Ernst Ohlmer: Imperial summer palace in China (Beijing), destructed 1860, China, 1873. Photography on album paper.
Mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek. © bpk-Bildagentur
At the center of the Chinese empire was the “garden”. Unlike in Europe, the ruler’s ceremonial palace was not the focus of attention from which an expanse of green spaces radiated. No, the palace of the Emperor of China was itself an ensemble: an abundance of smaller structures, hundreds in number and mostly single-story, spread generously throughout a picturesque terrain of lakes, rivers and mountains. Some of the buildings were designed in the spirit of the Baroque – by an Italian Jesuit who enjoyed a special position at the court of the Qianlong Emperor and who went by a Chinese name: Lang Shining. The sheer scale of the “Garden of Gardens” meant that the destruction and looting of the site by British and French troops, some 4,000 strong, took a full three days and nights. That was in 1860, during the Second Opium War, which cleared the way for further colonialist interference in China. The treasures looted at that time are now scattered in 47 different museums across the world.