“I might be sympathetic to refugees in Lebanon, but the blaze of the Notre Dame only reminds me of the flames of the Old Summer Palace,” wrote one user on social media. “Everything has consequences, heavenly cycles, retribution. This applies to both people and country! I only feel awe for karma, and it has nothing to do with morality.”
During the 19th century, foreign powers, chief among them the UK, invaded the Qing Empire and imposed unfair treaties on it after defeat, seizing Hong Kong and forcing open various “treaty ports,” such as Shanghai, to foreign trade.
While the overwhelming reaction in China to Monday’s fire was one of sympathy and shock, some could not help but point what they saw as historical parallels, even a bit of justice.
Envoys met with Qing officials, but after talks broke down they were seized and held hostage.
Furious, the UK’s Lord Elgin ordered his forces to advance on Beijing.
Instead, they found it empty and swiftly set to looting the place.
The breakdown in discipline angered the British commanders, who tried to restrain their men, according to Platt — but the “the French got free rein.”
Outgunned by the foreigners, the Qing released the negotiators, who told of how they had been subjected to torture, abuse and constant threats of execution. Of 26 men seized by the Qing, 15 had died during captivity, including a reporter for the London Times.
Elgin was determined to punish the Qing for their mistreatment of hostages. But he was also keen for the UK not be seen to be taking action against the Chinese people — only their rulers.
And so he instructed the British army to burn the Summer Palace to the ground.
The burning of the Summer Palace has become an indelible image for the sufferings of China during the colonial period.
This inspired numerous comments on social media that the fire at Notre Dame was a form of karmic justice.
For many young Chinese, another link between the burning of the Summer Palace and the fire at Notre Dame exists through the words of Victor Hugo, whose comments on the destruction of imperial garden feature in numerous Chinese textbooks.
CNN’s Serenitie Wang contributed reporting.