Open main menu

The Burning of Imperial Palace (Chinese: 火燒圓明園 is a 1983 historical drama film directed by Li Han-hsiang. Based on the events in China during the Second Opium War which culminated in the burning of the Old Summer Palace (aka. Yuanming Garden), the film stars Tony Leung Ka-fai as the Xianfeng Emperor and Liu Xiaoqing as a young nobel consort Cixi.

The Burning of Imperial Palace
Directed byLi Han-hsiang
Produced byChiu Wai
Li Han-hsiang
Screenplay byYeung Cheun-ban
Li Han-hsiang
Narrated byPak Wah
Music byYip Shun Chi
CinematographyYeung Lam
Hau San-chun
Chiu Lok-tin
Distributed byChina Film Co-Production Corp.
New Kwun Lun Film Production Co. Ltd.
Release date
  • 21 September 1983 (1983-09-21) (Hong Kong)
Running time
86 minutes
Hong Kong
LanguageMandarin Chinese
Box officeHK$15,439,323


In 1852, a 17 year-old girl Yulan is selected into the Imperial Harem at a triennial selection. Although her beauty is outstanding, she is never given any chance to get closer to the Xianfeng Emperor because an ancestor of her Yehenara clan once vowed to destroy the rival imperial Aisin Gioro clan at a woman's hands. One day, while the Emperor is walking in the Yuanming Garden, he is attracted by a song which turns out to be sung by Yulan nearby. Falling in love with her temperament, the Emperor first promotes Yulan to the rank of concubine, and further elevates her as a noble consort when she gives birth to his only son one year later.

Since then, the imperial couple has enjoyed their marriage life in the Yuanming Garden, where the Emperor often teaches the noble consort how to reply to reports from regional officials. When the Emperor is helpless with the advance of the Anglo-French joint army, Yulan suggests appointing Yixin, Prince Gong as a consultant. At a meeting presided by the Emperor, Yulan and Prince Gong advocate making peace with Western invaders, against the majority of the military officials. Yulan's first attempt to directly interfere with government affairs proves successful, as the Emperor accepts her proposal and orders a peace talk at Tungchow, where a heavy Qing Army is stationed.

At Tongzhou, British envoy Harry Parkes insists the British and French delegations will make a high-profile entrance into Peking and refuses to salute the Qing Emperor with genuflection. Sengge Rinchen, who was defeated at the Battle of Taku Forts before, angrily reprimands him for his rudeness and challenges him to a wrestling fight. Sengge Rinchen beats Parkes and takes many of the British delegations into custody. As the negotiations broke down, the cavalry-dominated Qing Army suffers disastrous losses at the Battle of Palikao.

The fall of Palikao putting Peking at imminent risk, the Xianfeng Emperor has no choice but to flee to the Summer Resort in Jehol along with the imperial court and to appoint Prince Gong to be in charge of negotiations. The British and French troops enter the Chinese capital and execute mass killings of civilians. Although Qing resistance is too weak against the firearms-equipped enemies, a peasant family volunteers and kills many of the British and French soldiers. The joint army enters the now-emptied Yuanming Garden to hunt for the volunteers, disregarding the weak protest from Qing officials. On 18 October 1860, Lord Elgin orders looting of treasures and the complete destruction of the "Palace of All Palaces" with a fire that lasts for 3 days. The narrator states that the ruins of Yuanming Garden serve as a reminder of national humiliation.


External linksEdit