Military histories of ‘Summer Palace’ objects from China in military museums in the United Kingdom
in Dividing the spoils
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In October 1860, at the culmination of the Second Opium War (1856–60), British and French troops looted and then burnt the imperial buildings in the Yuanmingyuan (known at the time by foreigners as the ‘Summer Palace’) in the north of Beijing. This widespread destruction of China’s most important complex of palaces, and the dispersal of the imperial art collection, is considered one of the most extreme acts of cultural destruction of the nineteenth century. Over a million objects are estimated to have been looted from buildings in the Yuanmingyuan; many of these are now scattered around the world, in private collections and public museums. This chapter analyses the display of ‘Summer Palace’ objects in five military museums in the United Kingdom, exploring the meanings constructed around China’s imperial artefacts at these particular sites of representation.

Dividing the spoils

Perspectives on military collections and the British empire

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