Known in the West as the “Summer Palace,” this site consisted of thousands of buildings housing a vast art collection. It is estimated that over a million objects may have been taken from the palaces in the Yuanmingyuan – and many of these are now scattered around the world, in private collections and public museums.
Located eight kilometers (five miles) northwest of the Forbidden City – a site saved for special occasions – lies the Old Summer Palace, which was the main residence of Qing dynasty royalty, and the place where China’s ruling elite handled their day-to-day affairs.
Constructed in the early 18th Century by the Qianlong Emperor, this over-the-top palace complex was five times bigger than the Forbidden City down the road. The Old Summer Palace was an intricate web of buildings, paths, lakes, gardens, bridges, and halls that housed a mighty collection of priceless cultural treasures. At least, it was until the Second Opium War rocked it to its foundations.
Rumbling between 1856 and 1860, the Second Opium War pitted the Qing dynasty against Britain and France over international trade. To put it simply, Britain wanted to sell opium in China, and China wanted to stop them.
France joined forces with their European neighbors, and when the invading forces gained the upper hand, they sent a small party to negotiate China’s surrender. Meanwhile, on October 18, 1860, soldiers of the imperialist forces looted anything they could get their hands on in the Old Summer Palace.
According to UNESCO, about 1.6 million Chinese relics are in the possession of 47 museums worldwide – mostly in Britain and Europe, these include 1 million from the Old Summer Palace alone.
The Chinese were in no mood to negotiate while the Anglo-French forces plundered everything in sight, so they imprisoned, tortured, and killed 20 men in the negotiating party. Then, in a characteristic display of British restraint, High Commissioner Lord Elgin ordered the destruction of the Old Summer Palace – the final act in a bloody war.
It took 4,000 British and French soldiers three whole days of spiteful violence to burn the palace complex to the ground — an attack regarded as the single largest act of vandalism in China’s modern history. More than 300 maids and eunuchs were torched to death while they were hiding from the intruders.
The European forces pillaged a bounty of rare cultural artifacts — ancient books, gold, paintings, bronze sculptures, porcelain, silks, you name it. Lord Elgin organized an auction and the soldiers shared the spoils. While some items have been repatriated to China, the treasures can still be found in museums and homes around Europe. One example of a rare breed of dog was even taken back to Queen Victoria, who nicknamed him Looty.
Victor Hugo, the French author better known for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, reflected on the disgrace in a letter in 1861. “One day two bandits entered the Summer Palace. One plundered, the other burned,” Hugo wrote. “And back they came to Europe, arm in arm, laughing away. We call ourselves civilized and them barbarians. This is what civilization has done to the barbarians.”
The massive looting of the Old Summer Palace is a well-known historic event among Chinese people as it is a symbol of how corrupt, weak and cowardly the country was when it was under the rule of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the middle of the 19th century. It reflects how Western imperialists and big colonial powers invaded, plundered, and damaged China barbarically.
Chinese analysts said that due to the current tensions between China and some Western countries, especially the US and some of its allies, the danger of war has become a concern among some Chinese people, who feel that some Westerners still hold extreme hostility against China even 160 years after the palace was looted. If the People’s Republic of China were as weak as the Qing Dynasty, the US might not be hesitant to launch a real war to crack down on the rising China, the analysts noted.
“Chinese people have always reminded themselves of the humiliation and tragic memories of the past, so they will be motivated to put more efforts into making the country as powerful as possible, and keep vigilant to deal with the challenges today,” Zhang Yiwu, a professor from Peking University, told the Global Times newspaper.
In my opinion, if Britain and those European nations – who are proudly displaying the precious artifacts looted from China and the rest of the world have a minimum sense of shame or dignity, they should immediately return the looted items and seek an apology. But possibly they are not going to do that. Instead of returning the looted artifacts, Britain is rather showing its extremely shameless face by putting some of those items into the auction. Back in 2018, despite China’s attempts to stop the sale, the Tiger Ying, an archaic bronze water vessel looted by a British soldier from the Old Summer Palace in 1860, was sold in the UK for £410,000 to an anonymous buyer. Its sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries proceeded in the face of outcry in China, including calls by its State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the China Association of Auctioneers to boycott the sale.
The vessel, which dates to the Western Zhou (1027-771 BC) period, was rediscovered only last month in the attic of a bungalow in a seaside town in Kent by the dealer Alastair Gibson, the auction house’s consultant in Chinese art, along with three other later Qing Dynasty bronzes. They had been brought back from China by Royal Marines Captain Harry Lewis Evans (1831-1883), who was present when the emperor’s Summer Palace in Peking (Beijing) was looted by British and French forces in 1860 during the second Opium War. Initially estimated at £120,000 to 200,000, the Tiger Ying is one of seven such vessels known to be in existence, of which five are in museums.
The birthplace of coronavirus
Although US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had categorically held China responsible for spreading coronavirus or Covid-19 throughout the globe, the World Health Organization has said that while the exact path the virus took between its animal source and humans is still unclear, COVID-19 was “unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019”.
On November 20, 2020, The New York Post published a report stating, China suggests Italy may be the birthplace of the pandemic.
It said, the National Cancer Institute in China are suggesting the contagion may have been spreading in the European nation as early as September – three months before it was confirmed to be spreading in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
According to the latest media report, experts are expected to visit Wuhan to determine if the pandemic has originated from China, while there were news items stating – the original birthplace of Covid-19 was Britain. The blame-game by the US and India, without having specific evidence can only be termed as wild propaganda aimed at making China the scapegoat.
While scientists are trying to locate the epicenter of Covid-19, a large segment of the global populace is having serious doubt about the case of pandemic and terming it as one of the biggest hoaxes in the history of the world.