Vast collection of parks and structures known as the Yuanmingyuan or Summer Palace was built beginning in 1707 by the Kangxi emperor.
The Western palace structures (Xiyang lou 西洋楼) built in the eighteenth century with help of Jesuits Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoist.
The overall complex was the main place of residence for Manchus unaccustomed to the formalistic and confining Forbidden City.
Second Opium War began in 1856 when Britain and France each took advantage of pretexts:
British were outraged over ship (The Arrow) boarded to investigate smuggling.
French similarly angered over a French missionary in southwestern Guangxi province.
The 1858 Tianjin Treaty reached to end hostilities (it was even more humiliating than the Nanjing Treaty), but hostilities resumed after court conservatives sought to limit Anglo-French access past the Dagu forts in Tianjin.
The renewed fighting ended finally after the flight of the humiliated Xianfeng emperor from the capital and the torching and looting of the Yuanmingyuan in October 1860.
Questions for discussion:
Why was it looted and destroyed? What motives do you think drove Anglo-French actions?
Would you consider this legitimate wartime conduct on the part of British and French forces?
What meaning do you think looted artifacts had/have for Europeans? Chinese? How might have this meaning changed over time?
What is the responsibility of those who possess formerly looted objects?
How has the physical site of the Yuanmingyuan transformed in the years since its destruction in 1860?
As a historian, if you were to advise the Chinese government on its future, what would you suggest? What would be your goals?