You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the palaces we burnt. It made one’s heart sore just to burn them; in fact, those palaces were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully.
Gordon, then a young officer, was part of an British and French expeditionary force that was ordered to destroy the Yuanming Yuan—the Garden of Perfect Brightness which was called “The Old Summer Palace” where the emperors of China resided in the summer. It was the best Chinese architecture of the time and the palaces were full of many great works of art. The reason for the destruction was that the Chinese had imprisoned Western representatives who had come to manage a treaty. While incarcerated, the Western prisoners were murdered. Generally, retaliation was meant to do damage to something that the rulers of the offending nations valued greatly.
Charles George “Chinese” Gordon, 1833-1885, British General & Governor of the Sudan, Letter to his mother, 1860