The Forbidden City in Beijing is one of the world’s busiest cultural heritage sites, receiving over 15 million visitors each year. However, none of these visitors have been allowed to explore the palace’s Secret Garden. Built in the 18th century, the Secret Garden has been closed to the public since the last emperor of China was deposed in a coup that ushered in the People’s Republic of China. In the cultural and political upheaval that followed, the Garden was damaged and neglected. In recent years, conservators from China and around the world have been hard at work to restore the Secret Garden to its former glory – and it will soon open to the public for the first time in nearly 100 years.
Built in the 15th century, the Forbidden City served as the center of power in Chinese politics and the home to emperors from the Ming Dynasty through the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The modern conservation effort aims to rejuvenate the Secret Garden to its early golden days. “They just don’t want the building to look the way it did, they want the original heritage and techniques,” says Henry Ng, senior adviser for the World Monuments Fund. “Many of the threads were lost for how this place was built. Our own journey to find people who knew these techniques in a way mirrored the journey of the emperor.”
The first major stage of the project was finished in 2008, when the restoration of the Juanqinzhai (Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service) completed. It is the team’s ongoing job to incorporate all available information and design expertise to reproduce the Garden as it was. To uncover the secrets of the Garden’s traditional craftsmanship, the conservation team traveled to southern China, where much of the original design was conceived and created. Each segment of the Garden is architecturally unique and painstaking attention to detail is required to restore life to the space. The Secret Garden is expected to open to the public in 2020.