"It was a perfect world; an ideal world which answered perfectly to the emperor’s wishes. Like all gardens, only more so, Yuanmingyuan was a vision of Paradise, a place without worry or strife; a place of abundance, harmony and peace."

2017-01-21T00:26:48+00:00
"It was a perfect world; an ideal world which answered perfectly to the emperor’s wishes. Like all gardens, only more so, Yuanmingyuan was a vision of Paradise, a place without worry or strife; a place of abundance, harmony and peace."

The ceramics were smashed, the artwork pulled down, the jewelry pilfered, rolls of the emperor’s best silk were used to tie up the army’s horses. “Officers and men seemed to have been seized with a temporary insanity”; “a furious thirst has taken hold of us”; it was an “orgiastic rampage of looting.”

2017-01-21T00:27:39+00:00
The ceramics were smashed, the artwork pulled down, the jewelry pilfered, rolls of the emperor’s best silk were used to tie up the army’s horses. “Officers and men seemed to have been seized with a temporary insanity”; “a furious thirst has taken hold of us”; it was an “orgiastic rampage of looting.”

“When we first entered the gardens,” said Garnet Wolseley, a British officer and author of an eyewitness account of the campaign, “they reminded one of those magic grounds described in fairy tales; we marched from them upon the 19th October, leaving them a dreary waste of ruined nothings.”

2017-01-21T00:28:22+00:00
“When we first entered the gardens,” said Garnet Wolseley, a British officer and author of an eyewitness account of the campaign, “they reminded one of those magic grounds described in fairy tales; we marched from them upon the 19th October, leaving them a dreary waste of ruined nothings.”

“Not a vestige remains of the palace of palaces,” said Robert M’Ghee, chaplain to the troops. “Now back again to Pekin, a good work has been done.”

2017-01-21T00:28:51+00:00
“Not a vestige remains of the palace of palaces,” said Robert M’Ghee, chaplain to the troops. “Now back again to Pekin, a good work has been done.”

"Barbarians are intruders who think nothing of laying in ruins that which human culture has built up; they are jealous of the achievements of others and destroy the things they cannot understand because they cannot understand them. By obliterating the traces of the past, they deny their own humanity as well as the humanity of others. As such they are the enemies not only of the people they are attacking but of us all."

2017-01-21T00:29:49+00:00
"Barbarians are intruders who think nothing of laying in ruins that which human culture has built up; they are jealous of the achievements of others and destroy the things they cannot understand because they cannot understand them. By obliterating the traces of the past, they deny their own humanity as well as the humanity of others. As such they are the enemies not only of the people they are attacking but of us all."

"The Chinese had closed themselves off from the rest of the world, built walls around their kingdom and their minds, and this had made them both ignorant and weak. The Europeans were going to open China up; expose the country to the world; that is, expose it to the forces of civilization."

2017-01-21T00:30:35+00:00
"The Chinese had closed themselves off from the rest of the world, built walls around their kingdom and their minds, and this had made them both ignorant and weak. The Europeans were going to open China up; expose the country to the world; that is, expose it to the forces of civilization."

"What this book really tries to discover is who these people are — these Europeans. They appear so well-intentioned and kindly and clearly, in many cases, they are personally quite attractive. And yet they unapologetically harbor the most megalomaniacal dreams of world conquest and domination."

2017-01-21T00:32:01+00:00
"What this book really tries to discover is who these people are — these Europeans. They appear so well-intentioned and kindly and clearly, in many cases, they are personally quite attractive. And yet they unapologetically harbor the most megalomaniacal dreams of world conquest and domination."

"The destruction of Yuanmingyuan was heart-wrenching work, but someone had to do it. The soldiers were the agents of Progress and of Modernity."

2017-01-21T00:33:39+00:00
"The destruction of Yuanmingyuan was heart-wrenching work, but someone had to do it. The soldiers were the agents of Progress and of Modernity."

What, then, was Yuanmingyuan? “In order to describe it,” said a French soldier who came here in 1860, I would need to “dissolve all known precious stones in liquid gold and paint a picture with a diamond feather whose bristles contain all the fantasies of a poet of the East.”

2017-01-21T00:17:19+00:00
What, then, was Yuanmingyuan? “In order to describe it,” said a French soldier who came here in 1860, I would need to “dissolve all known precious stones in liquid gold and paint a picture with a diamond feather whose bristles contain all the fantasies of a poet of the East.”

"John Barrow, who visited in 1791, found nothing much to praise:' I saw none of those extravagant beauties and picturesque embellishments which had made Yuanmingyuan famous throughout Europe.'" p. 1.

2017-01-21T00:20:07+00:00
"John Barrow, who visited in 1791, found nothing much to praise:' I saw none of those extravagant beauties and picturesque embellishments which had made Yuanmingyuan famous throughout Europe.'" p. 1.

