Im­pe­rial Style

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

When­ever you plan to ap­pre­ci­ate an­cient Bei­jing, the Yongding Gate is the best start­ing point. Set­ting off from the gate at the south end of Bei­jing’s tra­di­tional Cen­tral Axis, you will see many land­marks along it, such as the Qian­men Gate (Zhengyang Gate) and Tian’an­men (Gate of Heav­enly Peace) be­fore reach­ing the Drum and Bell tow­ers at the north end of the Cen­tral Axis.

Grand Lay­out

Wanyan Liang (1122–1161), ti­tled King Hail­ing af­ter his death, ruled the Jin Dy­nasty as em­peror from 1149 to 1161. In March 1153, he or­dered to move the cap­i­tal to Nan­jing of the Liao Dy­nasty (AD 916–1125), and re­named Nan­jing Zhongdu (“cen­tral cap­i­tal,” to­day’s Bei­jing). This was a mile­stone event in Chi­nese his­tory, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of Bei­jing’s his­tory as a cap­i­tal.

Dadu ob­served prin­ci­ples ad­vo­cated in the ‘‘records of ex­am­i­na­tion of crafts­man’’ in the Rites of Zhou. The Qionghua Is­land was treated as the cen­tre of the cap­i­tal, and a cen­tral axis con­tacted the is­land to de­ter­mine the cap­i­tal’s lay­out. The plan­ning, de­sign and con­struc­tion for Dadu was so elab­o­rate that the cap­i­tal emerged on the flat ground in a sub­ur­ban area, un­re­strained by for­mer struc­tures or ar­ti­fi­cial fac­tors. In this way, Dadu had a dis­tinct ur­ban shape and struc­ture, which can still be no­ticed to­day.

Bei­jing also served as the cap­i­tal of the Ming Dy­nasty. As the For­bid­den City was built, the Cen­tral Axis of the Ming Dy­nasty dif­fered from that of the Yuan Dy­nasty. Since Ming, Bei­jing has been char­ac­terised by a 7.8-kilo­me­tre long Cen­tral Axis, on which stand many land­marks such as the Yongding Gate, Qian­men Gate, Tian’an­men, Duan­men Gate, Merid­ian Gate, Hall of Supreme Har­mony, Jing­shan Hill, Di’an­men (Gate of Earthly Peace), and the Drum and Bell tow­ers.

The For­bid­den City, on the mid­dle part of the Cen­tral Axis, fea­tures three halls in its outer court—the Hall of Supreme Har­mony, Hall of Cen­tral Har­mony, and Hall of Pre­serv­ing Har­mony, and three halls in its the in­ner court— the Palace of Heav­enly Pu­rity, Hall of Union and Peace, and Palace of Earthly Tran­quil­ity, all on the south–north Cen­tral Axis. Other struc­tures stand sym­met­ri­cally on both sides of the Cen­tral Axis. With court­yards as its main ar­chi­tec­tural style, the 720,000-square-me­tre For­bid­den City is a large ar­chi­tec­tural com­plex with a rigid lay­out and ar­chi­tec­tural hi­er­ar­chy.

Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, the outer court of the im­pe­rial palace had three main halls—the Feng­tian, Hua­gai and Jin­shen halls, known as the Hall of Supreme Har­mony, Hall of Cen­tral Har­mony and Hall of Pre­serv­ing Har­mony dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. Th­ese struc­tures were all mag­nif­i­cent, show­ing supreme im­pe­rial au­thor­ity. The south Cheng­tian Gate (known as Tian’an­men dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty) co­or­di­nated with the north Xuanwu Gate (re­named Shenwu Gate dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty), out­side which was the Wan­sui Hill (to­day’s Jing­shan Hill), also on the Cen­tral Axis.

Chi­nese ar­chi­tect Liang Sicheng (1901– 1972) once said, “The dis­tinct beauty of Bei­jing’s mag­nif­i­cent or­der de­rives from this Cen­tral Axis.” With the hold­ing of the Bei­jing 2008 Olympics, the Cen­tral Axis was ex­tended.

Now, it has al­ready ex­tended to the Olympic For­est Park, where the Yang­shan Hill and Ao­hai Lake both stand on the north ex­ten­sion of the Cen­tral Axis. The Na­tional Sta­dium (“Bird’s Nest”) and Na­tional Aquat­ics Cen­ter (“Wa­ter Cube”), on both sides of the said ex­ten­sion, re­flect the Chi­nese thought— “Heaven is cir­cu­lar while earth is square.’’

