Gate Crashing

Today on Museum Bites we’re continuing our Chinese adventure with a tour through the Forbidden City. Located in the heart of Beijing, this 178-acre fortress was home to 24 emperors and served as China’s seat of government for over 500 years.

Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)

Shuffling with the crowds through the imposing Meridian Gate (Wu Men), I entered a world of lions and dragons and urns…oh my!  Vast, marble-lined courtyards stretched out before me. There is not 1 but 3 great halls, 800 buildings, 9,000 rooms, and near the center, a garden filled with cypress and pine trees.

Dragons in the Outer Court, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
Dragons in the Outer Court, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)

Much could be written about this dizzying amount of ceremony and symbolism. I’ve pulled together some of the highlights. Please enjoy these Forbidden City bites…

  • The Forbidden City was commissioned by Zhu Di, of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in 1406 after he seized control of the government and moved the capital city from Nanjing to Jin (modern day Beijing).
  • It took 14 years and 1 million workers to initially complete the Forbidden City.
  • The outer walls are 33 feet high (10 m), and a 170 foot wide (52 m) moat that freezes over in the winter, surrounds the Forbidden City.
  • Gate of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
    Gate of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)

    During its imperial heyday, the public was prevented from entering, except for certain affairs of state and government sanctioned celebrations and then only men were allowed in specific areas of the outer court.

  • Its architecture strictly follows the principles of feng shui, a system of design rules that optimize the flow of qi, our life force.
  • The Forbidden City is divided into an inner and outer court. The massive outer court was the site of government business and the inner court housed the living quarters of the imperial family and their servants.
  • The emperor was the only person with unlimited access to the 178-acre site.
Outer Court, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
Outer Court, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
  • The Meridian Gate is the main entrance and was the site of court floggings, presentation of prisoners of war and the announcement of the subsequent year’s lunar calendar.
  • The Meridian Gate’s center entrance was reserved for the emperor. The only exceptions were the empress on her wedding day, and the top 3 scorers on the annual palace examination, after their interview with the emperor.
  • In Chinese medicine and acupuncture, the meridian is the conduit for one’s energy flow.
  • Inside the Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
    Experiencing the “flow” inside the Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)

    The Hall of Supreme Harmony (TaiHe Dian) is the largest building within the Forbidden City and was the site of coronations, imperial weddings, the emperor’s birthday, New Year’s, winter solstice, and the announcement of palace examination results.

  • The emperor’s dragon-gilded throne sits at the heart of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
  • The Forbidden City is filled with a variety of dragons, urns, and pots. Rubbing a hand across an imperial bronze pot is believed to bring good luck.
  • Gardens, fish ponds, sculptures and a temple are included in the inner court.
Dragon, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
Dragon in the Inner Court, Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
  • No girls allowed! The only females allowed inside the Forbidden City were members of the emperor’s family or his concubines, and they were confined for life, inside the inner court.
  • Thousands of eunuchs lived and worked inside the Forbidden City.
  • Puyi (1906-1967) of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was the last emperor of China. He was dethroned in 1911 at the tender age of 5.
  • Young Puyi, his family, and servants were allowed to remain living inside the Forbidden City until 1924 when he secretly fled Beijing.
  • In 1925 the inner court was transformed into the Palace Museum.
Touching the urn for luck! Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)
Touching the urn for luck! Forbidden City, Photo by cjverb (2017)

Today the Forbidden City is a bustling historical site and museum, boasting an average of 40,000 visitors each day.  Click this Lonely Planet link for a virtual look inside. Next week we’ll dig into the many treasures on display within the Forbidden City, with a tour through the Palace Museum. Have a safe and fun holiday weekend!

Sources:

Ancient Origins

Britannica

CNN

Condé Nast

Feng Shui Society

Khan Academy

Lonely Planet

Merriam-Webster

National Palace Museum

The Beijinger

TravelChinaGuide

 

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