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Ancient garden to get a replica
20/10/2006 9:42

Some 146 years after Anglo-French Forces stormed Beijing's Yuanmingyuan and burnt it to the ground, a Chinese private foundation announced yesterday that it would build a replica of the famous royal garden.

The China Culture Relics Protection Foundation and the privately owned Zhejiang Hengdian Foundation for Chinese Cultural Development, led by 72-year-old Xu Wenrong, will collaborate on the replica project to be built in Hengdian, Zhejiang Province.

Funds will be raised in China and overseas to build the replica and collect cultural treasures from the garden, said Xu, chairman of the Zhejiang Hengdian Foundation for Chinese Cultural Development.

"The replica will be a 1:1 imitation of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) complex, featuring the three main building clusters of Yuanming, Changchun and Qichun gardens. It will cover more than 400 hectares, and 40 percent will be water," said chief designer Zhang Xianchun.

The designer said the new Yuanmingyuan will express "the artistic quintessence of Chinese gardens."

Xu said that he had been dreaming about the project for 15 years and was confident of being able to recreate the splendor of Yuanmingyuan.

But Xu's ambition has met fervent opposition in many quarters.

Professor Ruan Yisan, director of the State Institute of Famous Historical and Cultural Cities at the Shanghai-based Tongji University, said: "Yuanmingyuan took 150 years to build. It cannot be recreated in five or 10 years."

"The present-day ruins are testimony to that period of history. The replica is unnecessary," Ruan insisted. "It would be better to spend the money on ancient cultural heritage sites which are in dire need of protection or build some modern mansions blended with aspects of ancient Chinese architecture.

"If the replica is billed as a tourist attraction, it might lose a lot of money, given the huge funds needed for its construction."

China has 2,500 such tourist sites, with an investment of 150 billion yuan (US$18.75 billion). Only 10 percent of them are profitable.

Ruan is not the only critic of the project. Ye Yanfang, a researcher with the institute of foreign literature with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the destruction of Yuanmingyuan was a scar left by powerful Western nations on the back of the Chinese nation. Preserving the ruins in Beijing would protect the true facts of history.

According to historical records, construction of the original Yuanmingyuan began in 1707 and continued for 150 years under five Qing Dynasty emperors. It consisted of three interconnected gardens over 350 hectares.