Ac­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Through­out his­tory, Bei­jing was closely linked with other parts of the coun­try, giv­ing rise to count­less places of cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

An­cient Paths West of Bei­jing

Hills to the west of old Bei­jing gen­er­ally called the West­ern Hills, had plenty of coal. From the Yuan and Ming dynasties, house­holds in the cap­i­tal re­lied on coal for heat. Glazed prod­ucts made here were made fa­mous around the cap­i­tal.

Trains of horses and camels car­ry­ing coal and other com­modi­ties trav­elled along paths through the West­ern Hills. Grad­u­ally, paths for trav­el­ling mer­chants were shaped, con­nect­ing Bei­jing with the west­ern moun­tains, In­ner Mon­go­lia and Shanxi. Th­ese paths were known as Jingxi Gu­dao (an­cient paths west of Bei­jing).

Of th­ese paths, many were moun­tain paths trod­den and taken by lo­cal vil­lagers for many gen­er­a­tions. How­ever, main paths were fi­nanced and built by the gov­ern­ment or mer­chants. Gen­er­ally mea­sur­ing about two me­tres wide, they were paved with stones ob­tained from hills, and mainly taken by trains of horses, camels, don­keys and mules.

Peo­ple in the cap­i­tal de­pended on coal pro­duced in the West­ern Hills for heat in win­ter. The Fucheng Gate, a west gate of Bei­jing’s in­ner city, was com­monly known as the “Coal Gate,” be­cause horses and car­riages car­ry­ing coal all en­tered the in­ner city there.

On the gate was an in­laid white mar­ble carved with plum blos­soms to sig­nify the func­tion of the gate (in Chi­nese, “plum” sounds the same with “coal”). The Qing Dy­nasty saw a con­tin­u­ous in­crease in the cap­i­tal’s de­mand for coal. The Fucheng Gate alone couldn’t sat­isfy coal trans­port. Dur­ing the reign of Qing Em­peror Kangxi (reign: 1662–1722), the Xizhi Gate, called the “Wa­ter Gate,” also al­lowed en­try of large quan­ti­ties of coal into the cap­i­tal.

The an­cient Lu­tan Path might be the most no­table. Peo­ple mainly took this path to pay in­cense as homage to the Bud­dha in tem­ples. Qing Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736– 1795) once took this path to the Ji­etai and Tanzhe tem­ples to wor­ship Bud­dha. This path was thus called an im­pe­rial path by lo­cals.

Grand Canal

The 1,797-kilo­me­tre-long Grand Canal is the world’s long­est canal. Dat­ing from the Qin (221–206 BC) and Han (206 BC–AD 220) dynasties, the Grand Canal was dug and dredged in later dynasties such as Sui (AD 581–618), Tang, Yuan, Ming and Qing, and fi­nally be­came a trans­port artery link­ing north­ern and south­ern China.

The Grand Canal has seven sec­tions. The north­ern­most sec­tion, con­nect­ing Bei­jing with Tian­jin, is known as the North Canal. Its route changed many times through­out his­tory. Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, a third large-scale project for ren­o­vat­ing and dredg­ing the North Canal was com­pleted, de­ter­min­ing the route of to­day’s North Canal.

A canal link­ing ur­ban Bei­jing and Tongzhou (to­day’s Tongzhou District) was opened. It was named the Tonghui River by Kublai Khan. To con­trol the depth for ship­ping and cur­rent speed on the canal, Guo had 24 sluice gates built to en­able ships car­ry­ing grains to ride against the cur­rent, re­al­is­ing the fact of “ship­ping while sav­ing wa­ter.”

This tech­nol­ogy has been in ser­vice to the present. With the Huitong and Tonghui rivers com­pleted, the Grand Canal was opened thor­oughly, con­nect­ing five wa­ter sys­tems— the Haihe, Yel­low, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang rivers. Within the next more than 500 years, the Grand Canal acted as a vi­tal wa­ter trans­port artery.

The North Canal, which served wa­ter trans­port of grains to the cap­i­tal, was hailed as a “golden water­way” link­ing Bei­jing and Tian­jin. The South Canal (link­ing Tian­jin with

Shan­dong Prov­ince) also played an im­por­tant role in his­tory—ma­te­ri­als such as grains and silk were trans­ported through it from south­ern ar­eas to Tian­jin.

