The Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuanmingyuan (lit. "Gardens of Perfect Brightness"), and originally called the Imperial Gardens , was a complex of palaces and gardens in Beijing.
It is located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) northwest of the walls of the Imperial City and was built in the 18th and early 19th century as the place where the emperors of the Qing dynasty resided and handled government affairs (the Forbidden City was used for formal ceremonies). The Old Summer Palace was known for its extensive collection of garden and building architectures and other works of art. Nearby and to the south was an extensive imperial hunting park known as "Nanyuan".
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, as the Anglo-French expedition force relentlessly approached Beijing , two British envoys, a journalist for The Times and a small escort of British and Indian troopers were sent to meet Prince Yi under a flag of truce to negotiate a Qing surrender.
Meanwhile, the French and British troops reached the palace and conducted extensive looting and destruction. Later on, as news emerged that the delegation sent for negotiation was imprisoned and tortured, resulting in 20 deaths, the British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin, retaliated by ordering the complete destruction of the palace, which was then carried out by British and French troops.
There are currently several plans in China for rebuilding the Imperial Gardens, but such moves have been opposed on the grounds that they will destroy an important relic of modern Chinese history. In addition, any rebuilding would be a colossal undertaking, and no rebuilding of above-the-ground structures has been approved.