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An amalgamation of three separate imperial gardens, these ruins create a ghostly and oddly enjoyable scene, beloved for years as a picnic spot. Established by the Kangxi emperor in 1707, Yuan Ming Yuan is a more recent construction than the New Summer Palace to the west, but it is misleadingly called the Old Summer Palace because it was never rebuilt after French and British troops looted and burned it down during the Second Opium War of 1860. Ironically, some of the buildings were Western-style and filled with European furnishings and art. Two Jesuit priests, Italian painter Castiglione and French scientist Benoist, were commissioned by Qianlong to design the 30-hectare (75-acre) Xi Yang Lou (Western Mansions) in the northeast section of the park. Perhaps the most remarkable structure was a zodiac water clock which spouted from 12 bronze heads, 3 of which (an ox, a monkey, and a tiger) are now housed in the otherwise unremarkable Poly Art Museum, immediately above Dong Si Shi Tiao metro stop. Inaccurate models suggest that the structures were entirely European in style, but they were curious hybrids, featuring Imperial-style vermilion walls and yellow-tiled roofs. A few restorations have begun, starting with the Wanhua Zhen (10,000 Flowers Maze), a nicely reconstructed labyrinth in the Changchun Yuan (Garden of Eternal Spring). Recently, the park has been the center of environmental controversy. Park management and the district government decided to line the lakes (an integral part of Beijing's water ecology and a magnet for bird life) with plastic sheeting to save on water bills and raise the water levels to allow for a duck-boat business.

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