Cait Comes to Visit

On November 10th, my girlfriend Cait, came to visit me all the way from Boston.  She arrived that Thursday night and stayed till Tuesday morning and, since it was her first time in China, we planned to see a lot.  On Friday we took a motorized rickshaw-like cart to the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan. Our vehicle jumped right into the fluidity of Beijing traffic, traveling alongside cars, double-length buses, taxis, and, of course, bicycles.

At Yuanmingyuan beside out motorized rickshaw

At the Yuanmingyuan ruins, we read the explanation of the site at the entrance gate. As written by the Chinese Communist Party, “this famous garden was burnt to the ground in October 1860 by the Anglo-French allied forces, leaving a heartbreaking chapter in the history of China. After new China was founded, the party and government paid great attention to protecting the ruins of the imperial garden. Today, these grand ruin clusters are enlightening people on their sad history.”

The CCP’s decision to preserve the ruins and not rebuild them is deliberate; they stay to remind the Chinese of their nation’s humiliation and loss of face by foreign powers and to demonstrate how far they have come as a country under the leadership of the CCP. Because of the anti-foreign aura that surrounds the Yuanmingyuan ruins, we were pleasantly surprised when we did not experience any hostile treatment from the Chinese while touring the site.

Yuanmingyuan, meaning “eternal brightness,” once served as the emperor’s retreat from the Forbidden City. Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty began constructing Yuanmingyuan in 1709 as a palace for his son, Yinzhen. It was expanded by the following emperors and featured scenic Chinese gardens, including a maze for the concubines, and white marble buildings that were said to rival Versailles. Agencies built branches in the vicinity of Yuanmingyuan to deal with government business, and the summer retreat became the chosen environment to host ambassadors.

Gardens of Yuanmingyuan

Yuanmingyuan was first sacked in 1860 by the British and French forces following the results of the Second Opium War. Yuanmingyuan was plundered and burned for three days. The rest of the Summer Palace was destroyed in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion by the Eight Allied-Force.  The New Summer Palace, built at the nearby Kunming Lake, was built and expanded in 1902 by the Empress Dowager Cixi with a fortune of silver intended for the Chinese Navy. However, despite advocates for restoring the original Summer Palace as a tourist site, the protection of Yuanmingyuan has been limited to preservation and not restoration in order to safeguard its historical character.

After touring Yuanmingyuan, Cait and I set out to find a certain “Dai Restaurant,” renowned as one of Beijing’s best by Cait’s Chinese history professor at BC and accomplished Jesuit scholar from Australia—Jeremy.  We ventured to Beijing’s Minority University in search of this fabled restaurant and, with the help of many passersby, we finally found it.  There we ordered the recommended ingredients to a memorable meal: pineapple rice, potato balls, and banana fritters.  It was one of the most interesting, and delicious meals I had had in Beijing.

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