Forbidden CityA ~ Z

Introducing the Forbidden City (Gu Gong)

The Forbidden City, also called Gugong or Imperial Palace, is located in the center of Beijing. It used to be the former Imperial Palace for the Ming and Qing emperors. The Forbidden City was first built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, while the Qing Emperors also stayed inside after they entered Beijing. Starting from the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di, to the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Pu Yi, altogether 24 emperors lived and conducted state affairs in the Forbidden City for a total of 491 years. Fourteen of them were Ming emperors (1368 - 1644) and ten were Qing emperors (1644 - 1911).

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.

Featured Spots

Meridian Gate

The Meridian Gate is the only entrance to get inside the Forbidden City now and also the south gate of it. It is called Meridian Gate because the emperor believed that the meridian line went right through the Forbidden City. In addition, according to the ancient Chinese compass, the Meridian indicates the south. The Emperor used to review armies from here, passed judgment on prisoners, announced the New Year’s calendar and oversaw the flogging of troublesome ministers. It was recorded that in 1519, more than 150 officials tried to dissuade the emperor from going out to the south for selecting beauties. The emperor was very mad with that, and 158 officials got beaten, 15 of them were beaten to death on the spot.

Inner Golden Water River Bridge

The five bridges were supposed to represent the five virtues preached by Confucius: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, intelligence and fidelity. The function of the river was for draining the rain water away, fire prevention and construction on the Forbidden City.

Hall of Supreme Harmony

The name of the building means the harmonious relations between the people, people and nature, emperor and his officials, or various things and elements in the universe, all in perfect harmony. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is actually the “Throne Hall”. It was first built in 1420, but was burnt down several times. The present building was rebuilt in 1679 and was the most important and largest building in the Forbidden City. In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss state affairs. During the Qing Dynasty, as Emperors held court far more frequently, a less ceremonious location was used instead, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and celebrations of imperial weddings, emperor’s birthday, Winter Solstice and Chinese Lunar New Year. The large bronze turtle in the front symbolizes longevity and stability. It has a removable lid, and on special occasions incense was lit inside so that smoke billowed from its mouth. To the west of the terrace is a small pavilion with a bronze grain measure inside and to the east is a sundial; both are symbols of imperial justice. The Grain Measure was used as the national standard measure in agriculture in the old days.

Caisson Ceiling

The gilded caisson ceiling directly above the throne with a curling dragon playing with a huge pearl is called “Xuanyuan Jing”. It represents orthodox succession. Legend has it that it was invented by the Yellow Emperor 4000 years ago. And it was believed that if the emperor sitting on the throne was not the legitimate successor, the huge pearl would drop and kill him. That is why some of the emperors moved the throne a little bit backward after they ascended the throne. The curling dragon which was made of copper and painted with mercury was also a symbol to subdue fire.

Mythical Animal Statues

Originally, there used to be big wooden nails on the roof to prevent the tiles from sliding down. Later, they were replaced by glazed tiles, which were shaped into mythical animal statues for beautification. The first one in the front is an immortal riding on a rooster. The following ten animals are Dragon, Phoenix, Lion, Heavenly Horse, Sea Horse, Xuanni, Yayu, Xiezhi, Douniu and Hangshi. They are the symbols of auspiciousness and could subdue fire and ward off evil spirits. All these animals signify something of importance respectively. The dragon symbolizes the emperor and phoenix represents the empress; the lion is the king of all the beasts; the Heavenly Horse and Sea Horse stand for the emperor’s prestige and morality; Xuanni is said to be the symbol of the unity of the country; Yayu and Douniu are mythical sea animals, able to create rain to douse fire; Xiezhi is the animal of justice and rectitude; Hangshi, likes the Monkey King with wings, capable of capturing evil spirits.

Hall of Central Harmony

The name of this building suggests a famous Confucius idea, to handle things in a proper and restrained way in order to maintain harmony. It was used as the emperor’s transit lounge. He used to make last-minute preparations, rehearse speeches and receive close ministers here. The emperor used to read sacrificial address before he went to altars and temples. Before he went to the Altar of Agriculture to offer sacrifice, the seeds intended for spring sowing and ploughs were examined here, just to show his concern for agriculture. According to the rule, the imperial genealogy should be revised every ten years. The ceremony of presenting the genealogy to the emperor for revision and approval would also be held here.

Hall of Preserving Harmony

The name of this hall indicates maintaining the harmonious relationship between things. It was used for banquets and later for imperial examinations. There were four levels of exams in the past: Prefectural level, Provincial level, Metropolitan level and National level, also known as Imperial Examination. For every 3 years, 300 scholars from all parts of China came to Beijing and took part in the exam here, which lasted for three days. The exam was under the supervision of the emperor, which tested candidates’ understanding of classical and Confucian literature. Then they were either assigned to the provinces or selected to work in the central government ministries, situated in what is now Tiananmen Square. The purpose of the exam was to select the ministers and high-ranking officials from Confucian scholars. And it started from 587 and was abolished in 1905.

Palace of Heavenly Purity

The Palace of Heavenly Purity is the largest building in the Inner Court. It was first built in 1420 and the present one was rebuilt in 1797. It was the residence of the Emperor. However, starting from Qing Emperor Yongzheng, the Emperor lived instead in the smaller Hall of Mental Cultivation to the west. The Palace of Heavenly Purity then became the Emperor's audience hall. Above the throne hangs a tablet reading "Justice and Honor". After Emperor Yongzheng’s reign, the name of the successor to the throne was no longer announced publicly for the reason of security. The name of the crown prince would be written down on two pieces of paper by the emperor. Then the two copies were put into two small boxes. One of them would be hidden behind the tablet, while the other one was retained by the emperor. When the emperor passed away, the two boxes would be opened at the same time. After examining the two copies, the legitimate successor to the throne would be announced right on the spot. Thus, dispute among his sons would be avoided.

