Splendour of the Forbidden City
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