Forbidden City

BY CchattyArticleTravel in China
Release time:2017-11-10
Tag: Travel in China
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Forbidden City is one of China Palace, a world cultural heritage site as well as the royal buildings of the Ming and Qing dynasties in China. It has a history of nearly 600 years. This China palace represents the quintessence of ancient Chinese architecture.
part 1

Overall of the Forbidden City 紫禁城, 故宫Gugong

Forbidden City - overall

China Palace - Forbidden City, is a world cultural heritage site as well as the royal buildings of the Ming and Qing dynasties in China. It is also the world’s largest and best preserved royal palace complex so far. The  China Palace in Beijing is an imperial complex of China’s Ming and Qing dynasties. It used to be referred to as the Forbidden City. It is located at the center of Beijing’s central axis. The Beijing imperial started construction in the 4th year of the Yongle era (AD 1407) and was completed in the 18th year of the Yongle era (AD 1421) of the Ming Dynasty. It has a history of nearly 600 years. This  China Palace represents the quintessence of ancient Chinese architecture.

Forbidden City - 3

The combination of Chinese red and yellow glazed tiles highlights imperial magnificence. The ingenious tenon-and-mortise and bracket-set structure epitomize the construction carpentry techniques that have been passed down for over 1,000 years. The gorgeously gilded details fill the palace with noble implications. The China Palace in Beijing can be considered as a typical epitome of traditional Chinese architecture. The China Palace in Beijing is centred on the three main halls. It covers a land area of 720,000 square meters and a floor area of about 150,000 square meters. It boasts numerous palaces. Legend even has it that the China Palace has as many as 9,999.5 rooms.

Including Qianqing Palace, Jiaotai Hall and Kunning Palace. And there is a garden in the rear, which called the Imperial Garden. This line is referred to as the central axis of the China Palace. All main buildings of the China Palace are in the middle. The halls on the central axis are undoubtedly the most important. Generally, enter the China Palace by the Meridian Gate. Then pass Taihe Gate, Taihe Hall, Zhonghe Hall, and Baohe Hall. The rear part is where the emperor used to live.

part 2

Taihe Hall 太和殿 - three main halls

Forbidden City - Taihe Hall

The China Palace's three main halls are what referred to as the emperor's throne halls in the China Palace. This is called Taihe Hall. It is at the very core of the China Palace. And it is also the largest building in the China Palace. It is 35 meters in height. People say it is as tall as a 12-story building. The most important thing in the emperor's life is the enthroning ceremony. The emperor's wedding ceremony and some other major celebrations were also held here. 

Taihe Hall is a unique building. People can see ridge animals on some buildings. They are generally graded. There can be three, five, or seven (ridge animals). An imperial building usually has nine ridge animals. And Taihe Hall has eleven. The immortal and ridge animals. So there are eleven of them in total, indicating that the building is unique in terms of both size and form. Only Taihe Hall has eleven ridge animals. If the count in these two small rooms, there are eleven rooms in total. It's a unique building in China. You can't find such a unique building anywhere else.

Forbidden City - eave

They represent the imperial power and majesty. For example, the dragon represents the emperor. The emperor claimed that he was the true dragon and real son of heaven. The dragon can ascend to the sky, dive into the sea, and ride the clouds and mist. The Phoenix is the king of birds. The lion is the king of beasts. All of them are mighty. The heavenly horse and the seahorse are also of capable of everything. They can come and go freely and are not afraid of anything. Then suanni, yayu, and xiezhi can drive away evil spirits. They can drive away evil spirits. 

Finally, the monkey represents intelligence and wisdom. When you look at the roof of Taihe Hall from a distance, they line up like divine troops descending from the heaven and gazing at the human world. But the most important reason is there are gaps between glazed tiles, and the ridge animals mainly prevent the hall roof from leaking. The ridge animals can connect the gaps. 

To reduce the gap, something round or square wouldn’t look nice, while ridge animals are decorative. Then gradually they were connected with the social hierarchy. The house of ordinary people should use only three ridge animals. The imperial building should use nine ridge animals. Taihe Hall is the only building with ten ridge animals. Plus that immortal, it has eleven ridge ornaments.

part 3

Zhonghe Hall 中和殿 and Baohe Hall 保和殿 - three main halls

Forbidden City - Zhonghe Hall

The China Palace’s three main halls were mainly used for the emperor's enthroning ceremony, wedding ceremony and other major celebrations. Taihe Hall was mainly used for the emperor's enthroning ceremony and wedding ceremony. And Zhonghe Hall was a place where the emperor made preparations and had a rest before his enthroning ceremony. 

