From ArtSpeak China (ASC) Wiki
History & Development
Emperor Qianlong expanded Yuanmingyuan, also known as “The Old Summer Place” or “Garden of the Perfect Brightness”, from the original hundred acres to eight hundred and sixty five acres. This made the site roughly eight times larger than the Vatican in Rome. The best builders and landscape architects in the empire were commissioned to construct a network of elaborate pavilions, gardens and fountains. However, like the Forbidden City, only members of the Imperial family were allowed access to Yuanmingyuan. The entire building project took approximately seventy years to complete. Subsequent Emperors continued to expand and renovate the site until the 19th century.
In an attempt to escape invading forces during the last stages of the second Anglo-French opium war, also known as the Arrow War (1856-1860), Emperor Hsienfeng was forced to abandon Yuanmingyuan.
As a memorial to the once grand site and a reminder of the barbaric acts committed by invading forces, Premier Zhou Enlai turned a small portion of the Yuanmingyuan grounds into a park in 1951. However, much of the land was left to local farmers. The choice to officially memorialize the site may have been motivated in part by a desire to foster a national and anti-imperialist ethos during the Korean War.
Yuanmingyuan was further divided into a series of small business and villages During the Cultural Revolution. In 1982 city officials unveiled a staged reconstruction plan to reclaim sections of Yuanmingyuan. By the late 1990s, all residents who occupied 346 of the 865 remaining acres were evicted to make way for further reconstruction efforts.
Yuanmingyuan Art Village
Among the first artists to gather at Fu Yuan Mun village near Yuanmingyuan in the late 1980s were Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Yang Shaobin, Wang Qingsong, and Qi Zhilong. This inital collective would gain considerable fame in the mid-1990s for founding the Cynical Realism movement.
In May 1992 the China Youth Daily published an article titled “The Artists’ Village in the Ruins of Yuanmingyuan.” This article soon caught the attention of numerous international media sources. Following subsequent publications and art events, the village gained international status as an avant garde hot spot, however, this same recognition soon attracted the attention of government authorities. Concerned about the growing population at Yuanmingyuan, potentially subversive activities, and the locations close proximity to multiple universities, authorities decided to officially close the village in 1995. Artist Yue Minjun recalls the trouble he experienced prior to the village closure stating, "We were a headache for local police, who thought we were troublemakers. They just didn't want us to live there, but had no reason to get rid of us so they kept coming to our homes. It was hard to concentrate on painting." The harassment endured by artists, the ensuing eviction, and the arrest of Yunmingyuan residents is captured in Zhao Liang’s experimental documentary Farewell Yuan Min Yuan (1995), which documents the last days of the settlement. Recently evicted and widely dispersed, many artists from the Yuanmingyuan Village moved on to establish or join other art communities such as the Songzhuang Artists Village.
Since 1995 there have been numerous efforts by private and public organizations to reconstruct elements of the Yuanmingyuan. In 1997 a partial copy of the original imperial palace was constructed in the southern city of Zhuhai in Guangdong. This site was later opened as the New Yuan Ming Palace (圓明新園) amusement park. Other commercial ventures include the film Yuanmingyuan (2006) written and directed by Tiemu Jin, which presents audiences with a computer-generated reconstruction of the grounds. The actual Yuanmingyuan ruins are open to tourists during the day for an entrance fee of around (RMB) 15, or (USD) 2 dollars. Although some gardens, lakes, and scenic vistas have been recreated, plans for large-scale reconstruction efforts remain fiercely debated.
Anne-Marie Broudehoux: The Making and Selling of post-Mao Beijing. New York: Routledge, (2004)
Young-tsu Wong: A Paradise Lost: The Imperial Garden Yuanming Yuan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, (2001)