This is the Palace Museum, also known as the Purple Forbidden City. It is the largest and most well preserved imperial residence in China today. Under Ming Emperor Yongle, construction began in 1406. It took 14 years to build the Forbidden City. The first ruler who actually lived here was Ming Emperor Zhudi. For five centuries thereafter, it continued to be the residence of 23 successive emperors until 1911 when Qing Emperor Puyi was forced to abdicate the throne. In 1987, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized the Forbidden City as a world cultural legacy.
It is believed that the Palace Museum, or Zi Jin Cheng (Purple Forbidden City), got its name from astronomy and folklore. The ancient astronomers divided the constellations into groups and centered them around the Ziwei Yuan (North Star). The constellation containing the North Star was called the Constellation of Heavenly God and the star itself was called the purple palace. Because the emperor was supposedly the son of the heavenly gods, his central and dominant position would be further highlighted by the use of the word purple in the name of his residence.
In folklore, the term 'an eastern purple cloud is drifting' became a metaphor for auspicious events after a purple cloud was seen drifting eastward immediately before the arrival of an ancient philosopher, Lao Zi, to the Hangu Pass. Here, purple is associated with auspicious developments. The word jin (forbidden) is self-explanatory as the imperial palace was heavily guarded and off-limits to ordinary people.
The colors used to apply on the palatial buildings in the Forbidden City, except for the outside beautification, attributed much more to the feudalistic implications in politics. The purple - red walls in combination with the yellow roofs form a strong and eye - catching contrast, showing the absolute 'authority,' 'supremacy' and 'richness' of feudal emperors.
Ever since ancient times, yellow color, has always been regarded by rulers of various dynasties as to denote supremacy. Because in the theory of Five Elements in ancient China, yellow, referring to the earth that occupies the central position, represents supreme royal power in the center.
'Red' in China has as always been mentioned in the same breath with righteousness and auspicious ceremonies, suggesting solemnity and happiness. It is said that even the upper - cave men of 40,000 - 50,000 years ago liked to paint their dwellings in red.
As to the use of yellow - glazed tiles in the constuction of royal palaces, it was initiated as early at least as the Song Dynasty. In the Ming and Qing dynasties it was specified that only imperial palaces, tombs for demised emperors and temples or altars built according to imperial edicts could use yellow glazed tiles in the construction. Whoever went against these rules should be put to death without exception.
As the imperial palace was the residence for emperors and his families, the most part was built with the walls painted in red and the roofs covered with yellow glazed - tiles.
However, there were still a few palace buildings with black or green tiles. This is because these palace buildings were not used by emperors, and still, it was due to some superstitious reasons. For instance, the three palace buildings located to the south inside the Donghuamen Gate they were the residences for the Qing princes. According to the given rules only green tiles could be used for the Qing high - ranking nobles, such as princes and their like and no yellow tiles should in any case be used.
The other example is the Wenyuan Pavilion with black tiles. According to the theory of Five Elements, black represents water. Since the pavilion was meant for storing books, it was easy to catch fire. Therefore, in line with the superstitious idea of the ancients, black tiles were used instead in its construction so as to suggest that it could subdue
The Forbidden City is rectangular in shape. It is 960 meters long from north to south and 750 meters wide from east to west. It has 9,900 rooms under a total roof area 150,000 square meters. A 52-meter-wide-moat encircles a 9.9-meter-high wall which encloses the complex. Octagon-shaped turrets rest on the four corners of the wall. There are four entrances into the city: the Meridian Gate to the south, the Shenwu Gate (Gate of Military Prowess) to the north, and the Xihua Gate (Western Flowery Gate) to the west, the Donghua (Eastern Flowery Gate) to the east.
Manpower and materials throughout the country were used to build the Forbidden City. A total of 230, 000 artisans and one million laborers were employed. Marble was quarried from Fangshan County on the outskirts of Beijing. Five-colored rocks were cut from Mount Pan in Jixian County in Hebei Province. Granite was quarried in Quyang County in Hebei Province.
