Forbidden City — The Largest Existing Imperial Palace and Witness of History
Panoramic View of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
What Is Forbidden City?
About 500 years of being a royal palace, 24 emperors had born, lived, enthroned, reigned, fought, and died there.
In this largest existing imperial palace in the world, throughout history, some people realized their dreams and brought the whole country prosperity, and some did horrible things that caused chaos and disasters in society.
Of over 9000 rooms in the Forbidden City, each has interesting stories.
History and Development of the Forbidden City.
Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty in Nanjing city, built a grand royal palace named Forbidden City (or Zi Jin Cheng) there, and gave the throne to his grandson, the Jianwen Emperor.
A few years later, Jianwen Emperor's uncle, prince Zhu Di, snatched the throne through war.
Before Zhu Di's army marched into the Forbidden City in Nanjing, Jianwen Emperor burnt down some main imperial palace buildings and disappeared.
Therefore, in 1406, Zhu Di commanded to migrate Ming's capital city to his fief Beijing and built another royal palace modeled on the Forbidden City in Nanjing.
Fourteen years later, the Forbidden City in Beijing was completed, and Ming Empire officially moved the capital there.
Forbidden City Depicted by People of the Ming Dynasty — National Museum of China
Since then, all of the successive emperors of the Ming have lived and worked in this palace.
In 1644, before a peasant rebellion army broke into Beijing city, Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide.
A few months later, Shunzhi Emperor moved into the Forbidden City when the Qing Dynasty announced its reign as a national regime.
Qing's emperors then lived there until Qing Dynasty ended in 1912, and its last emperor Puyi was banished from the palace in 1924.
Night View of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
Since 1925, it has served as a museum, though many treasures were lost because of wars.
Now, it is the Palace Museum with over 1.8 million valuable historical relics, a witness to the history of China, and an appealing representative of Chinese architecture.
Astrology and Tradition In the Palace's Name.
The original name of the palace is Zi Jin Cheng.
Zi means purple, corresponds to Ziwei Enclosure, the central section of heaven and the home of the Celestial Emperor in ancient Chinese Astrology, and represents supreme power and true majesty.
Jin means forbidden, illustrating that civilians were forbidden even to approach this grand imperial palace.
Meanwhile, people living in this palace, emperors, queens, imperial concubines, maids, and servants, were not possible to leave freely.
Therefore, some imperial concubines liked to keep cats as companions. Many cats today in the Forbidden City are offsprings of those royal pets.
Cat of the Forbidden City or Palace Museum, Photo by Liu Shunniu.
Cheng means the city, surrounded by long, strong city walls and moats.
The 720,000 square meters large Forbidden City is surrounded by 10 meters high, over 3400 meters long city wall, outside of which is an about 52 meters wide moat.
Moat and Bridges Between Meridian Gate or Wumen (Largest and Main Gate of Forbidden City) and Gate of Supreme Harmoney or Taihemen (Main Gate of Outer Court), Photo from the Official Site of Gugong.
Hierarchical Designs of the Palace.
The Forbidden City is rectangular, whose buildings and luxurious decorations inside represent power and fortune in traditional Chinese culture.
Red Wall and Yellow Roof of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
Based on the design ideology of the kings' palace of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), the Forbidden City is divided into two parts:
Outer Court in the South, and Inner Court in the North.
Outer Court includes three grand palaces, representing the Three Enclosures in heaven of traditional Chinese Astrology:
Hall of Supreme Harmony or Tai He Dian
The supreme hall was for emperors to hold the grandest ceremonies. It is also the supreme extant imperial hall in China.
Hall of Central Harmony or Zhong He Dian
For emperors to rest before or amid grand ceremonies.
Hall of Preserving Harmony or Bao He Dian
For emperors to hold ceremonies, celebration banquets, daily meetings, and imperial examinations.
Hall of Supreme Harmony (or Tai He Dian) in the Outer Court, also the Largest Hall of the Forbidden City; Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
Buildings surrounding the three halls were places for the crown prince to study, for officials to meet and work, and so on.
Emperors' Throne and Luxurious Decorations in the Hall of Supreme Harmony (or Tai He Dian), Photo by Liu Yedao.
Inner Court was for emperors' families to live, which is behind the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Men).
In the center are three palaces in the central axis as well: the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong) for the emperor, the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotai Dian), and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning Gong) for the empress to live.
On the north of these three halls is a beautiful royal garden. On two sides are some residents of the royal family, including empress dowager, imperial consorts, princes and princesses, etc.
Palaces of Imperial Consorts in the Inner Court, Photo by Ma Wenxiao.
The Number Nine in the Forbidden City.
According to I Ching (or Book of Changes), nine is the largest number (or the largest single digit) of Yang, hence the representative of heaven, supreme power, and majesty of emperors.
Therefore, the Forbidden City exclusively used the number nine in many of its designs.
Most gates of the Forbidden City are decorated with 81 golden doornails, presenting in a nine-by-nine array.
Princes, nobles, and officials should deduct their doornails' numbers based on their social status; civilians were not allowed to have them, no matter how rich they were.
The Nine-by-nine Array Doornails on Gate of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
On the roof of the emperors' supreme hall, ten mythical animals are guarding, and his other buildings have nine. Others' roofs should deduct the number based on their hierarchy, like the queen's with seven and imperial consorts with five or three.
These ten mythical creatures are:
Chinese Dragon or Loong, represents the emperor, paramount imperial authority;
Chinese Phoenix or Fenghuang, the symbol of virtue and peace;
Lion, represents power, bravery, and dignity;
Heavenly horse, the incarnation of honor and benevolence;
Sea horse, the symbol of auspiciousness and loyal;
Xiayu, a mythical creature with the power to call for wind and rain;
Suanni, a son of the dragon, a creature of blessing and leadership;
Xiezhi, the mythical creature of justice;
Douniu, a type of dragon that could fight and suppress floods.
Hang Shi: A creature that looks like a monkey with wings holding a magic weapon that can defeat demons and evil spirits. It is also believed to be the incarnation of the Deity of Thunder, which could protect the building from thunder and storm.
Of all ancient Chinese architecture, only the supreme hall in the imperial Forbidden City, the Tai He Dian or Hall of Supreme Harmony, has Hang Shi on the roof.
In the front is a deity riding on a phoenix, who leads those creatures and guards those palaces.
Ten Mythical Creatures and Leading Deity on Roof of Hall of Supreme Harmony of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
Nine Dragons Decorations
Nine-Dragon Wall of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
There is a tower on each corner of the Forbidden City, defending and guarding the royal palace.
Each corner tower was made of 9 beams, 18 columns, and 72 ridges.
Corner Tower and Moat of the Forbidden City, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.
What Would Emperors Do When They Don't Like to Live in the Forbidden City?
The Forbidden City is grand and fabulous, with countless luxurious decorations and sets. However, not all emperors liked to live there all the time.
Zhengde Emperor (1491 — 1521) built a place outside the Forbidden City and tried his best to escape outside the capital city.
Emperors of the Qing Dynasty obtained more centralized power, which allowed them to construct other fancy resorts and palaces to live or relax, such as the Old Summer Palace (which was burnt down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces in 1860), the Summer Palace, and Mountain Resort Chengde.
For more information, please visit the official site of the Forbidden City Museum
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