Mean­while, spe­cial prod­ucts of north­ern China were col­lected and dis­trib­uted here, and then trans­ported south­wards to Suzhou (cap­i­tal city of to­day’s Jiangsu Prov­ince) and Hangzhou (cap­i­tal city of to­day’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince). Cargo ships from south parts of the coun­try reached Dadu along the North Canal, of­fer­ing a bustling scene from Tongzhou to the down­town area un­til the early Ming Dy­nasty.

Cixi Water­way

“The clear Gao­liang River takes the shape of a ring. One half of it winds through the city, and the other sur­rounds moun­tains. Wil­lows dance in the wind, while cur­tains of tav­erns move like un­du­lat­ing waves. On­shore is an end­less sea of flow­ers, evok­ing peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion.” This poem de­scribes beau­ti­ful scenery along to­day’s Changhe River, one of Bei­jing’s most im­por­tant wa­ter sys­tems. Its his­tory can be traced back to more than 700 years dur­ing the Jin Dy­nasty.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu, Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi (1835–1908) must pass the Changhe River when she de­parted from the For­bid­den City for the Sum­mer Palace. Per­haps for this rea­son, on­shore ar­eas be­came more pros­per­ous. In 1888, dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu, Cixi em­bez­zled naval ex­pen­di­tures to re­build the Sum­mer Palace.

For her con­ve­nience, this water­way was dredged. About 30 per­cent of the Sum­mer Palace was oc­cu­pied by a hill, about 70 per­cent by wa­ter, and the rest by farm­land. The an­cient Changhe River has be­come a “golden water­way” wind­ing and con­nect­ing bod­ies of wa­ter around the cap­i­tal. Its sight­see­ing sec­tion stretches for nine kilo­me­tres from the Houhu Wharf be­hind Bei­jing Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre to a wharf at the Sum­mer Palace.

Chi­nese leg­ends about drag­ons can be traced back to at least 5,000 years ago. In the 1980s, when an aerial re­mote sen­sor flew over Bei­jing, peo­ple found two “drag­ons” ly­ing in the core area of old Bei­jing— one was a “golden dragon,” and the other, a sil­very “wa­ter dragon.”

The “wa­ter dragon” com­prises six lakes— Bei­hai, Zhong­hai and Nan­hai lakes (known as “three front lakes”) all once ap­pre­ci­ated by the im­pe­rial fam­ily, and the Qian­hai, Houhai and Xi­hai lakes (“three back lakes”) in the Shicha­hai area. Grad­u­ally, this area took on breath­tak­ing beauty pe­cu­liar to Bei­jing City.

Con­tin­ued Civil­i­sa­tion

His­tor­i­cal and cul­tural re­sources have been de­vel­oped and pro­moted in Bei­jing since an­cient times. The Pek­ing Man Site at Zhouk­oudian dat­ing back to about 700,000 years ago, the site where the State of Yan (1122–222 BC) es­tab­lished its cap­i­tal more than 3,000 years ago, his­tor­i­cal sites of

Jin Zhongdu and Yuan Dadu, and cul­tural re­sources dat­ing from the Ming and Qing dynasties all serve as tes­ti­monies. Bei­jing’s bril­liant his­tory and cul­ture is an in­dis­pens­able part of splen­did Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion.

Im­pe­rial Li­braries

In 1744, Em­peror Qian­long or­dered of­fi­cials di­rectly serv­ing the im­pe­rial court to check ma­te­ri­als housed by the im­pe­rial court, choose re­li­able texts, and place them in the Hall of Man­i­fest­ing Benev­o­lence for him to read at his con­ve­nience. He wrote four char­ac­ters “Tian Lu Lin Lang” for a plaque for the hall, and com­pleted a cou­plet.

“Tianlu” de­rived from the Tianlu Pavil­ion where books were kept dur­ing the Han Dy­nasty. “Lin­lang” meant “beau­ti­ful jade” to sig­nify an ar­ray of good books housed by the im­pe­rial court. There­after, the hall be­came Qing’s im­pe­rial li­brary, with Tianlu Lin­lang sym­bol­is­ing books kept by the im­pe­rial fam­ily.

