December is one of the seven Gregorian months with the length of 31 days. In Latin, 'decem' means 'ten' since December was the tenth month of the Roman calendar. December's flowers are the narcissus and holly and the birth stones of the month are usually the turquoise or blue topaz although others are also considered as gems of this month. December contains the celebration days of the winter solstice and Christmas Day. December will close our door on the year of 2009 but this month also generates new hope for the New Year of 2010 which waits on our doorstep for entry.

   I have used this month to complete my usual Christmas shopping trips to the various markets of Beijing and also to visit some of the outdoor sites which I like to see at least once during the year. One of my visits lately was to Yuanmingyuan, the 'Old Summer Palace'. This park has been a favorite place to visit both in the summer months and in winter. I love the park, not only for the beautiful scenery, but also for the great historical presence. Yuanminyuan is a curious place spread across a huge area on the north-western outskirts of Beijing. In the summer the lovely trees, paths and water provide a beautiful backdrop for pictures and a lovely location for picnics.  Its charms seem most alluring to me during the winter months, when the stark bare branches of the trees and shrubs seem to match the shattered stumps of the ruins.  

   Yuanmingyuan (The Old Summer Palace)

   Although the buildings of this park are now in ruins, the history is exceptional. Each time I visit this park, I want to learn more about the various structures of the park, their origin and the history behind the sad destruction of the numerous buildings and gardens. Of all the parks in Beijing, this park, more than all others, has gained my curiosity about the original appearance of the palace grounds since little remains of the original structures and gardens. I also have tried to discover as much as possible about the present day location of any artifacts from Yuanmingyuan.

   The Creation of Yuanmingyuan

   Yunamingyuan was built in the 18th and early 19th century and it was originally located 5 miles from the old outer walls of the city. Initial construction began in 1707, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi when the emperor came upon this spot on one of his frequent hunting expeditions outside of the city walls. He stopped in this area to rest and, as he reported in early records of the garden, he tasted the delicious spring water, admired the scenery and was refreshed by the gentle breeze. Originally called the 'Gardens of Perfect Brightness' these 'Imperial Gardens' were built by this emperor with the original intent for them to be a gift for his fourth son, who later became Emperor Yongzheng. Emperor Kangxi was responsible for naming the complex as Yuanmingyuan. He instructed that the three characters of 'Yuanmingyuan' be written in Chinese calligraphy and carved over the Great Gate of the Palace and from this time it became known as Yuanmingyuan. The Chinese character, 'Yuan', meant that the gardens represented a perfection of human morality above that of commoners and the character, 'Ming', was used to suggest the perfection of political achievement. The name, therefore, represented the ideal standard of a respected emperor. (continued on next page)