Controversial replica Old Summer Palace opens in China

Controversial replica Old Summer Palace opens in China
A boat carries tourists on a river inside the newly built full scale replica of the Old Summer Palace.

BEIJING - A full size replica of parts of Beijing's nationally sensitive Old Summer Palace has opened 1,000 kilometres away from China's capital, state media reported Monday, despite managers of the original threatening legal action.

The vast array of gardens, palaces and lakes in the western suburbs of the Chinese capital was used by Qing dynasty emperors in the 19th Century.

The original site is regarded as a symbol of national humiliation in China after it was sacked by British and French troops in 1860 in response to the capture, torture and killing of members of a delegation from the two European countries.

Communist authorities tout it as an example of the country's victimisation by foreign powers as the complex - parts of which were designed by French and Italian Jesuit missionaries - was looted again by forces from the United States, Russia and Britain in 1900.

The first stage of the sprawling 400 hectare (1,000 acre) replica in the eastern province of Zhejiang opened its doors to tourists Sunday despite being plagued by a "never-ending debate," the Beijing News said.

The 30 billion yuan ($4.8 billion) attraction some 620 miles from Beijing will eventually feature a replica of 95 per cent of the Old Summer Palace, state media said.

While the original, known as the Yuanmingyuan, is now mainly ruins, managers of the site last month threatened legal action "if the replica infringed intellectual property rights," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"(The original complex) is unique and cannot be replicated," the venue's administrative office said in a statement sent to Xinhua.

"The construction and development of the site should be planned by national organisations, and any replication of it should reach certain standards."

Bosses at the newly-built attraction hit back, saying the replica "recreated classic architecture to share history with the younger generation," Xinhua said.

The project "bears no conflict of interests with the one in Beijing," executive Xu Wenrong told the agency.

Li Min, deputy secretary-general of Yuanmingyuan Society of China, also backed the new attraction, telling Xinhua it was "a good experiment" because the palace could not be re-created on its original site.

The replica is being built within a giant film studio complex by Hengdian Group, which also includes copies of sections of Beijing's Forbidden City, the main residence of China's imperial rulers.

Reports said ticket prices for the new attraction were set at 280 yuan, but some visitors were not impressed with the palace.

"(It is) just a place full of empty rooms," one surnamed Xu told Xinhua. "I cannot sense history here, something is missing."

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