In 1775, ten peo­ple, in­clud­ing of­fi­cial Yu Minzhong (1714–1780), were or­dered to ar­range books housed in the hall. They spec­i­fied in­for­ma­tion about th­ese books, in­clud­ing their ages, print­ing, cir­cu­la­tion, hous­ing or aban­don­ment, and rea­sons why con­nois­seurs se­lected them, and com­piled Tianlu lin­lang shumu (a book­list).

The book list has ten vol­umes, and de­tails the col­lec­tion of books in the hall in four parts: Con­fu­cian clas­sics, his­tor­i­cal records, works by philoso­phers prior to the Qin Dy­nasty, and col­lected works. Ev­ery part fol­lows a time­line of edi­tions and copies of the Song, Jin, Yuan and Ming dynasties.

In 1797, dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Ji­aqing, the hall kept more books, Peng Yuan­rui (1731–1803, an of­fi­cial and scholar)

com­piled Tianlu lin­lang shu­mux­u­bian (a con­tin­u­a­tion of the book list).

Im­pe­rial Ar­chive

Huang­shicheng (Im­pe­rial Ar­chive) is to the east of the south en­trance of the Nanchizi Av­enue east of Tian’an­men. Once hous­ing im­pe­rial ar­chives of the Ming and Qing dynasties, it is the only one of its kind still pre­served in China.

In 1536, the Im­pe­rial Ar­chive was com­pleted and put into ser­vice. As it was planned to en­shrine por­traits of em­per­ors, it was first named the Shenyu Pavil­ion (“im­mor­tal im­pe­rial pavil­ion”). Af­ter it was com­pleted, Em­peror Ji­a­jing changed his mind, and de­cided to place records of and teach­ings by em­per­ors in it and build an­other struc­ture named the Jing­shen Hall to house th­ese por­traits.

Ac­cord­ing to Chun­ming mengyu lu (a record of Bei­jing dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty) by Sun Chengze (1593–1676, a politi­cian and col­lec­tor), Ji­a­jing agreed to re­name the Shenyu Pavil­ion “Huang­shicheng,” with cheng mean­ing a room for col­lect­ing books in an­cient times.

Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, 20 golden cab­i­nets were used for ar­chives, com­pared to 31 dur­ing the reign of Qing Em­peror Yongzheng, 141 of Em­peror Tongzhi and 153 of Em­peror Guangxu. Dur­ing Ming, the Im­pe­rial Ar­chive seemed a pri­vate ar­chive of em­per­ors, while dur­ing Qing, it was a State or­gan.

Dur­ing Qing, when of­fi­cial com­pil­ers needed to con­sult doc­u­ments kept in the Im­pe­rial Ar­chive to com­pile cer­tain his­tory books, they could sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion to the em­peror. With per­mis­sion, they could do so.

Con­fu­cian Tem­ple and Im­pe­rial Col­lege

The Guoz­i­jian Street, stretch­ing east–west from the Yonghe­gong Av­enue to And­ing­men­nei Av­enue, is fa­mous for the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple and the Im­pe­rial Col­lege nes­tled here. With a his­tory of more than 700 years, the street main­tains its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance.

In 1306, Guoz­i­jian (Im­pe­rial Col­lege) was of­fi­cially set up west of the tem­ple, re­flect­ing a tra­di­tional Chi­nese rule: the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple on the left while an in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing on the right. The Im­pe­rial Col­lege was the toplevel in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing and ed­u­ca­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

The Im­pe­rial Col­lege faces south, with a glazed me­mo­rial arch­way on its cen­tral axis. The arch­way is Bei­jing’s only glazed me­mo­rial arch­way that doesn’t be­long to a tem­ple. Hailed as one of “Bei­jing’s six ma­jor palaces” by Liang Sicheng, the Biy­ong Hall is the core struc­ture of the Im­pe­rial Col­lege. Em­per­ors once pro­moted Con­fu­cian canons in the Im­pe­rial Col­lege. This was known as Liny­ong Shixue.

Em­peror Qian­long first gave a lec­ture in the Yilun Hall, which dissatisfied him. He sug­gested build­ing the Biy­ong Hall to op­ti­mise eti­quette. In 1783, the hall was com­pleted.

The Golden Wa­ter Bridge and the Hall of Supreme Har­mony in the For­bid­den City

The Tongzhou Sec­tion of the Grand Canal

Bei­jing‘s “wa­ter dragon”

Biy­ong Hall, one of main build­ings in Guoz­i­jian (Im­pe­rial Col­lege)

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