Forbidden City - baohe hall

Among the three main halls, Baohe Hall served for different functions in the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the Ming Dynasty, the emperor got changed here before the enthroning ceremony. When appointing the empress or the crown prince, the emperor also received congratulations from civil and military officials in Baohe Hall. In the Qing Dynasty. During the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, Baohe Hall also became the place of final imperial examination. In addition to the three main halls, the China Palace’s overall layout was also meticulously designed.

part 4

The design of the China Palace - Forbidden City

Forbidden City - five elements

The design of the Forbidden City reflects the theory of five elements. The five elements are related to bearings. They correspond to five bearings. The five elements are metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Earth is right at the centre. Metal is usually in the west. Wood is in the east. Fire is in the south. Water is in the north. And the earth is right in the middle. The five elements are arranged based on how they reinforce and neutralize each other. So the layout of the Forbidden City makes the five elements reinforce each other.

The east corresponds to wood, which actually Implies growth. Then in the layout of the China Palace, the three courtyard’s south of Ningshou Palace, the princes’ residences, were located here in the hope. The princes could grow up to become useful and could amount to something. So usually, the crown prince and other princes lived here. The east corresponds to wood, which reinforces fire.

The south corresponds to fire, which reinforces earth. If you come to Meridian Gate, you will see two protruding parts on its both sides. They stretch out like two arms.They called Yanchi Tower. They referred to it as Zhuque Gate. What the relationship between Meridian Gate and fire? Ancient Chinese people believed that the rosefinch (Vermilion Bird) flies towards the sun, so fire is in the south. Thus, many offices were located in the frontcourt.

Earth is at the center: when you exit Meridian Gate, you immediately come to Taihe Hall, Zhonghe Hall, and Baohe Hall. There are three steps below there. The three steps are shaped like the Chinese character on earth facing the south. It also implies that among the five elements, the earth is at the center. The three main halls are right at the center of the China Palace, also symbolizing the center of the world.

Metal is in the west. Metal actually represents the autumn harvest. And it also represents majesty. So military officers worked in the west area, with Wuying Hall in the near.

Water is in the north: When you come to the north, water reinforces wood. And you return to the starting point. So the design follows the theory of five elements. Therefore, the Jinshui River (Golden Water River) in the China Palace flows in from the northwest flows out from the southeast. Water is quiet and tranquil and helps sleep, so this area is suitable for living.

Thus, it frontcourt was for office, and the rear court was for residence. They worked in the front and slept in the rear. That is to say, from the overall layout of the China Palace. We can see the concepts of yin-yang five elements, and axial symmetry are reflected in the design.

part 5

Building materials - wood

Forbidden City - wood

The China Palace is the best preserved and largest scale Imperial Palace complex. The China Palace must have been built by skilled craftsmen from all over the country. And these materials are the best things in the country.

Woods: To build these main halls, the most needed would be wood. Stepping into Taihe Hall of the China Palace, there are 72 massive pillars. These pillars are very spectacular. They are 1 meter in diameter. These pillars are called dragon pillars. Probably it takes a few persons to get their arms around each of the pillars.

Forbidden City - Phoebe nanmu wood

In the early Ming Dynasty, these pillars are of Phoebe nanmu wood. It is mothproof. It can be preserved for the longest time and is the strongest. In the 4th year of the Yongle era (AD1403 - AD1424), when the Yongle Emperor decided to build the China Palace in Beijing, the first thing that the Minister of Works (Minister of Construction) Song Li did was go to the south to look for wood. He went to the primaeval forests in Sichuan, Hubei province, Hunan province, Yunnan province, and Guizhou province. He went there to look for wood.  And he lucky found a batch of Phoebe nanmu wood in a virgin forest on Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. Then he reported the situation to the emperor. The emperor was very happy with the report. Just as he planned to build his China Palace, (Song Li) found such good wood, so he praised the wood as divine wood and the mountain as the mountain of divine wood. 

