160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

In December 2021, there were crowds of people wrapped in heavy cotton coats waiting impatiently in line inside a railing outside a tourist attraction on Qinghua West Road in Haidian District, Beijing.

What they want to see is the world-famous Yuanmingyuan, which was once a large royal garden built during the Qing Dynasty in China, covering an area of 200,000 square meters, with more than 150 scenic spots in the garden.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

Unfortunately, however, during the Second Opium War, most of the garden's treasures were plundered and burned by the British and French allies, and only a small portion was preserved.

After the founding of New China, the garden was explored in depth by experts with the approval of the government in order to better preserve the only remaining cultural heritage inside and to remind future generations of the historical shame.

After the experts worked day and night, they finally dug up a rare and precious treasure at the Daigongmen River Road site.

This is the first major harvest in the 160 years since the Yuanmingyuan was burned down.

01、The Yuanmingyuan in its heyday

This large royal garden has been of interest to monarchs since the Liao Dynasty, when it began as the Yuquan Mountain Palace in the western suburbs of Beijing.

In the Ming Dynasty, the land was left untouched and became increasingly desolate, so the dignitaries began to take it for themselves and build villas to satisfy their own selfish desires.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

It was not until the Qing Dynasty that this place regained royal attention, and in the forty-sixth year of the Kangxi era, the emperor graciously and generously gave it to his fourth prince, Yinzhen, with an imperial plaque, officially naming it Yuanmingyuan.

Yin Zhen believes that his father gave the word "Yuan Ming", it must be a special meaning, round means perfect, and Ming means open-minded, smart and wise, so it seems that the Kangxi Emperor has long had high hopes for him.

After this, Yinzhen was even more grateful and diligent, and even later, when he ascended the throne, he still kept these teachings in mind.

Not only that, in 1724, the Yongzheng Emperor also personally ordered that the Yuanmingyuan be expanded.

As the Yongzheng emperor to the expansion of the extra attention, the officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not dare to have the slightest slack, the wood required in the garden are from the Jehol paddock, the stone is also from the place of the long life to do, expensive.

In the summer, the sun is hot, the workers are still working hard to do the hard work, they often pack a slightly hunched back, hands while straining to drag the slab, while carefully wiping the beads of sweat rolling down on the forehead.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

After several years of hard work, the Yuanmingyuan was finally built successfully and it was divided into three parts.

The first part is the palace area, located in the southwest of the Yuanmingyuan, the overall appearance in strict accordance with the Forbidden City palace style of transformation, gilded, dignified atmosphere, the palace oblique side of a new large palace gate, tall and spectacular.

The second part is located in the north, east and west of the whole Yuanmingyuan in turn, building water islands, pavilions and pavilions and other scenic spots respectively.

According to history, when Emperor Qianlong visited this place later, he was so amazed and impressed by it that he named it "Forty Views of Yuanmingyuan".

It can be said that the Yongzheng emperor on the construction of the Yuanmingyuan is a blood money, after all, the land once held his father's high hopes for him.

In order to make the place look more lofty and spectacular, Yongzheng also unstintingly added many groups of buildings in the third part which is around the sea of blessings.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

It is said that the completed renovation of the Yuanmingyuan at that time covers an area of about 3,000 acres, equivalent to 17 large modern bird's nests, 8.5 Forbidden City.

In addition, because the name of this place has a very good meaning, successive Qing emperors have favored it.

By the time of the Qianlong period, the emperor again began to willingly divert state funds to build more pavilions inside the Yuanmingyuan, and even built the Changchunyuan and Wanchunyuan gardens to its east and southeast.

Not only that, numerous palaces were built in the garden for the royalty to live in, and whenever the emperor came to the Yuanmingyuan in great numbers, he always carried a large group of people.

In order to meet the dietary requirements of these people, the emperor also built many official rooms around the palace, such as the Sovereign's Office, the Ministry of Rites, and the Ministry of the Household.

And in the late Qing Dynasty, the emperors never again so extensively modified the Yuanmingyuan, so it seems that the Yong and Qian period is the Yuanmingyuan zone development of the most flourishing period.

During that time, it was popular among the nation and world-renowned because it was not only a distinctive Qing court building, but also held people's beautiful aspirations for future life.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

02、Royal gardens that have undergone a catastrophe

The Yuanmingyuan is famous for its magnificent and beautiful architecture in China, while some malicious foreigners began to covet it, they are waiting for the right moment, secretly plotting an amazing plot.

In 1856, the British and French allied forces opened the Second Opium War, and they planned well and attacked all the way, eventually arriving around the Forbidden City after several years.

On October 18, 1860, in the Forbidden City for a few days, the foreigners could not hold back their evil thoughts and went straight to the Yuanmingyuan, ready to invade the Great Palace Gate.

Surprisingly, the army commanders, such as Ruilin, who were guarding the Grand Palace Gate at that time, were greedy for life and death at the critical moment, and fled in haste before resisting for long.

