Ernst Ohlmer (1847-1927) worked in China for almost 46 years as a professional photographer at first, and then as a customs officer. This German photographer undertook one of the earliest visual documentation of the remains of the Summer Palace around 1872, thus around a decade after the initial destruction of the palace (in 1860, troops from Anglo-French expedition invaded and looted these imperial gardens). Presented to the public for the first time in 2010 in Beijing’s China Millennium Monument, these photographs offer a unique opportunity to see some of the structures that today we can only imagine for the site has completely changed and altered over the years. The multiplicity of meanings associated with this site and the profound scars it has left in Chinese collective memory make each visual testimony both important and complex. So the questions that immediately come to mind are how should we gaze at these photographs? What these images stand for? Are they a ‘perverse pleasure’ of admiring ruins as Woodward liked to say? A reminder of the viewer’s responsibility? An outcry of pitying art? Obviously, there is no such thing as a univocal answer.