The Old Summer Palace was an imperial garden and building complex on the outskirts of Beijing that symbolized a flourishing age of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). In 1709, it came to include the Yuanming, Changchun, and Qichun Gardens with over a hundred scenic spots that were spread over more than 160,000 square meters. These were built and expanded by five emperors known by their reign names: Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Daoguang, who ruled for over 150 years. The gardens and their buildings represented the essence of regional styles in China from north and south as well as east and west.

The Old Summer Palace is one of the grandest imperial gardens in Chinese history and one of the finest examples in the world’s history of gardens. A jewel of the empire during the eighteenth century, it was known as the “Garden of Gardens.” After a clash with Western powers in 1860, it was almost totally destroyed. One can only speculate how magnificent it must have appeared during its golden age.

In the more than 150 years since the Old Summer Palace was destroyed, scholars have continued to scour archival records and architectural history in an effort to reconstruct the original appearance of the Palace. With today’s modern technology, their efforts can be realized and provide a completely new digital interpretation of glorious scenes from the Old Summer Palace. Contributions by international collectors, who have artifacts from the Old Summer Palace in their possession, further enhances this exhibit. This marks a new milestone in the history of this fabulous imperial garden and palatial complex.

The well known French writer Victor Hugo once praised the Old Summer Palace as a dreamland reminiscent of the spirit of the “Arabian Nights.” The architectural vision of the Old Summer Palace not only represented a world view of the Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors, but also some garden architecture imitated Western designs. These included buildings at Versailles, the realm of the immortals on the island of Penglai, and the Peach Blossom Spring of Chinese legends and literature. This classic of garden architecture represented one of the most beautiful creations of the Qing Empire.

The exhibit is organized by chapters to tell the story of the Old Summer Palace. It is created as a series of multi-dimensional experiences to explore the gardens from different viewpoints. Combined with interactive installations and digital art, the exhibit takes audiences through time and space to one of the most beautiful reflections of the Qing—the “Old Summer Palace.”