The British and French allied forces morale, effortlessly pry open the palace gates, into the Yuanmingyuan, looking at the garden of the only rare treasures, they pushed me, scrambled, the scene was chaotic.

More abominably, many porcelains were broken during their brutal looting.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

In addition, they even near the Yuanmingyuan Qing Yi Garden, Jingming Garden, Jing Yi Garden, Changchun Garden and other places do not spare, the original scenery of the pleasant place in the night wolf smoke.

A fire, burned up all the beauty of the Yuanmingyuan, burned up generations of Qing emperors proud of the garden, all the thoughts about the Yuanming is no longer.

Seeing the Qing court people so weak, the foreigners will be more step by step, two days later, in order to force the Qing government to sign a series of unequal treaties, the foreigners began another major attack on the city, the palace everyone in danger, fleeing in distress.

In the end, the Qing government was weak and signed a series of power-defeating and overbearing agreements, including the Treaty of Beijing.

03、Rare treasures dug up in the river channel of Daigongmen

After the Second Opium War, Yuanmingyuan was no longer the scenery of the past, so after the founding of New China was renamed "Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park", and the Grand Palace Gate is located in the southwest of the entire Ruins Park.

Although it is only a lofty and tall palace gate, it has witnessed countless wonderful historical moments. It is also known as the main palace gate, and was the place where the emperor led his ministers to Yuanmingyuan during the Qing Dynasty.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

Between 2013 and 2015, in order to further strengthen the degree of protection of the Yuanmingyuan Heritage Park, the Beijing Institute of Cultural Relics organized an in-depth excavation of the park by erudite and talented experts.

For many years, because the Great Palace Gate Land is outside the entire garden court, it has been in a state of not being paid much attention by the world.

Thoughtful experts took this into account, so they started with the river site near the Grand Palace Gate for preliminary exploration and research.

The river is unusually dry and the water is earthy yellow, becoming more turbid after every rain.

The mud puddles on both sides of the river, covering the top is charcoal-black silt, while in the middle of the ground perennial accumulation is golden sandy mud.

Experts brave the hardships, despite the dirty, patient and meticulous excavation, they wear a light sun hat, wearing worn shoes, bowed back, carefully moved, many bean-sized beads of sweat next to the two sideburns rolled down.

In their persistent efforts, finally dug to the third layer of dirt, astonishingly, it is full of pebbles of all shapes and sizes.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

In desperation, the expert had to put down the big shovel in his hands and personally move the pebbles one by one with soft hands.

Even if they don't know whether they can dig up the rare treasure as they wish, they are still fearless and forge ahead, which is the spirit of China, a kind of meticulous spirit to the profession, a kind of spirit to the research from one to the other.

Gradually, one expert touched the foreign object while moving the pebbles and shouted excitedly, attracting countless expectant gazes around.

They are full of energy, unity, can not wait to see the true face of the underground things, work hard, they worked together to bring things up successfully.

Just shipped ashore, the first time people saw this object, but also thought it was just an ordinary stone.

At this point, only experts picked up a magnifying glass for careful speculation and observation, after careful consideration only felt that this material hard and incomparable, is not a mundane object, it decided to bring back to study.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

04、The artistic value of the gilt-bronze elephant head

After a dozen days of closed research, the experts finally made their findings public, naming the object "Gilt Bronze Elephant Head" according to its shape and color, and claiming it as a national treasure.

It is well known that gilding is a craft of the heart and soul that originally originated in China.

In ancient times, some kings and nobles, especially the royal children, were fond of buying golden bronze, and they placed these devices in the main hall of their homes to show their noble status.

And the production of porcelain in order to meet the vanity of these people, had to be fast to transport gold at high prices to make golden utensils.

If this situation persists for a long time, the manufacturers are likely to face a series of major financial problems such as loss of funds.

What's more, gold itself is a rare metal, which is generally difficult to find easily, therefore, the porcelain market is frequently in short supply.

At the moment when the people were at a loss, a worker had a brainstorm and came up with a solution that no one had ever seen before.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

In full view of everyone, he heated the only remaining gold pieces into the water of the pot jar, and after the metal was completely melted, added a certain percentage of mercury, followed by constant stirring with a wooden stick until the liquid solidified into a metallic-colored solid.

Thereafter, whenever the workers fired the bronze with ordinary green clay, they would apply these metallic-colored pastes to it to make it look different from the bronze made of pure metal.

In this way, we are not only able to reduce the costs required to purchase metal, but also to deliver the goods on time and meet the needs of the purchaser.

This method may sound simple, but it is still a bit difficult to actually implement.

Before applying the gold solid, one needs to wipe the device repeatedly with a rag soaked in salt mercury as a way to ensure that the gold paste sticks firmly to it.

