The Yuan Ming Yuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness, also known as yuanmingyuan remains park)
now sits isolated from the main Summer Palace, but was a grand collection of palaces by the Qing
Qianlong emperor in the mid-18th century. He commissioned Jesuits at his court to design and
construct a set of European-style buildings in one corner, which they likened to Versailles.
Unfortunately, Yungmingyuan was destroyed by British and French troops during the Second
Opium War in 1860 and again by eight allied foreign forces in 1900.
Perhaps the most remarkable structure in yuanmingyuan was a zodiac water clock fountain which
spouted from 12 bronze heads, Four of which (an ox, a monkey, a tiger and a pig) are now
housed in the impressive Poly Art Museum at the avant-garde building new poly plaza. (see below
for the status of the remaining animal sculptures.)
The palace is now made up of three idyllic parks: Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness)
in the west, Wanchunyuan (Garden of 10,000 Springs, known initially as the Garden of Variegated
Spring, Qichunyuan) in the south, and Changchunyuan (Garden of Everlasting Spring), where the
European ruins of marble palaces can be found, in the east. To the west of ruins there’s a fun
labyrinth (wanhuazhen), a reconstruction of the one that was destroyed. After you explore the
ruins, the gardens are great for picnicking, scrambling over rocks, and rowing on the lake
A list of the whereabouts of the 12 animal statues (as of March 1, 2009)
Rat: was in Yves Saint Laurent’s collection.
Sold for $18 million at hammer price ($20 million with fees) to an anonymous bidder in Paris in
Chinese bidder, Cai mingchao (Chinese: 蔡铭超), won’t pay for YSL auction statues
Ox: bought by the China Poly Group in 2000 for $954,000, now at the Poly Art Museum in
Tiger: bought by the China Poly Group in 2000 for $1.99 million, now at the Poly Art
Museum in Beijing.
Rabbit: was in Yves Saint Laurent’s collection.
Sold for $18 million at hammer price ($20 million with fees) to a telephone bidder in Paris in
Chinese bidder, Cai mingchao, won’t pay for YSL auction statues
Horse: was in a private collection in Taiwan. Purchased by Macao gaming magnate Stanley
Ho in 2007 for $8.84 million and donated to China. Currently at the Capital Museum in
Monkey: bought by the China Poly Group in 2000 for $1.05 milllion, now at the Poly Art
Museum in Beijing.
Dog: in 2003, a Hong Kong auction house claimed to be selling the dog from the Summer
Palace water clock, but consultants from the Poly Art Museum said the craftsmanship didn’t
match the other four the Poly Group has recovered.
Pig: purchased by Stanley Ho in 2003 (from a NY collector) and donated to China.
Currently at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
Italian Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione(1688-1766), known also by his Chinese name, Lang Shining (郎世宁) was
commissioned by Emperor Qianlong in 1747 to design and build European-style fountains and palaces (western mansions,
xiyanglou) in the northeast section of yuanminyuan. Jean-Denis Attiret (1702-68) and Ignatius Sichelbarth (1708-80) were
charged with the plans and elevations for the palace buildings, while French scientist Michel Benoist (1715-74, Chinese name:
蔣友仁) supervised construction of the several fountains. Work started at the west end with an ensemble consisting of the
Palace of the Delights of Harmony (Xieqiqu, Chinese: 谐奇趣) on the north flanked by a Water Storage Hall(Xushuilou) on the
west and and an Aviary(Yangquelong, Chinese: 养雀笼) on the east (ca.1747-51). This suite has been compared to the now
lost Trianon de Porcelaine of Versailles (ca. 1670). The largest portion of the project was a strip extending west to east about
770m by 60m with Belvedere (Fangwaiguan， Chinese: 方外观) and Calm Sea Hall (Haiyantang, Chinese: 海晏堂). Both were
elevated structures complemented by fountains. Nude statues commonly found in European gardens were not allowed in
Qianlong’s European-style garden. Instead, The Hall of Calm Sea has a zodiac fountain (clepsydra) with water spouts in the
form of twelve bronze animal heads, one for each two-hour division of the day (or zodiac) as a water clock. The fountain did
not long function. Pumps designed by Benoist broke down. In later years palace eunuchs were required to carry buckets of
water to fill the tanks prior to imperial visits. To the east the Great Fountain (DA Shuifa， Chinese： was complemented
by a viewing area opposite for the imperial throne (Guan Shuifa)