The Forbidden City, China

In August of 2011, I was in Beijing, China. While there, I visited the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City (also called Zijin Cheng) is a 72-hectare palace complex in Beijing that was used by the emperors of China from A.D. 1420 to 1911. In total, 24 emperors occupied the Forbidden City, so named because it could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, his women and thousands of eunuchs (castrated male servants) and officials.

General Layout of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China 2011

The Forbidden City complex consists of about 980 buildings, mainly in yellow and red colors, surrounded by a wall 10 meters high and a moat 52 meters wide. The city is configured on a north-south axis that aligns with the pole star, emphasizing the emperor’s position as the son of heaven.

Looking south into the Tiananmen Square from “The Gate of Heavenly Peace”. Behind me is the “Monument of the Peoples Heroes”

Pictured below, I’m standing with a friend, “Rai Chung”, in front of “The Gate of Heavenly Peace”. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, is a monumental gate in the city center of Beijing, China and the front gate of the Imperial City of Beijing, China. It is widely used as a national symbol and first built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420. Tiananmen was the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located. The Tiananmen Gate stretches some 880 m from north to south and 500 m from east to west, making it the largest urban square in the world.

I’m standing with a close friend from China, in front of the The Gate of Heavenly Peace. Note the large picture of Mao. “This is the initial entrance to the Forbidden City. North of here.

Pictured below, “The Meridian Gate”, towers as high as 38 meters, and is located in the south and serves as the formal entranceway to the city. It leads visitors through a series of courtyards that end in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the central and largest building where the emperor would conduct business.

The Meridian Gate at the southern entrance of the Forbidden City

Pictured above, The Meridian Gate has two protruding wings forming three sides of a square (Wumen, or Meridian Gate, Square) before it. The gate has five gateways. The central gateway is part of the Imperial Way, a stone flagged path that forms the central axis of the Forbidden City.

I’m standing in front of the “Hall of Supreme Harmony Square”

Entering from the Meridian Gate, one encounters a large square, pierced by the meandering Inner Golden Water River, which is crossed by five bridges. Beyond the square stands the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Behind that is the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rises from this square. Three halls stand on top of this terrace, the focus of the palace complex.

Throne of the Emperor, found inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony Square encompasses some three hectares — enough space to admit tens of thousands of subjects to pay homage to the emperor. Towering above the space stands the Hall of Supreme Harmony, in which the throne of the emperor stands, (pictured above). This hall, measuring (64 X 37) m, is the largest single building in the compound, as well as one of the tallest (being approximately the same height as the Wu Gate). It was the center of the imperial court.

The Hall of Preserving Harmony at the north end of the Forbidden City

To the north, on the same triple terrace, stands the Hall of Central (or Complete) Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian), also loci of government functions, (Pictured above).

Just outside the Hall of Union. Notice the tiny dragons on the roof edges. The sloping ridges of building roofs are decorated with a line of statuettes led by a man riding a phoenix and followed by an imperial dragon. The number of statuettes represents the status of the building.

Farther north lies the Inner Court, which contains the three halls that composed the imperial living quarters, (The Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Palace of Tranquil Longevity, and the Hall of Union).

A symbolic cistern found in the inner court of the Palaces

Pictured below, The Palace of Tranquil Longevity is a double-eaved building, 9 bays wide and 3 bays deep. In the Ming dynasty, it was the residence of the Empress. In the Qing dynasty, large portions of the Palace were converted for Shamanist worship by the new Manchu rulers. From the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor, the Empress moved out of the Palace. However, two rooms in the Palace of Earthly Harmony were retained for use on the Emperor’s wedding night.

The Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity

The Palace of Heaven Purity is a double-eaved building, and set on a single-level white marble platform. It is connected to the Gate of Heaven Purity to its south by a raised walkway. In the Ming dynasty, it was the residence of the Emperor. However, beginning from the Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty. The Emperor lived instead at the smaller Hall of Mental Cultification to the west, out of respect to the memory of the Emperor Kangxhi. The Palace of Heavenly Purity then became the Emperor’s audience hall (pictured below).

Gulded Lions found at the Gate of Heaven Purity.

The collections of the Palace Museums are based on the Qing imperial collection, including paintings, ceramics, seals, steles, sculptures, inscribed wares, bronze wares, enamel objects, etc. According to latest audit, it has 1,862,690 pieces of art.

The Golden Celestial Globe inset with Pearls

Court music can be divided into three-categories–ritual music, banqueting music, pipes and drum music. Sets of bells (bianzhong) and stone chimes (bianquing) were indispensable for playing the refined ritual music called Zhonghe Shao in Qing dynasty.

8 ying bells and 8 yang bells (bianzhong)

Pictured above, this set of bells was cast in 1791 (fifty-fifth year of Qianlong), required 13,600 gold taels (Qing unit of weight). The eight yin bells and eight yang bells all are the same size and shape but have walls of varying thickness to produce different pitches. The thickest one, ying bell, weights 14,317 g and produces the highest note; the thinnest one, Beigize, weights 4,703 g and produces the lowest note. Nearby, the stone chimes are made of green jade and adorned with gold-traced dragon design on the both sides.

Emperor’s Palace at the far north end of the Forbidden City.

To the west and to the east of the three main halls of the Inner Court are the Western Palaces (Xiliugong) and the Eastern Palaces (Dongliugong). The Western and Eastern Palaces each have a layout of three palaces on either side of an alley that runs from north to south, (pictured below).

The alley looking south that separates the Forbidden City and the Eastern Palaces (Dongliugong).

The ten emperors of the Qing Dynasty, which replaced the Ming in 1644, used the Forbidden City as their seat of government. In 1912, following the Xinhai Revolution, the last Chinese emperor, Puyi, abdicated and the Forbidden City eventually became a museum, where its many treasures and curiosities were put on display (although some of these artifacts were removed to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War).

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