Yuanmingyuan Ruins

Nicholas Quirke was starting the weekend on 11 April 2020 with a third visit to a Beijing ruin. The difference on this visit was not only that he was accompanied by Peng but that unlike the other 2 sites this was not a location lost to the self destruction of the Chinese in the 60’s Cultural Revolution but instead, Yuanminguuan,’ Gardens of Perfect Brightness’ a 800 acre complex of palaces and gardens, was a calculated act of vandalism by the British army in 1860 during the 2nd Opium Wars. When it emerged that a delegation to Beijing had been tortured and 20 had died, the British retaliated by ordering the complete destruction of the palace, which was then carried out by British troops. It took 4,000 men 3 days of burning to destroy it. The location was too far for a cycle ride and they took the subway North to the Haiden district after breakfast. On the journey he learned that with more and more shops and restaurants opening the major restaurants had started putting up their prices to compensate for the lack of business and the difficulties involved in getting fresh produce. This created a Weibo (twitter equivalent) storm with citizens responding by saying they would not use the establishments. The major restaurants had issued an apology and dropped their prices again but also advising that while their customers had suffered , they had suffered too. There was now a wave of understanding flooding the social network channels. Nicholas also learned from Peng that he could actually talk to his GoPro and get it to start recording, as a result, having already learned that he could mute the annoying beep which always heralded the turning off and on pop the device, he now started over using Facility and talking to it, which was in danger of becoming more irritating. “GoPro start recording, GoPro stops recording”The park, when they got to it was busy. It was another glorious and sunny day and it was evident families we’re out in force to enjoy the weather and make a pilgrimage to site of western desecration. The gardens were beautiful and the scent of lilac in the air was overpowering. During this visit had observed a yawning dichotomy between ancient and modern China and the park illustrated this difference perfectly, a sense of harmony and elegance opposed to contemporary crass tastelessness. Seeing the ruins was a heartbreaking sight ands as he looked at the violated landscape he thought of the words he had read written by a soldier “You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore; It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.” He knelt at the site of the gate, ostensibly to get a good photo of the symbol of China’s national wound, built also in atonement for such destruction. A local took advantage of his servile position and to Nicholas’s amusement stood right next to him to get a photograph of the Western Infidel in such a servile posture. Peng had sourced a restaurant they could eat at, ‘Mrs Ye’s’, a vegetarian establishment who eschewed the use of faux meats, as the food must taste as it is. It was delicious and he learned a new phrase specifically to share his satisfaction with the owner, ‘Hauchi’. They found a trendy coffee shop where he could have a tea and then went to a food mall where Peng indulged in his favourite past time of buying sweet vegan deserts. Once home Peng laid out the gluttonous ricer and varied treats and they tried them one by one. Nicholas was bloated by the time the day finished and after an informative and slightly worrying conversation with his sister whose house was being flooded through the air vent from the chimney with honey, happy to relax and watch the sub-standard remake of ’Carrie’, though somehow a bowl of nuts were consumed during the viewing.


  1. Does the Go Pro talk back?
    Beautiful gardens and ruins. What a shameful history.
    Was it turtles making that funny sound in the rushes?
    That looks like far too many desserts for two people. Are they sweet? I am sure I have been disappointed by Chinese desserts turning out to be quite bland despite the bright colours.

    1. It doesn’t talk back, but it responds to my instructions. 4 years without knowing I could do that is almost as shameful as our history in this region. Frogs were making that noise. Its their equivalent of Cicadias. Some were sweet some glutinous. My favourite is the Ching Tuan. Xxx

  2. Horrible histories indeed…humans really are execrable. Reminds me of a Greek or Roman ruin, like Knossos perhaps, but strangely so much more recent. x

  3. What a terrible history, so very sad. On a lighter note, it was lovely to hear your voice my friend! xxx

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