Forbidden City - wood shipment

However, it was very difficult to fell the trees. First, the trees were very hard. Second, the trees had grown for more than 1,000 years; they were very tall and heavy. According to historical records about the loggers, “1,000 loggers went into the mountain, and only 500 of them came out.” The meaning is if there were originally 1,000 loggers, the rest of 500 Then a lot of them were killed or injured. There were a lot of wild animals in the virgin forest, and it was not safe to live there. Some of them escaped because it was very hard. It was already difficult to fell the trees. When the trees were felled, they must be rolled down the mountain. Having been rolled down the mountain, they were drifted along the river. Then they were transported to the canal. Only through the Grand Canal could they be transported from the south to Beijing. The timbers were huge ones. Therefore, at that time in Beijing, the timbers were stored in the Big Sawmill. This kind of wood was stored in large quantities. It is on the South Third Ring Road, just by the Tonghui River.

Forbidden City - 5

But the wood we see today in the China Palace’s three main halls no more the divine wood. The China Palace’s three main halls were burned down several times. They were rebuilt after they were burned. They couldn’t find such good wood when rebuilding the halls. Later, when they were rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty, the Qing government couldn’t afford the time and made do with some good pine wood from the primaeval forest in Northeast China. The China Palace is one of the world’s best preserved and largest existing wooden-structure ancient complexes.

This giant complex also used a stunning amount of timbers. Taihe Hall alone used as many as 72 precious Phoebe nanmu timbers that were one meter in diameter. According to incomplete statistics, the China Palace’s various halls used nearly 35,000 towering wooden pillars, making a real miracle among the world’s wooden buildings.

part 6

Building materials - Gold craft

Forbidden City - Gold craft

In addition to wood, the China Palace also used a lot of gold craft to highlight the imperial dignity and create a magnificent visual effect. For example, the bronze lions in front of Ningshou Gate were gilded with 15 kilograms of gold. (The China Palace's red-lacquered gate is also covered with rows of spectacular gilded doornails.) The gold dragons on carved beams and painted walls were decorated with gold dust. The glazed tiles can reflect the light. And people can see many places inside the halls are gold-plated. It is in the China Palace. I wonder if you have noticed it. There are a lot of big vats. There are 22 big vats, which are called golden vats. 

In front of Taihe Hall and on both sides of Taihe Hall. And on both sides of Baohe Hall. And also in Qianqing Palace. There are about 22 golden vats at the four places. When the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded Beijing, they did not know and thought the vats were made of gold. Later, they found the vats were gold-plated and were bronze inside. So they scratched the gold dust off the vats. It is also said that the emperor had planned to build 22 big gold vats, but they would require too much gold.

part 7

Building materials - Gold bricks

Forbidden City - Gold brick

There are many halls in the China Palace, especially the main halls on the central axis. Although these are just floor bricks, they were actually very costly. The bricks are also related to gold. They are called gold bricks. Each of these gold bricks is basically 73.3 cm by 56.6cm. Since each brick is rectangular, they must be rubbed so that they had tight joints when laid. All sides of the bricks must be rubbed to achieve tight joints. The paved floor would be completely flat and hardly show the joints. The bricks are not just flat but have an oily feel as well. Such bricks couldn’t be fired in Beijing. They were basically fired in Suzhou. In Suzhou, there were several imperial kilns. It took complicated procedures to fire such bricks. It is said that the final cost of each brick was equivalent to one tael of gold, so they were called gold bricks. 

The procedures are rough as follows. The first step is to select the clay. If there are a few impurities, if the impurities can’t be washed away, the clay can’t be used. The clay-like the cement that has just been poured out, it is very fine. Such fine clay can only be found on the riverside in Suzhou. It is free from impurities, no any impurities at all. After the clay is selected, the craftsmen will work the clay. They will beat the clay. It is like kneading the dough. They will work the clay till it is very stretchy.

Forbidden City - Gold brick 2

When the clay is well worked, it is made into clay blocks, like brick blanks. When the brick blanks are made, they are rolling the blanks with a rolling pin. After rolling the clay, the edges are cut off. Rolling actually applies pressure to the clay so that there are no bubbles inside. Then the blanks are fired. The fire needs to be changed after three months. They can’t be fired with high heat. After firing, the bricks are taken out to be checked. When you knock them, they should give out a certain sound. The bricks must give out a metallic sound. When the brick was struck, it had to make a metallic sound. They had to make sure that when the brick was cut through there shouldn’t be even a single small hole in the cross-section. When a brick was struck, and it didn’t make any sound, It would be a defective product. It’s said that such a brick cost a tael of gold.

A hall in the Palace Museum consists of several thousand bricks. Several major halls are made of such gold bricks. So all that people see from above to below are treasures. It was a very difficult thing to secure these materials and transport them to the capital. It took time and great efforts.

part 8

Who designed the China Palace - Forbidden City?

