Theme park to be built near site of Old Summer Palace

13:21, June 09, 2010      

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This undated file photo shows part of the Summer Palace. (Photo:

The 303-year-old Yuanmingyuan, or the Old Summer Palace, will have a new theme park and a culture square on its periphery, according to urban planning authorities.

"The adjacent neighborhoods around the Yuanmingyuan Park are in total disorder," reads a February 3 statement on the website of the district government.

"A floating population and illegitimate buildings plague this cultural area, creating hygiene and safety risks," the statement said, suggesting development as a solution.

Haidian Urban Planning Bureau officials were not available to comment Tuesday but a development plan was said to have been drafted Monday pending approval, Beijing Daily reported.

The plan involves an Old Summer Palace theme park and a gateway square outside the walls of the Old Summer Palace.

The implication of modern projects being built beside ruins of an imperial garden and palace complex has been questioned.

"I'm not sure if we need a new theme park," said Old Summer Palace historian Yang Zhenduo from the Yuanmingyuan Society of China. "The new park could be a distraction to the authenticity of the place."

First built in 1707, Yuanmingyuan grew in its magnificence under six emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), stretching over an area of about 350 hectares, until on October 18, 1860, when Lord Elgin ordered the razing of the palace in retaliation for the torture and execution of nearly 20 European and Indian prisoners.

It would be an over-simplification to remember the splendid gardens as a symbol of national humiliation as many still do, said tourist industry professional Tian Lin.

"During the civil wars in the early 20th century, the remains of the garden complex were an open quarry," he said. "Warlords and the common people stole marble from the scorched site, bringing it down to the bare ruins of a few pillars we see today.

For Yang, the cultural significance of the park does not stop at its walls.

"Northwestern Haidian district used to be the summer resort of royals, with many gardens in the suburbs.

"Cultural preservation of the site has to be seen in the context of the entire garden quarter of western Beijing."

A manager at the Yuanmingyuan Management Office, who only gave his surname as Guo, declined to comment on the development plan.

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