The Garden of Perfect Brightness—3 Destruction, Looting, and Me
Elgin later explained that he laid waste to the extensive Yuanmingyuan complex because this extraordinary imperial retreat was “the emperor’s favorite residence, and its destruction could not fail to be a blow to his pride as well as to his feelings.” And indeed the destruction of the Yuanmingyuan was not only a challenge to China’s sovereignty and authority, but also a symbolic act of violence against the emperor himself. The young emperor, like his father and grandfather, had grown up and lived in the garden paradise. He never returned to Beijing, but died at Chengde in 1861. Some said he was ashamed of his flight, and had died of heartache over the destruction of the Yuanmingyuan, but it was also true that he was in frail health brought on—it was said—by a life of dissipation. [3]