Forbidden City - Zhu Di

The China Palace is the best preserved and largest scale China Palace complex. It is so big and has so many rooms. Who designed it in the first place? 

Actually, the construction of the China Palace probably involved three levels. The first level was the emperor's will. The China Palace was actually constructed according to the will of Zhu Di(1360A.D.-1424A.D.). Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty, when he moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. The second level was some officials in charge of construction. People checked (historical records) and found that the highest official was Song Li, Minister of Works, equivalent to today’s Minister of Construction. There were also some officials supervising the construction. The third level was some craftsmen, including carpenters, bricklayers, and stonemasons.

First, let's talk about carpenters. The most famous carpenter was Kuai Luban. He designed Tian'anmen Gate and the three main halls of Beijing. At the same time, he designed and constructed the China Palace in accordance with the rules of architecture. It is said that this person could make drawing with both hands simultaneously. He seemed to be drawing casually. It is said that his seemingly casually made drawings were perfect when put into use. With the ability to make design drawings, he has great carpentry skills. There were professional carpenters. 

His father was building the another small China Palace in Nanjing. When it was built in Beijing, his father and he were taken there. As his father was getting old, he took over his father’s work. His main duty was doing woodwork. At last, he was promoted to Vice Minister of works. He started working in the construction department. His position was equivalent to the head of a present-day department or bureau, which was a high-ranking post. He was only second to the minister in Ministry of Works. That means he really did a great job.

Secondly, there was a bricklayer. He was very famous and his name was Yang Qing, worked very conscientiously. And he was good at mental calculation. He could do the calculation in his head. What and how many materials would be needed? His calculation was very close. In ancient times, many people obtained their knowledge from experience. A lot of craftsmen grew up in the construction of the China Palace.

part 9

How long did the construction of the China Palace last?

Forbidden City - 5

From the 4th to 18th year of the Yongle era (1122A.D.-1121A.D.). About 14 years. The ancients had something work our learning in construction. 

That is, they made meticulous preparations. They prepared materials for 10 years. Among them, timbers were very important. In ancient times, when timbers were transported from the mountain, they must be air-dried naturally. The natural air-drying process lasted a few years since only naturally dried timbers will not be worm-eaten or rotten easily. The preparations took 10 years. So they first prepared the materials. Then they concentrated the manpower to complete the construction in a short time. 

Zhu yuanzhang (1328A.D.-1398A.D.) sent his fourth son Zhu Di, the future emperor, to Beijing. Zhu Di was designated as Prince of Yan. When Zhu Di came here, he found that this place was surrounded by mountains on three sides. There were the Western Hills in the west and the Yan Mountains in the north. The other mountain was facing south. The terrain and river here were both very smooth. With auspicious radiance here, it was the best place for the capital. After taking the throne through the Jingnan Campaign, he decided to move the capital here. Then Beijing began to be the capital in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

part 10

Fire for the China Palace

Forbidden City - rebuild

The fire was the biggest catastrophe for the China Palace. The China Palace’s biggest characteristic, when it was called the China Palace in ancient times, was that fire posed a threat to it, but water did not. The China Palace has very good drainage facilities. But fire posed a threat to it. In Beijing at that time, the light was bright in the summer evening. Lightning is very concentrated. The lightning tends to strike the tallest buildings. The buildings on the central axis used to be the tallest. And the tallest buildings on the central axis are concentrated in the China Palace

A lot of efforts were also made for the fire prevention and fighting of the China Palace. They were the golden vats used to put out the fire? Yes. There was a total of 302 vats, including 22 golden vats. In addition, there are also a lot of iron and bronze vats. These vats used for firefighting. What could be done in case of fire? They could get water from the vats to pour at the fire. It was a simple way. In winter, the fire was also a risk, because the water in the vats could be frozen. After the Beginning of Winter, the eunuchs would put a charcoal fire under each vat on cold days so that the water wouldn’t be frozen. They must always be ready for firefighting.

