Introducing the Forbidden City (Gu Gong)
History of the Forbidden City
Ming Dynasty (1368 ~ 1644)
In 1368, after the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty, he chose Nanjing (South China) as the capital. But after the third emperor, Zhu Di, ascended the throne in 1402, he decided to move the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Upon the decision of moving the capital, a large-scale construction of the Forbidden City started in 1406. The Forbidden City was built based on the model of the Imperial Palace in Nanjing but was more splendid and larger. The construction took 15 years and was completed in 1420. In the following year 1421, the capital of the Ming Dynasty was moved from Nanjing to Beijing formally. But unfortunately, after the completion of the Forbidden City, natural disasters and man-made calamities happened frequently in the Ming Dynasty. Many main buildings were burnt down because of lightning and war respectively. The palatial structures and the historical relics in the Forbidden City were also badly destroyed, and many buildings were rebuilt later according to the original design. Starting from the third emperor, Zhu Di, to the last emperor, Zhu YouJian (reign title Chongzhen), there were a total of 14 Ming Emperors who lived and handled state affairs in the Forbidden City.
Qing Dynasty (1644 -1911)
When the Qing rulers took over Beijing, they just stayed in the former Imperial Palace but rebuilt and renovated most of the buildings. The Qing Emperors also paid great attention to the fire prevention. They built up fire walls in the Forbidden City, set up a fire brigade and had fire drills regularly. They also put fire-fighting equipments like water jars and water buckets in the Forbidden City. In the late Qing Dynasty, because of the corruption of the Qing Government, and slack management of the Forbidden City, it once again fell into a declined and waned condition. The Qing Dynasty was overthrown by the 1911 Revolution led by Dr. Sun YatSen (1866-1925). But according to the 19 articles of the preferential treatment for the Qing court, after 1911, the last emperor Pu Yi and his royal family were still allowed to live in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City. They spent another 13 years in the Forbidden City, until 1924, when they were kicked out of the Palace. Totally, there were 10 Qing emperors lived and conducted state affairs in the Forbidden City (from the first emperor Shun Zhi to the last emperor Pu Yi). After 1924, the Republic Government set up a Check-up Committee for the historical relics in the Forbidden City. One year later, on October 10th 1925, the whole complex was converted into a museum and opened to the public. In 1931, because of the Japanese War, there were 13, 000 boxes containing the Forbidden City’s historical relics shipped to the southern part of China. In 1949, 2,972 boxes, the best selection from those boxes, were shipped to Taiwan. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, especially since 1952, Chinese government spent a large amount of money on the renovation of the Forbidden City. In 1961, the Palace Museum was listed as one of the important historical monuments under special preservation by the Chinese Government, and in 1987, it was listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO.
Names of the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was also known as the Palace Museum or Purple Forbidden City. Actually, it was the former imperial palace for the emperor in the old days and served as both living quarters and the venue of the state administration. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperor’s residence was off-limits to common people. In the feudal society, the emperor had supreme power and he believed he was the person just below heaven but above all the people, so his residence was certainly a forbidden place to the common people. The word “Purple” comes from an ancient Chinese belief that purple was the symbolic color of the North Star. In ancient China, astronomers put the stars into three constellations. The Purple Star was located in the center of the universe, which was believed to be the center of the cosmos, and the Palace on the Purple Star was called “Purple Palace” for the God of Heaven to live in. Since the emperor believed that he was the “Son of Heaven”, he called his Forbidden City “Purple Forbidden City”. The emperor also believed that his palace was in the center of the earth, for the palace was built along the north-south central axis of the capital city of Beijing.
General Information of the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City covers an area of 72 hectares with a total floor space of 163,000 square meters. It is rectangular in shape, 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west, surrounded with a 10-meter high wall and encircled by a 52-meter wide moat. At each corner of the wall, there is a magnificent watchtower, which was heavily guarded in the old days. Each of the four watchtowers has 9 beams, 18 pillars and 72 ridgepoles. All the numbers are related to the number 9 or multiples of 9, and the three numbers added together equal to 99. The number 9 is the biggest single odd number which was believed to be the supreme number by Chinese people in the old days. Most of the structures in the Forbidden City were made of wood with white marble, stone or brick foundations. All of the major buildings were built on a three-tiered marble base, resembling the Chinese character 土 (earth), which is the most basic one among the Five Elements. The building materials were from many parts of China. The timber (Phoebe zhennan wood) came from Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan and Yunnan provinces in southwest China. But in the Qing Dynasty, the timber was transported from northeast China. The stones and marble were quarried from nearby hills in Fangshan District, 70 kilometers southwest of Beijing and Hebei Province. The bricks used for building the walls were brought from Shandong Province, while the bricks for laying floors inside the Halls of the Forbidden City were “Gold Bricks” specially baked in Suzhou, a city south of the Yangtze River, Jiangsu Province. There were altogether 230, 000 artisans and one million civilians involved in building the Forbidden City.
Talking about the rooms and buildings in the Forbidden City, the popular saying is that there were 9,999 and half rooms in the Forbidden City. Because the “Heavenly Palace” for the God of Heaven had 10,000 rooms, the emperor on the earth didn't dare to compare himself with the God of Heaven. Therefore, the number of rooms in the Imperial Palace was half room less. The half room is at the western side of the Wenyuan Pavilion, the Imperial Library, which is on the east side of the outer court of the Forbidden City. But the fact is that, according to the statistics in 1973, the Forbidden City now consists of more than 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 surviving buildings with rooms of 8, 707.
The Forbidden City can be divided into two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Palace. The Outer Court consists of three main buildings in the front part of the Forbidden City, which was the place where the emperor attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs. While the Inner Palace is composed of the three rear main buildings, the six eastern palaces and the six western palaces. It was the place where the emperor used to handle daily affairs and the living quarter for the emperor, empress and imperial concubines.