Summer Palace replica opens to public amid controversy

Updated: 2015-05-10 19:13


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HANGZHOU -- The largest part of a full-size replica of the Old Summer Palace opened amid controversy Sunday in east China's Zhejiang Province, some 1,000 kilometers from the real Beijing landmark.

On Sunday morning, thousands of tourists crowded the site in Hengdian Township to see the "brand-new palace".

Xiang, a visitor, said he was "amazed" by the replica, calling it "magnificent" and "solemn".

"It matched my expectations," he said.

Some, however, were disappointed. Another visitor, Xu, said the compound was "just a place full of empty rooms", and that it lacked cultural elements such as antiques.

"I cannot sense history here, something is missing," Xu said.

The replica stoked excitement among Chinese, with many netizens saying they would visit.

Covering more than 400 hectares, the replica is slated for completion in 2016, Xu Wenrong, the retired chairman of Hengdian Group, the project's major investor, told Xinhua.

Consisting of four parts, 95 percent of the architecture of the Old Summer Palace will be replicated.

The project will cost about 30 billion yuan (about 4.85 billion US dollars), 10 billion yuan over the initial budget. While domestic and foreign investors provided over 1 billion yuan, the Hengdian Group will meet the remaining expenditure.

The project courted huge controversy when it was announced in 2008, with many accusing it of bastardizing a site associated with patriotism.

The Old Summer Palace management said "a full-size replica is neither possible nor tolerable".

Last month, managers of the original Old Summer Palace threatened legal action if the replica infringed intellectual property rights.

"[The original complex] is unique and cannot be replicated. The construction and development of the site should be planned by national organizations, and any replication of it should reach certain standards," the Old Summer Palace's administrative office said in an earlier statement sent to Xinhua.

Xu Wenrong, who is in charge of the construction, shot back by saying that the project "bears no conflict of interests with the one in Beijing". He said the replica recreated classic architecture to share history with the younger generation.

Li Min, deputy secretary-general of Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) Society of China, said the replica was "a good experiment" because it is impossible to recreate the palace on its original site.

The Old Summer Palace, a complex of pavilions and gardens built for Qing Dynasty emperors, is regarded as a symbol of China's historical humiliation at the hands foreign powers. It was ransacked by British and French troops in 1860, and again by an allied force including troops from the United States, Russia and Britain in 1900.

It is now frequently referenced in patriotic education.

Hengdian Township is being developed into a giant film set and tourist attraction by the Hengdian Group. The group has already found great economic success building replicas of the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Gate Tower.