30 years of retribution … and still counting

Share these new ideas

Image by NightCafe

Does retribution have an ending?

It doesn’t seem so in this country, where it began in 1994 and has continued unabated.

It is interesting to look at history, and one case in particular is of Lord Elgin’s decision to raze the summer place to the ground. He did this because of the atrocities committed to his soldiers and envoys, who were held as prisoners and tortured.

We’ll come to this in a moment, but please note that while Lord Elgin shocked the Chinese nation by destroying their symbol of opulence, he did not, like today’s corrupt rulers in this country, destroy the entire fabric of the country.

The decision to destroy the Summer Palace by Lord Elgin’s forces was indeed driven by a complex set of circumstances, including actions taken by the Chinese authorities. Prior to the burning of the Summer Palace, there were instances of brutality and mistreatment of British envoys and soldiers by Chinese forces. This included the torture and execution of several British envoys, the murder of hostages, and the mistreatment of prisoners. Such actions, in addition to the overall hostilities during the Second Opium War, fueled a sense of outrage and a desire for retribution among the Western forces. While these atrocities don’t justify the destruction of the Summer Palace, they help contextualize the motives behind Lord Elgin’s decision to enact this symbolic act of vengeance, as he believed it was a means to force the Qing Dynasty to negotiate and to avenge the wrongs committed against British representatives.

Lord Elgin’s decision to burn the Summer Palace in China as an act of retribution during the Second Opium War had profound consequences, both for the Chinese people and the political landscape of the time. This event, occurring in 1860, was a contentious moment in history, highlighting the complexities of imperial power dynamics and the clash of cultures.

The burning of the Summer Palace, known as the “Yuanmingyuan,” was a symbolic act of vengeance by British and French forces under the command of Lord Elgin, following hostilities during the Second Opium War. The destruction of this magnificent imperial retreat held great cultural and historical significance for the Chinese people. The Summer Palace was a repository of Chinese art, history, and cultural heritage, and its obliteration deeply wounded the national pride of the Chinese.

This act of retribution amplified the resentment of the Chinese towards Western imperial powers, already exacerbated by the Opium Wars and the imposition of unequal treaties. It fueled a sense of victimhood and contributed to anti-foreign sentiment. Moreover, it laid the groundwork for the Boxer Rebellion, a violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian movement that erupted in the late 19th century, which would have far-reaching consequences for China and its relations with the West.

The political aftermath of Lord Elgin’s action was significant as well. In the short term, it exerted further pressure on the Qing Dynasty to acquiesce to foreign demands, leading to the ratification of the humiliating Treaty of Tientsin and the Convention of Peking in 1860. These treaties further expanded foreign concessions and rights in China, marking a deepening of Western influence and control.

However, in the long term, the destruction of the Summer Palace and the broader events of the Second Opium War contributed to a sense of crisis within the Qing Dynasty. The inability to protect their cultural treasures and repel foreign forces exposed the dynasty’s weakness, and the subsequent internal turmoil paved the way for later reforms and ultimately the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.

Lord Elgin’s burning of the Summer Palace in China was a tragic and controversial act of retribution that had a profound impact on both the Chinese people and the political landscape. It symbolized the clash of cultures and the power dynamics of the era, stoking anti-foreign sentiment and exacerbating tensions between China and the West. It was a turning point that foreshadowed the challenges and changes that China would face in the coming decades as it grappled with foreign encroachments and internal turmoil.

Lord Elgin, born Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, was a remarkable figure in British history. Hailing from a distinguished Scottish family, he was born on July 20, 1766, in Broomhall, Fife. Elgin was known for his valor and military prowess, earning a reputation as a fearless warrior. He served in the British Army during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, notably during the Napoleonic Wars, where he displayed exceptional bravery on numerous occasions. Despite enduring many injuries in battle, Elgin was unflinching in the face of danger, leading his troops with unwavering resolve.

What set Lord Elgin apart was his profound belief in the afterlife. He once famously stated that death was simply “moving from one room to another,” reflecting a remarkable fearlessness that inspired those around him. His unwavering dedication to duty and his willingness to lead from the front made him a respected and charismatic leader on the battlefield.

Elgin’s legacy extends beyond his military exploits, as he is also renowned for his role in the controversial removal of the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, which are now housed in the British Museum. This act, while contentious, added a layer of complexity to his historical impact. Lord Elgin passed away on November 14, 1841, leaving behind a legacy of military bravery, cultural controversy, and an unshakable belief in the continuity of life beyond death.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the issue of retribution against minorities has remained a contentious and complex matter. Some have argued that policies such as land redistribution and affirmative action, while aimed at addressing historical inequalities, have had unintended consequences. These policies have raised concerns about their impact on human rights and race relations, as some perceive them as a form of retribution against minority communities. The economic implications are also a point of contention, with some arguing that these policies deter investment and economic growth. Moreover, there have been incidents of violence and discrimination against minority communities, indicating an abuse of freedom and democracy. The question of whether retribution for the past will ever cease in South Africa remains open. Achieving true reconciliation is an ongoing process, and the challenge lies in finding a balance between addressing historical injustices and fostering a society where all South Africans can coexist harmoniously.


Disclaimer: The report is for public distribution and has been furnished solely for information. None can use the report as a base for any claim, demand or cause of action and, also none is responsible for any loss incurred based upon. The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The author is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information. All sources of information acknowledged.

Leave a Reply