Photo by Nathaniel McMahon

Vanke Jiugong

Beijing

Building by [CLOU Architects]

The site for the project is physically adjacent to the original site of China's Imperial Hunting Reserve. The Imperial hunting reserve existed for nearly 640 years from the Yuan Dynasty until the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. This reserve was an abundant forest area which included the river which now neighbors the Vanke project site.

Although many species of flora and fauna existed within the hunting reserve, one of the most noteable species was a very unique deer. Known in colloquial Chinese asthe sibuxiang or ‘the four unlikes’, the Imperial deer was noted to have the tail of a donkey, the head of a horse, the hoofs of a cow, the antlers of a deer. Superstition held that the deer was associated immortality. A rule was made which stated this deer should only to be consumed by the Emperor. The deer was therefore only allowed to exist within the imperial reserve by mandate. Violation of the edict was punishable by death. The deer population within the reserve remained healthy and strong throughout the Yuan, Ming, and the first part of the Qing Dynasty. However as an Imperial deer, the fate of this animal was closely tied to that of Imperial China.

Under political upheaval at the end of the Qing Dynasty, the Imperial hunting reserve fell into disrepair. The deer population still existed inside the reserve however given the dangerous political turmoil they became captive vestiges of the Imperial era. During the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 the reserve was invaded and occupied by troops. All deer remaining within the reserve were shot and eaten. Because of the imperial edict this meant that the entire population of China’s imperial deer was killed in a few days.

Unbeknownst to China’s authorities of the Imperial era several of the deer had been smuggled out of the country to Europe in the late 1800’s. French Missionary Père David sent two to Paris for study where they were identified as a unique species. Pere David is honored as the Western namesake for the Milu:

David’s Deer Elaphurus davidianus

Ironically the smuggling of the species to Europe actually saved the species from extinction. When Europeans learned of the decimation of the native population of the deer Herbrand Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford acquired the few remaining animals in Europe into a small herd at Woburn Abbey. He and his son worked for decades to build up and maintian a herd through both World Wars.

By 1985 a reintroduction of David’s Deer back to its native China began with a herd of 5 males and 15 females. A subsequent herd of 18 females was sent 2 years later. The current worldwide population is around 500.