"The imperial garden compound was not built to be described but instead it was quite explicitly built to be indescribable; it was not meant to be a place as much as a world; an alternative reality filled with as much detail, secrets and surprises as the world outside." p.1.

2017-01-21T00:21:40+00:00
"The imperial garden compound was not built to be described but instead it was quite explicitly built to be indescribable; it was not meant to be a place as much as a world; an alternative reality filled with as much detail, secrets and surprises as the world outside." p.1.

Liberal Barbarism

The European destruction of the palace of the emperor of China

New York: Palgrave, 2013

This book discusses the Anglo-French military campaign in North China in 1860 and the destruction of Yuanmingyuan, the imperial palace compound north-west of Beijing. More generally the book deals with European imperalism in China (and elsewhere) in the 19th century and tries to make sense of the curious fact that civilized people often behaved in the most barbarian of ways.

The sources for the book will eventually all be available on these pages. You can also click and learn more about the North China Campaign of 1860, about the participants, the armies, and about Yuanmingyuan. Or read the book itself.

Erik
"In this probing and deeply engaging account of the conflagration that brought an end to the Opium Wars, Erik Ringmar invites us to consider the origins and implications of a defining moment of liberal barbarism. In a refreshingly original move, he positions both the legendary glory of the imperial gardens and the orgy of violence that attended their destruction as critical elements in the increasingly fraught and consequential stories Europeans came to tell themselves about China over the course of the nineteenth century. Drawing on a wealth of literary and historical sources and attending carefully to the performative and ritualistic aspects of international relations, Erik Ringmar argues compellingly that the pillaging of the emperor's paradise in 1860 marks a turning point, real and symbolic, in Western Europe's relation to the rest of the world and to its own modernity. This book will be essential reading for students of the history of empire and of China's place on the world stage." David Porter, Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan, USA
2017-01-21T00:40:33+00:00
"In this probing and deeply engaging account of the conflagration that brought an end to the Opium Wars, Erik Ringmar invites us to consider the origins and implications of a defining moment of liberal barbarism. In a refreshingly original move, he positions both the legendary glory of the imperial gardens and the orgy of violence that attended their destruction as critical elements in the increasingly fraught and consequential stories Europeans came to tell themselves about China over the course of the nineteenth century. Drawing on a wealth of literary and historical sources and attending carefully to the performative and ritualistic aspects of international relations, Erik Ringmar argues compellingly that the pillaging of the emperor's paradise in 1860 marks a turning point, real and symbolic, in Western Europe's relation to the rest of the world and to its own modernity. This book will be essential reading for students of the history of empire and of China's place on the world stage." David Porter, Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan, USA
"If performance is the cultural idiom through which political personages on the stage of diplomacy create history, then history is the ongoing spectacle of such actions. Erik Ringmar's study follows paradigms set forth by Bernard Cohn's ritual analysis of Lafayette' visit to America and Marshall Sahlins' mythic deconstruction of the arrival of stranger kings to Hawaii. He shows how meanings frame narratives and events in ways that not only explain the course of history, but also elucidate the subtle 'clash of civilizations' that is still at the competitive crux of international relations today." Allen Chun, Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
2017-01-21T00:42:02+00:00
"If performance is the cultural idiom through which political personages on the stage of diplomacy create history, then history is the ongoing spectacle of such actions. Erik Ringmar's study follows paradigms set forth by Bernard Cohn's ritual analysis of Lafayette' visit to America and Marshall Sahlins' mythic deconstruction of the arrival of stranger kings to Hawaii. He shows how meanings frame narratives and events in ways that not only explain the course of history, but also elucidate the subtle 'clash of civilizations' that is still at the competitive crux of international relations today." Allen Chun, Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
"A fascinating, eminently readable and important study of a key moment in the West's relationship with China: the plunder and burning of Yuanmingyuan Palace in 1860 by French and British troops. The immediate causes were expressions of European incomprehension and insecurity when face-to-face with Chinese civilization. The systemic cause was a clash of incompatible conceptions of order, between European sovereignty and Chinese hierarchy. The two conceptions could not be combined and the Chinese were compelled to give way to the Europeans. By focusing on performance, on how the occupying forces sought to present themselves to Chinese and Europeans back home, Ringmar teases out the motives behind their barbaric behavior and some of its longer-term effects on China."

Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government, Emeritus, Dartmouth College

2017-01-21T00:42:58+00:00

Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government, Emeritus, Dartmouth College

"A fascinating, eminently readable and important study of a key moment in the West's relationship with China: the plunder and burning of Yuanmingyuan Palace in 1860 by French and British troops. The immediate causes were expressions of European incomprehension and insecurity when face-to-face with Chinese civilization. The systemic cause was a clash of incompatible conceptions of order, between European sovereignty and Chinese hierarchy. The two conceptions could not be combined and the Chinese were compelled to give way to the Europeans. By focusing on performance, on how the occupying forces sought to present themselves to Chinese and Europeans back home, Ringmar teases out the motives behind their barbaric behavior and some of its longer-term effects on China."