With so many fire prevention measures, what major fires did the China Palace go through? We just said that Zhu Di ordered the construction of Beijing. Upon completion, everyone congratulated him. Zhu Di was delighted, but he still consulted an official in charge of astronomy. This man was surnamed, Hu. It is said that Mr Hu could make predictions. After his prediction, he said that the emperor must be prepared because soon there would be a major fire in a year at most. The emperor was angry at the words, saying, “The construction has just been completed. Many people still disagree with me. And you say there will be a major fire. You're wrong.” So Mr Hu was put in jail. The emperor also said, “I'll kill you if there isn't a fire next year. I'll kill you.” A major fire did break out the next year. The fire began from Taihe Hall and burned all the three main halls. But Zhu Di was an emperor with guts. He said the fire had nothing to do with moving the capital or the palace he built. The decision to move the capital to Beijing had already been made. It was a solid decision. Later, in the Kangxi era(1654A.D.-1722A.D.), there was another big fire. It was also the three major halls that were destroyed. The fire was also severe. The records were written that during at least six fires it was these things that were burned. The fires in the China Palace were mainly related to lightning and the natural environment.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, it was called the China Palace. After the Republic of China, the people began to manage the city. There was no more emperor. So the best solution was to turn the China Palace into a museum. The Beijing Palace Museum, according to recent statistics, houses 1.8 million cultural relics. In fact, the China Palace used to have far more cultural relics.

part 11

Interesting things - Why this China Palace - Forbidden City has a half room

Forbidden City - room

Now it is safe to say the Forbidden City, has 8,000 to 9,000 rooms. Why there is a half room. People searched everywhere in the China Palace. Finally, they identified the half room. There is a hall called Wenhua Hall In the southeast of the Forbidden City. Behind Wenhua Hall is Pavilion of Wenyuan, a building especially used to store book. The westernmost room on the first floor of Pavilion of Wenyuan is so small that it can be considered as a half room. The real reason is there really such a half room. Actually, the number of rooms in the Forbidden City is counted in this way. According to the ancient architectural tradition, the space enclosed by four pillars is a room.

part 12

Interesting things - The morning court was held in front of Taihe Gate

Forbidden City - qianqing gate

In the Qing Dynasty, the emperor found it toilsome to go from the living area to the frontcourt. In the Qing Dynasty, The morning court was held at Qianqing Gate(乾清门). The emperor had many rules to observe when going to court in ancient times. An emperor also had to work very hard. Some material said: in Beijing Archives Series was published an article entitled “A Day of the Emperor.” It described how the Kangxi Emperor (1654A.D.-1722A.D.)held the morning court. On the day of morning court, the eunuch would come in when the emperor was still sleeping. And the eunuch must walk gently.  He should not wake up the emperor until a certain time. When it was already time, the eunuch would say, “Your Majesty, it’s time for the morning court, Your Majesty, it’s time for the morning court.” He must not speak loudly at first. Or the emperor would wake up with a start. It would be a grave offence to startle the emperor. So he raised the voice in three steps, the emperor did not go to morning court every day. It would be too much if he went to morning court every day. The emperor went to morning court every few days.

The morning court did not last long. It lasted about half an hour. In the material, the Kangxi Emperor dealt with two things at the morning court that day. There was a flood in Shandong at the time. He wanted to ask a minister about the situation he saw as an imperial commissioner. The minister came up and thanked the emperor. Perhaps he wanted to thank the emperor for his trust. Or he wanted to thank a prince for his recommendation. Perhaps he meant to make some polite remarks. The Kangxi Emperor stopped him, saying, “I just want to know how you spent the money and what you saw on the river embankments. Just answer these two questions.”

The minister had to answer according to the facts. The emperor had no time for any nonsense. He had no time for your civilities. The minister immediately told the emperor how much money he received, how he spent it, where he allocated it, and what he saw on the river embankments. Then the court was over. The ministers were dismissed. After the morning court, the emperor went back to examine and comment on the memorials to the throne.

part 13

Protect the China Palace - Forbidden City

Forbidden City - 6

The China Palace receives tourists from all over the world every year, what has been done to protect the China Palace itself? Actually, there is a contradiction between tourism and the protection of cultural relics. They have planned and calculated the China Palace’s reception capacity. If it is fully open to the public, 50,000 to 60,000 visitors (a day) will be already its full capacity. 

However, during the Golden Week (1 October to 7 October), it receives more than 100,000 visitors (every day). According to statistics, the China Palace received 15 million visitors last year. It is a huge crowd. In the past three decades since the reform and opening up, billions of people must have visited the China Palace. With so many visitors, the carbon dioxide we exhale will first have an impact on our cultural relics. The air quality is poor. For example, some golden things are already shiny from repeated touching. If each of the hundreds of thousands of people touches them, these things will be ruined. 

Today, many palaces, including the east six palaces and the west six palaces, have been turned into treasure halls, such as Jewelry Hall and Painting Hall. They have become all sorts of exhibition halls. They should be restored to their original states.

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