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The Forbidden City

Forbidden city (winter of 1995)

Many of you have seen the Hollywood movie called "The Last Emperor."  If you have seen that movie, you probably remember the child running through a huge palace.   That child is known as Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasy and the last person to live in the Imperial Palace, otherwise known as the Forbidden City.  The name "Forbidden City " came from the fact that ordinary things (people or materials) could not enter the gates, they were "forbidden." 

When I first entered the Forbidden City in the winter of 1995, I felt overwhelmed by the apparent immense size of the palace.  The height of the red walls surrounding the palace are almost 6 people tall .  Since people outside the wall cannot see what is inside, except for the top of a few buildings, it makes one curious about what's going on inside the walls.

Surrounding the walls on the outside is a moat. It separates the palace from outsiders and makes the palace a highly secure place.  There are only four bridges that cross the moat to four gates: the Meredian Gate, Spiritual Valor Gate, Xihua (West) Gate, and the Donghua (East) Gate.  The Meridian Gate is just past the Tiananmen Gate, which is across from Tiananmen Square.  It is the front and main entrance into the palace.  The back entrance to the palace is the Gate of Spiritual Valor.

I came in the main entrance, via the Tiananmen and Meridian Gate.  The Meridian Gate is where the emperor would give New Year's announcements as well as determine the destiny of prisoners.  Once inside the Meridian Gate, there are several bridges, the Golden River bridges, that are surrounded by huge walls with three gates.  The gates are to the left and right with the Gate of Supreme Harmony located directly in front.   Once you pass through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, you will be amazed by the size of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  This Hall is over 110 feet tall and has golden-yellow tiles, a color only allowed for emperors, on the roof.  It is also known as the Throne Hall because of all the important functions and ceremonies that took place inside.  In the movie, "The Last Emperor," this Hall is where the ceremony took place when child, Puyi,  became emperor.  

While I was standing there in the strong wind, I thought about all the history that took place in the Hall.    The Imperial Palace began with the Yuan Dynasty, survived through the Ming, and ended with the Qing Dynasty, a span of almost 700 years.  The history of the Palace is also Beijing's political history as the capital of China.

To get to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, I walked on large stone tiles and saw many cranes and tortoises symbolizing long life in front of the Hall.   Inside the building are many symbolic items, such as the 24 columns that are symbolic of the hours in a day.  The six columns that support that platform for the throne are decorated with the imperial dragon.  The throne's platform is impressive with its size, 6 feet tall and the ceilings within are stunning with their beautiful decorations.  It reminded me of the power the emperors had and I envisioned them sitting their attending their ceremonies with dignitaries. 

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Middle Harmony.  This is where the emperor met with officials and mingled while dealing with political issues.

The Hall of Preserving Harmony is the next building and it is a banquet hall.  It is where the emperor would hold his banquets.  Behind the Hall, there is beautiful dragon pavement that goes down the center stairs from the terrace. 

At this point, I've seen almost half of the main buildings in the Palace.  After passing through the Gate of Heavenly Purity, I reach the Palace of Heavenly Purity.  This is where the the emperors lived during the Ming period and where they studied during the latter part of the Qing dynasty.

The small Palace of Union between Heaven and Earth is where birthday celebrations took place during the Qing Dynasty as well as the coronation of the empresses.  Behind this Palace is the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, and as the name implies it was where the empresses resided.  The bridal chamber is located here and is where the emperors spent their wedding night with their empresses.

I have now come to the Imperial Garden.  All throughout the palace I felt awed and alone surrounded by the immense buildings, and the spaciousness with unending stone pavement.  Entering the Imperial Garden was like stepping into another world.  Without the incessant wind blowing, it was very tranquil and warm. There was green, unlike the gray of the pavement, with varying shapes of trees,  beautiful artificial stones, and a small waterfall, all of which made me feel very peaceful.  I was relaxed here and spent a long time walking around the garden. 

It's now time to leave, being here was quite an experience.  I am glad I came to one of the largest and most significant complexes in China, the Imperial Palace.  I admire those who worked on these buildings, they are works of art.  Fine detailing is seen everywhere and it is obvious the incredible effort that went into building it.  Those that worked on the Imperial Palace, probably built it just for the emperor. The palace is now standing, no longer for the emperors, but for those who had at one time been "forbidden." Editor


In China, ornamentation on doors and lions in front of buildings appear to be forbidding in an attempt to keep out bad spirits.


Bronze Incense Burner

Ornamentation on Door

Bronze lion outside Imperial Palace

Bronze Lion

Bronze Tortoise

Bronze Incense Burner

Corridor in the Imperial Palace

Engraved Dragons on Ceiling

Decorative Ceiling

Emperor's Tableware

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