When the dignitaries will do a good job of metal appearance of the device into the home, can only use a dry rag to gently wipe the dust on it, not too much water to clean, so that you can prevent the metal corrosion and bring the appearance of the residue.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

This shows that the "gilt bronze elephant head" that we dug up today must have been carefully taken care of by the ancients over a long period of time, otherwise it would not have fallen off without any metal fragments until now.

In addition to its color, the most head-turning is the shape of the elephant's head, which is shaped exactly according to the elephant's head, and the whole object is in the shape of a long strip.

Wide nose like a thick pipe, fan-like ears placed on both sides of the brain a motionless, the most striking is the two spear-like teeth, sharp.

It has been more than one hundred and sixty years since the Yuanmingyuan was burned down, and even though it has suffered from years and has been buried in the ground for a long time, unattended, it still emits a dazzling light.

Such a realistic appearance, all mapping the ancient subtlety of the craftsmanship.

From ancient times to the present, the elephant has had three symbolic meanings from the beginning to the end: one, it means peace with an elephant, with the meaning of abundance and stability.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

Secondly, it symbolizes the completion of merit. According to historical records, elephants and Buddhism have a very deep origin, the Buddhist scriptures have a cloud: "the line of the careful examination of the quiet as the elephant", and the mount of Pusheen Bodhisattva is the elephant, so people often call the elephant's teeth "four Ruyi", that is, the auspicious signs.

Third, the elephant has a more profound symbolism, that is, washing the phase and meditating, in detail, it symbolizes a kind of cultivation and pursuit of people's heart.

In summary, it is easy to see that everyone symbolizes good fortune and people's desire for goodness.

We were lucky after all these years that the fire did not take away such a rare treasure, and we found it years later.

In order to share this object with the world, in 2017, an exhibition on the archaeology of the Yuanmingyuan was held in Beijing. The long-awaited "gilt bronze elephant head" appeared in front of people for the first time.

Before it entered the exhibition area, the staff concerned had long been diligently cleaning the sludge and dust originally stained on it, and if it was illuminated by the light, it looked extraordinarily glorious.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

People stopped by the exhibit and talked about it, marveling not only at the exquisite appearance of the gilt-bronze elephant head, but also at the superior skills of countless ancestral craftsmen.

At the same time, people have also lamented that if not for the fire more than 100 years ago, perhaps there would be more surprises left in the world now.

But no matter what, the past has already happened, and there is no way we can turn back the clock and stop that tragic event.

Apart from cherishing and caring for these precious treasures, the only thing we can do now is to learn about the past, to learn from history, not to forget our beginnings, and to strive for self-improvement, that's all.

People have reason to believe that since the "gilt bronze elephant head" can come back into the world, it represents not only a cultural relic, but also a kind of encouragement.

It encourages the world to go forward, without shame, so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and not to be afraid of all the difficulties and obstacles in the future.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

Concluding remarks

Looking back on the history of thousands of years, we have created numerous glorious achievements like the Long March of the Red Army, but also inevitably experienced countless difficulties and hardships.

These thorns are far away, but they have caused indelible damage to the Chinese, one of which was the burning of Yuanmingyuan by the British and French allies.

This was not an ordinary fire, it destroyed not only the exotic treasures in the garden, but also the wisdom of countless skilled Chinese craftsmen.

Not only that, in this bad incident back then, there was even a part of greedy and hypocritical foreigners who even took advantage of the fire to smuggle some of the cultural relics they were interested in to be sold abroad, and were unknown for centuries.

Fortunately, while people were saddened by the past, experts also accidentally dug up a rare artifact called "gilt bronze elephant head" in the river, and even though time has passed and things have changed, we can still glimpse the traces of history in these treasures.

It can be said that it is not only the lucky one after the catastrophe, but also an important treasure that thousands of Chinese people must care for with all their hearts. At the same time, it is also a constant reminder for the children of China to struggle hard, to remember history and not to forget the national shame.

160 years after the Yuanmingyuan was burned, experts dug up a rare artifact while salvaging the river

Although the things that messed up our hearts yesterday are far away, all kinds of worries will still come one after another in the future.

No matter how many thorns in the future, we must be self-improvement, one day, my great China, will be more powerful, no one dares to commit, not to be underestimated.


1. China Knowledge Network; "The Pain of Memory: The Fire of Yuanmingyuan"; Yu Lan; China Fire 2005, Issue 06

2, China Knowledge Network; "Yong and Qian four Yuanmingyuan Zuoban preliminary investigation"; Xu Shiyi; Historical Archives 2022, No. 01

3, Beijing Evening News; "Yuanmingyuan exhibits for the first time more than twenty years of archaeological findings, one hundred and six precious cultural relics all have stories"; June 9, 2017

4, Beijing Evening News; "Briefing on Archaeological Excavations in the Grand Palace Gate Area of Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park"; November 2016

5. Beijing Daily; "Telling the Chinese Story of the New Era with Traditional Chinese Culture - The Treasures of Zhen "Dian"" Season 1 Finale; June 17, 2022