Palace officials attack plan for replica gardens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am

Beijing's Old Summer Palace has publicly opposed a company's plan to reconstruct imperial gardens destroyed 148 years ago, saying it was impossible to replicate their original state because of insufficient records.

The management of the palace, called Yuanmingyuan or 'Garden of Perfect Brightness', finally broke its silence after the Hengdian Group's announcement in September 2006 that it planned to raise 20 billion yuan (HK$21.8 billion) for the project.

It has only raised 1.56 billion yuan so far and is considering an initial public offering to make up the shortfall. The company said it would create a full-scale copy of Yuanmingyuan - which has lain in ruins since being torched by British and French troops - in its heyday, based on an extensive survey and site visits.

Zong Tianliang , a spokesman for the palace's management office, said Hengdian's claims that it could recreate all the 126 scenic spots in the original were 'unrealistic' and its surveys were 'unscientific'.

Mr Zong said an archaeological study carried out by the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage had found that a few major spots inside the gardens actually had ruins from different dynasties.

It also discovered errors in the existing records.

Strongly criticising the company's plan, he said: '[Yuanmingyuan] has unique social and political status, and it's not something that can be easily reconstructed by any company just by paying money.'

He also warned that the company risked infringing copyright law for using the name 'Yuanmingxinyuan' - adding the word 'Xin', meaning new - for the planned gardens, and palace management reserved the right to take legal action.

He said the law required reconstruction projects to use original materials and designs to reconstruct architectural heritage on its original site.

Hengdian Group founder Xu Wenrong said last week the palace's construction would begin this year on a 400-hectare site in Hengdian, Zhejiang , and was expected to take five years to complete. Mr Xu, who is in Hong Kong, declined to comment.