Splen­dour of the For­bid­den City

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

In the heart of Bei­jing, the For­bid­den City still pre­serves nu­mer­ous land­scape gardens and ar­chi­tec­tural com­plexes, hav­ing served 24 em­per­ors from Zhu Di (1360–1424), Em­peror Yon­gle of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) to Puyi (1906–1967), Em­peror Xuan­tong of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911) and China's last em­peror. Cur­rently, it is a favourite World Her­itage Site among tourists and has be­come a won­der in the his­tory of global an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture.

Wit­ness­ing and Serv­ing Two Dynasties

Zhu Yuanzhang, found­ing em­peror (reign: 1368–1398) of the Ming Dy­nasty, con­sid­ered mov­ing the Ming cap­i­tal from Nan­jing to Beip­ing (to­day's Bei­jing). How­ever, he didn't take ac­tion.

Zhu Di, the fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang, ac­ceded to the throne and be­came the third em­peror of the Ming Dy­nasty un­der the ti­tle of Em­peror Yon­gle in 1402. In 1403, due to po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary needs, Em­peror Yon­gle, re­named Beip­ing Bei­jing and or­dered pris­on­ers to be sent to cul­ti­vate land in Bei­jing and dredge the Bei­jing–hangzhou Grand Canal and the Weihe River, in a bid to move af­flu­ent peo­ple from ar­eas around Nan­jing to Bei­jing.

In 1406, a group of of­fi­cials headed by Qiu Fu (1343–1409), Duke Qi, sug­gested con­struc­tion of a new im­pe­rial palace in Bei­jing, which found favour and ap­proval from Zhu Di. Zhu later dis­patched trust­wor­thy of­fi­cials to lead the de­sign, plan and con­struc­tion of the Im­pe­rial Palace in Bei­jing.

In the in­ter­calary sev­enth month in the same year, Song Li (1358–1422), a Min­is­ter of Works, was sent to Sichuan, Huguang (mostly to­day's Hubei and Hu­nan prov­inces), Jiangxi, Zhe­jiang and Shanxi to pur­chase wood re­quired, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of Bei­jing's con­struc­tion.

In 1407, large-scale con­struc­tion of the For­bid­den City be­gan. The For­bid­den City was com­pleted in 1420. The For­bid­den City cov­ers an area of more than 72 hectares and has more than 9,000 palaces, halls and cham­bers sym­met­ri­cally ar­ranged along the Cen­tral Axis.

Mag­nif­i­cent Im­pe­rial Palace

In lay­out, Bei­jing is ar­ranged along an eight kilo­me­tre-long Cen­tral Axis which con­nects Yongding Gate, Qian­men Gate, Tian'an­men (Gate of Heav­enly Peace), Duan­men Gate, Merid­ian Gate, the Hall of Supreme Har­mony, Jing­shan Hill, Di'an­men Gate, the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. The For­bid­den City is lo­cated in the mid­dle sec­tion of the axis.

Main build­ings of the palace, three outer halls and three in­ner halls, are ar­ranged along the north-south axis, while aux­il­iary build­ings align both sides in sym­me­try. Most of the build­ings in the For­bid­den City are ar­ranged in var­i­ous court­yards. This com­plex ad­heres to a strin­gent lay­out: “court at the front, mar­ket at the back, ances­tral tem­ple on the left and im­pe­rial al­tar on the right.”

This largest and most com­plete con­struc­tion has gone through nu­mer­ous ren­o­va­tions and ex­pan­sions, af­ter fires and ero­sion. The For­bid­den City grad­u­ally be­came a com­plex con­sist­ing of palaces, halls, tem­ples, shrines, pavil­ions, squares, gates, gardens, li­braries and bridges. In­cor­po­rat­ing su­perb art and tech­niques, it rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of an­cient Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture.

Re­lax­ation and Trea­sure

Many gardens and opera stages scat­tered be­tween lon­gi­tu­di­nal al­leys en­abled the palace res­i­dents to take a stroll around gardens or en­joy watch­ing op­eras. Im­pe­rial houses and trea­sures from the Ming and Qing dynasties re­flect a lav­ish im­pe­rial life­style.

Watch­ing op­eras was a ma­jor form of en­ter­tain­ment for the im­pe­rial fam­ily. As op­eras were per­formed on fes­ti­vals and the em­per­ors' and em­presses' birth­days or on other cel­e­bra­tory oc­ca­sions, opera stages were needed. Dur­ing the Qian­long and Guangxu (reign: 1875–1908) reigns, the largest num­ber of opera re­lated arte­facts were pro­duced, and op­eras de­vel­oped most re­mark­ably.

In the Qing Dy­nasty alone, 10 opera stages were built. Sur­vivors in­clude the large opera stage of the Belvedere of Pleas­ant Sounds in the court­yard of the Yueshi Tower, the small opera stage in the Juan­qin Stu­dio, the opera stage in the court­yard of the Sh­u­fang Stu­dio, the small opera stage in the stu­dio in the Chonghua Palace area, and the opera stage in the court­yard of the Changchun Palace (the Palace of Eter­nal Spring).

Gardens and opera stages added el­e­ments of leisure and re­lax­ation to the awe- in­spir­ing For­bid­den City. In all past dynasties, im­pe­rial fam­i­lies, re­ly­ing on their sta­tus and means, col­lected var­i­ous trea­sures for the palace, and built a vast store­house for them. Col­lec­tions of the Qing Dy­nasty in­her­ited those of the Song (AD 960– 1279), Yuan ( 1271– 1368) and Ming dynasties, es­pe­cially cul­tural arte­facts.

A horizontal in­scribed board, on which the Chi­nese char­ac­ters of ‘‘ The Palace Mu­seum'' is writ­ten, was hung at the en­trance gate of Shenwu Men (Gate of Di­vine Prow­ess) in 1925. Col­lec­tions such as an­cient cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings, an­cient uten­sils, art trea­sures of the Im­pe­rial Court, books and files, which num­bers more than 1.86 mil­lion, have been col­lected.

Cur­rently, the Palace Mu­seum ex­hibits an­cient his­tory and arts in ways in­clud­ing scenery in the four sea­sons, var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tions, newly-added ser­vices, in­no­va­tive cul­tural de­riv­a­tives and de­vel­op­ment of ac­cess to dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion. The For­bid­den City not only wit­nesses his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion but also ush­ers in a new fu­ture.

The For­bid­den City

The Hall of Supreme Har­mony

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