The Garden of Perfect Brightness—3 Destruction, Looting, and Me
The European Section Ruins Over Time

As Régine Thiriez has documented, the European section ruins continued to be photographed by Westerners from the 1870s through the 1930s. [13]

Of particular interest among these images is a photograph by Théophile Piry, taken around 1911, which shows two French and Russian diplomatic families celebrating the engagement of two of their children to each other. The picnic in the ruins perfectly illustrates the ironies of the Yuanmingyuan European palaces—built by the Qing emperor on European models, destroyed and looted by European troops, and later enjoyed by Europeans as a recreational site. The Chinese servants in the background do not seem to be enjoying the occasion very much.
French and Russian diplomats picnic at the Yuanmingyuan ruins around 1911. Their Chinese servants, still wearing the queues the Manchus required of their male Chinese subjects, are visible off to the side. [14]

Photograph by Théophile Piry. Collection, Charles Blackburn, Neuilly, France.
The most photographed ruin in Yuanmingyuan Park today is the arched gate that stood behind the Great Fountain (Dashuifa 大水法), with the ornate columns of the Yuanyingguan standing slightly elevated behind it.

photographs by Druh Scoff / Flickr
The Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park Today

Over the years, as the Yuanmingyuan was repeatedly culled of its artifacts by both foreigners and Chinese, its grounds were turned into farmland and housed villages of farmers. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, 15 work units numbering about 270 people were located there. Under the constant urging of Premier Zhou Enlai, in 1988 the Fuhai Lake area and the European ruins were opened to the public, and in the 1990s some of the other gardens were developed into a recreational park, with its lakes available for boating, children’s amusement, restaurants, tourist shops, and the like.

The European ruins are by far the area most visited and photographed. Most recognizable is the arch of the gate that formed the background for the Great Fountain (Dashuifa), with the ornate columns of the Yuanyingguan on the hill above it. No tourist could fail to have his or her picture taken in front of these iconic ruins, and the many photographs and videos of Yuanmingyuan Park that now appear online convey the different uses and aspects of its restoration.
The base of the shell-shaped fountain at the front of the Haiyantang survives by itself, with only a few shards of the palace itself remaining. This is where the 12 zodiac animals signaled the hours by spouting water at prescribed times.

photograph by Druh Scoff / Flickr