sustainable tourism products: Case studies of the Hutongs and the Huanghua section of the great wall. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 13(2), pp. 179, 2005. https://doi. org/10.1080/09669580508668484

[21] McDowell, S., The ashgate research companion to heritage and identity. Heritage, Memory and Identity, pp. 45, 2008.

[22] Creswell, T., Place: A Short Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

[23] Dreyer, J.T., China’s Political System: Modernization and Tradition, 8th edn., Person, p. 23, 2012.

[24] Riegl, A., The modern cult of monuments: Its essence and its development. Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, 69, p. 83, 1996.

[25] Gerlach, E., Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, ed. K. Vanovitych, 5th edn., Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 2007.

[26] Cong, W.X., Perfect and mutilation. In the Journal of New Reading Writing, 6, pp. 48–49, 2004.

[27] Ryckmans, P., The Chinese attitude towards the past. China Heritage Quarterly, no. 14, p. 1, China Heritage Project, The Australian National University, 2008.