Paving blocks were fired in kilns in Suzhou in southern China. Bricks and scarlet pigmentation used on the palatial walls came from Linqing in Shandong Province. The wood materials were taken from the mountains of Sichuan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hunan and Yunnan. It is said that the trees felled had to be brought down by mountain torrents during rainy seasons, and then were towed to Beijing through waterways.
The structure in front of us is the Meridian Gate. It is the main entrance to the Forbidden City. It is also known as Wufenglou (Five-Phoenix Tower). Ming emperors held lavish banquets here on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar year in honor of their courtiers. They also used this place for punishing officials by flogging them with sticks.
Qing emperors used this building to announce the beginning of the new year. Qing Emperor Qianlong changed the original name of this announcement ceremony from ban li ( announcement of calendar ) to ban shou (announcement of new moon) to avoid coincidental association with another Emperor's name, Hongli, which was considered a taboo at that time. Qing Dynasty emperors also used this place to hold audience and for other important ceremonies. For example, when the imperial army returned victoriously from the battlefield, it was here that the Emperor presided over the ceremony to accept prisoners of war.
To complete this solemn, magnificent and palatial complex, a variety of building patterns were applied. Most important, all of the palaces and their accommodating buildings were arranged on a north-south axis, an 8-kilometer-long invisible line that has become an inseparable part of the City of Beijing. The Forbidden City covers roughly one-third of this central axis. Most of the important building in the Forbidden City were arranged along this line. The design and arrangement of the palaces reflect the solemn dignity of the royal court and the rigidly-stratified feudal system.
The Forbidden City is divided into an outer and an inner court. We are now standing on the southernmost part of the outer court. In front of us lies the Gate of Supreme Harmony. The gate is guarded by a pair of bronze lions, symbolizing imperial power and dignity. The lions were the most exquisite and the biggest of its kind. The one on the east playing with a ball is a male, and the ball is said to represent state unity. The other one is a female. Underneath one of its fore claws is a cub that is considered to be a symbol of perpetual imperial succession.
According to the ancient record the lion was also called Suanni. The historical books Hou Han Shu (History of the Late Han Dynasty) and Dong Guan Han Ji have it that by the reign of emperors Zhang and Shun of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 A.D.) lions were brought in by envoys from the States of Anxi and Shule. Yu Shinan, a famous calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty described the animal in his Ode to the Lions:'Its eyesight is like a shaft of lightning and its roaring, a peal of thunder.' And in this way the nimble but ferocious beast was vividly brought forth in his writing. In ancient China, lions were used to guard tombs, carved in grottoes and made onto articles for daily use. For example, you can find stone lions of the Han and Tang dynasties, the pieces of brocade with lion patterns discovered on the Silk Road, the lion as a ride for Bodhisattva Manjusri in the Stone Cave Temple, the bronze mirror with lion patterns of the Tang Dynasty, seal with a lion - shaped knob of the Northern and Southern dynasties as well as porcelain pillows and toys. The lion dance prevailing among the Chinese people also tells the fact that lion has long been an animal, and lion dance a form of performing art loved by the people in China.
There were altogether six pairs of bronze lions in the palace: They were placed respectively in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony, Gate of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Mental Cultivation where the emperor resided and handled the routine affairs, Palace of Eternal Spring, the residence for the queen and concubines, Gate of Longevity and Quietude (now the front gate of the painting hall) and Gate of Metal Repose (now the front gate of the treasure hall).
The winding brook before us is the Golden Water River. It functions both as decoration and fire control. The five bridges spanning the river represent the five virtues preached by Confucius : benevolence, righteousness, rites, intelligence and fidelity. The river takes the shape of a bow and the north-south axis is its arrow. This was meant to show that the Emperors ruled the country on behalf of God.
