Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Our Quick Little Side Trip to Greece

After three months of Imperial palaces, mega-cities, and the Great Wall, we finally just had to get out of here. China was just getting so wu liao (boring). Sure, they have 5,000 years of history. But where are all of their ancient building and ruins? It was time to go somewhere far away in place and spirit...somewhere like Athens.

Although this story might seem remotely plausible, based on the accompanying photographs, we actually walked from our apartment to the location where these pictures were taken. What is this place where East seems to meet West? Yuanmingyuan...known in English as the Old Summer Palace.

According to various stories I've heard, either the Emperor Qianlong or some Jesuit missionaries built this apparently incredibly fabulous set of European-Chinese gardens and courtyards. I say "apparently" because one can only wonder at what Yuanmingyuan must have been like in its heyday.

When exactly was this heyday? We're talking the 1700s and the 1800s. A long time ago (although it doesn't seem that way by Chinese standards...there's that 5,000 years thing again).

And why exactly did its heyday end? Here's how a sign at the entrance to Yuanmingyuan describes the situation...

Unfortunately, this "wonder of civilization" was sacked, looted, and razed to the ground by Anglo-French forces in 1860.

I say, only half in jest, "thank you Anglo-French forces." While your behavior may have been despicable, the end result a century and a half later is a park that is a welcome variation on a theme in a country that favors restoration over preservation.

Now, if we can just make it out to some truly crumbling sections of the Wall...

~Steve

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