Collecting and Displaying China's “Summer Palace” in the West : The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France book cover
1st Edition

Collecting and Displaying China's “Summer Palace” in the West
The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France

Edited By

Louise Tythacott

ISBN 9780367432782
Published September 11, 2019 by Routledge
172 Pages

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Book Description

In October 1860, at the culmination of the Second Opium War, British and French troops looted and destroyed one of the most important palace complexes in imperial China—the Yuanmingyuan. Known in the West as the "Summer Palace," this site consisted of thousands of buildings housing a vast art collection. It is estimated that over a million objects may have been taken from the palaces in the Yuanmingyuan—and many of these are now scattered around the world, in private collections and public museums. With contributions from leading specialists, this is the first book to focus on the collecting and display of "Summer Palace" material over the past 150 years in museums in Britain and France. It examines the way museums placed their own cultural, political and aesthetic concerns upon Yuanmingyuan material, and how displays—especially those at the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent, the National Museum of Scotland and the Musée Chinois at the Château of Fontainebleau—tell us more about European representations and images of China, than they do about the Yuanmingyuan itself.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Contributors

Part I: Overviews

1. The Yuanmingyuan and its Objects
Louise Tythacott

2. The Afterlives of a Ruin: The Yuanmingyuan in China and the West
James L. Hevia

3. From The Summer Palace 1860: Provenance and Politics
Nick Pearce

Part II: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain

4. The Yuanmingyuan and Design Reform in Britain
Kate Hill

5. "True Beauty of Form and Chaste Embellishment": Summer Palace Loot and Chinese Porcelain Collecting in Nineteenth-century Britain
Stacey Pierson

6. "Chinese Gordon" and the Royal Engineers Museum
James Scott

7. "Rose-water Upon His Delicate Hands": Imperial and Imperialist Readings of the Hope Grant Ewer
Kevin McLoughlin

Part III: The Yuanmingyuan in France

8. Henri Bertin (1720-1792) and Images of the Yuanmingyuan in Eighteenth-century France
John Finlay

9. Empress Eugénie’s Chinese Museum at the Château of Fontainebleau: An Unusual Décor in the "House of the Ages"
Vincent Droguet

10. Yuanmingyuan on Display: Ornamental Aesthetics at the Musée Chinois
Greg M. Thomas


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Louise Tythacott is Senior Lecturer in Curating and Museology of Asian Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her books include Surrealism and the Exotic, The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display and Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches.


"The history of modern Sino-European relations is still insufficiently known, yet it is of such vital importance to an understanding of China's place and self-positioning in the world today. This volume of essays on Yuanmingyuan by leading and pioneering authors on the topic expertly guide readers through controversial terrain. They provide often unpublished new materials and original perspectives that will generate new scholarship in a lively field of inquiry."

--Ting Chang, University of Nottingham

"The fate of the objects from Beijing’s Summer Palace – including their roles in shaping Western views of China and ongoing debates about repatriation – is an immensely interesting and important subject. This book is very welcome for opening up these questions and bringing new scholarly depth to the debates."

--Sharon Macdonald, Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

"This collection of essays by ten authors brings together collection- and object-focussed studies on aspects of the 1860 partial destruction by Anglo-French forces of the Yuanmingyuan, the large and magnificent complex of palaces and gardens built by and for the Qing emperors between 1709 and 1783. ...This is a useful and extremely thorough collection."

--Beth McKillop, The Oriental Ceramic Society Newsletter