The Forbidden City consists of an outer courtyard and an inner enclosure. The outer courtyard covers a vast space lying between the Meridian Gate and the Gate of Heavenly Purity. The 'three big halls'of Supreme Harmony, Complete Harmony and Preserving Harmony constitute the center of this building group. The implication of the names of the three main halls is: 'He' in Chinese means the harmonized relation among various things in the world. 'Taihe' (supreme harmony) means that the relations between various things in universe are in perfect harmony. 'Zhonghe' (complete harmony) suggests 'mean' or 'impartial', i.e. to handle things in a proper and restrained way. Only by doing so, can the relations between the various things be kept in harmony without going astray. 'Baohe' (preserving harmony) denotes to keep in order the harmonized relations already obtained between various things. Flanking them in bilateral symmetry are two groups of palaces: Wenhua ( Prominent Scholars) and Wuying (Brave Warriors).
The three great halls are built on a spacious 'H'-shaped, 8-meter-high, triple marble terrace. Each level of the triple terrace is taller than the one below and all are encircled by marble balustrades carved with dragon and phoenix designs. There are three carved stone staircases linking the three architectures. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is also the tallest and most exquisite ancient wooden-structured mansion in all of China. From the Palace of Heavenly Purity northward is what is known as the inner court, which is also built in bilaterally symmetrical patterns. In the center are the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union and Peace and the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity , a place where the Emperors lived with their families and attended to state affairs. Flanking these structures are palaces and halls in which concubines and princes lived. There are also three botanical gardens within the inner court, namely, the Imperial Garden, Cining Garden and Qianlong Garden. An inner Golden Water River flows eastwardly within the inner court. The brook winds through three minor halls or palaces and leads out of the Forbidden City. It is spanned by the White Jade Bridge. The river is lined with winding, marble-carved balustrades. Most of the structures within the Forbidden City have yellow glazed tile roofs.
Aside from giving prominence to the north-south axis, other architectural methods were applied to make every group of palatial structures unique in terms of terraces, roofs, mythical monsters perching on the roofs and colored, drawing patterns. With these, the grand contour and different hierarchic spectrum of the complex were strengthened. Folklore has it that there are altogether 9,999 room-units in the Forbidden City. Since Paradise only has 10,000 rooms, the Son of Heaven on earth cut the number by half a room. It is also rumoured that this half-room is located to the west of the Wenyuange Pavilion (imperial library). As a matter of fact, although the Forbidden City has more than 9,000 room-units, this half-room is nonexistent. The Wenyuange Pavilion is a library where 'Si Ku Quan Shu'- China's first comprehensive anthology-was stored. It is said that there were more than 9,000 palace maids and over 100,000 eunuchs engaged in service in the royal palace at the end of the Ming dynasty. Though their numbers were greatly reduced in the Qing the fixed number of eunuchs still reached 2,260 and the palace maids over 300. However, the actual numbers were far more than those. For every year, it still needed a supply of scores of thousands of 'Sula' (the odd -job man) to do odd jobs in the royal palace.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony sits on a triple 'H'-shaped marble terrace that is 8 meters high and linked by staircases. The staircase on the ground floor has 21 steps while the middle and upper stairways each have 9.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the biggest and the tallest of its kind in the Forbidden City. This structure covers a total building space of 2,377 square meters, and is known for its upturned, multiple counterpart eaves.
The construction of the Hall of Supreme Harmony began in 1406. It burned down three times and was severely damaged once during a mutiny. The existing architecture was built during the Qing Dynasty. On the corners of the eaves a line of animal-nails were usually fastened to the tiles. These animal-nails were later replaced with mythical animals to ward off evil spirits.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10 chimeras, ranking first in all the palace buildings in the Imperial Palace, has the most of them. The Hall of Heavenly Purity, a place for emperors to stay and handle their routine affairs of the state, has nine, next only to the Hall of Supreme Harmlony. The Hall of Earthly Tranquility, the residence for empresses has seven animals on the ledge, and only five animals can be seen on the ledges of the six eastern and western palaces, as they were the residential quarters for imperial consorts.