Palace of Earthly Tranquility

This hall used to be the residence of the Empress during the Ming and early Qing dynasties. After Qing Emperor Yongzheng moved his bedchamber to the Hall of Mental Cultivation, the Empress also moved to a building nearby. Later, it was divided into two parts. The eastern part was used as the wedding chamber for the emperor. And it is entirely painted in red and decorated with “Double Happiness”. The bride and bridegroom used to spend the first 2 or 3 days after wedding there, and then they went to their respective living quarters. The western part was used for sacrificial ceremonies, and they used to sacrifice to the God of Kitchen there.

Hall of Union and Peace

The name of this building comes from an old Chinese classic, called the Book of Changes. It means the intercourse between Heaven and Earth, harmony between Yin and Yang, as well as the harmonious relationship between the emperor and empress. It was the place where the Emperor conferred honorable titles on the empress. Also, the Empress used to celebrate her birthday here. There is a plaque hanging in the middle of the Hall with two Chinese characters “Wuwei”. Wuwei is Taoist philosophy; meaning not to take any action is to take action. The feudal rulers used this idea to govern the country and discouraged people from taking actions. Emperor Qianlong used to keep 25 imperial seals in this hall, symbolizing the imperial power of the emperor. Twenty-five was regarded as a heavenly number because if you put the odd numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 together, that would be 25. It symbolized the imperial authority was from heaven and indicated that the Qing dynasty would reign the country for at least 25 generations. But actually the Qing dynasty only ended at the tenth emperor Puyi. Right now, the 25 imperial seals have been taken out to the Treasure Hall, what you see now are only empty boxes.

Imperial Garden

The Imperial Garden is rectangular in shape, 90 meters long and 130 meters wide. It contains more than 20 different types of buildings, pavilions, terraces, towers and rockeries. Also, there are four pavilions in the garden, symbolizing the four seasons in a year. And they were built round at the top and square at the bottom, reflecting the ancient belief that the sky was round and earth was square.

Hall of Mental Cultivation

After Qing Emperor Yongzheng moved his living quarters here, this palace had become the most important building besides the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. All the succeeding Qing emperors resided here to handle state affairs and hold audiences. On 12th, Feb 1912, Empress Dowager Longyu issued an imperial edict to declare the abdication of the last Emperor Puyi, which marked the end of the Qing dynasty. The eastern chamber was the place where Empress Dowager Cixi gave audience behind the screen during the reigns of Emperor Tongzhi and Emperor Guangxu. So the well-known “Power behind the Throne” was staged here by Empress Dowager Cixi since 1862.


Behind the Hall of Mental Cultivation is a courtyard called Tishuntang, the residence of the empress in the Qing dynasty. There is a big crystal stone in the courtyard to remind the empress to be honest and upright. To the west is Yanxitang, the waiting rooms for concubines who were selected to serve the Emperor.


Empress Dowager Cixi used to live here when she was still an imperial concubine; also it was the place where she delivered the 8th Qing Emperor Tongzhi. The building was restored several times during the Qing dynasty. In 1884, Empress Dowager Cixi spent a big sum of money in refurbishing the hall to celebrate her 50th birthday, and then lived there for another ten years. The last hostess of this hall was Empress Wanrong, wife of the last emperor Puyi.

Clock Room

The Clock Room is located in the Hall of Ancestral Worship where the tablets of deceased emperors were kept. It is one of highlights in the Forbidden City shouldn’t be missed. The exhibition includes an astonishing array of elaborate timepieces from the imperial collection; many of them are gifts to the Qing emperor from overseas. Masterpiece clocks include the “Gilded Copper Astronomy Clock” equipped with a working model of the solar system; the automaton-equipped “Gilt Copper Clock with a robot writing Chinese characters with a brush”.

Treasure Hall

The Treasure Hall is actually made of several buildings which were built for the abdicated Emperor Qianlong. Qianlong is the 4th emperor in the Qing Dynasty who reigned from 1736 to 1795. He is the only Chinese emperor abdicated after 60 years’ reign to show his respect to his grandfather Emperor Kangxi who ruled China for 61 years. The buildings here are independent to other parts of the Forbidden City but similar in layout. For example, the Hall of Imperial Supremacy and Palace of Tranquil Longevity in the front, just like the Outer Court of the Forbidden City for the retired emperor to receive high-ranking officials. The Hall of Cultivating Character and Hall of Joyful Longevity at the back, resembles the Inner Palace of the Forbidden City which was the living quarter. A small Qianlong Garden to the west, serves as the equivalent of the Imperial Garden at the back of the Forbidden City. Now they are exhibition rooms with several theme halls: Hall of Jewelry, Hall of Jade, Hall of Gold, Hall of Imperial Seals and Ancient Musical Instrument, as well as the largest imperial theatre in the Forbidden City. The theatre, Changyinge, also has an exhibition room with Peking Opera’s costumes and stage properties used in the Imperial Palace on display.

Nine Dragon Screen

It was built in 1773 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. It is 3.5 meters high, 29 meters long and made up of 270 pieces of glazed tiles. The nine dragons engraved on the screen are different in color and posture. No matter where you start to count the nine dragons, from left or right, the first one and fifth one and ninth one would be a yellow color dragon which represents the supreme power of the emperor.

Additional Information

Emperor Zhudi

Emperor Zhudi (Reign title Yongle) is probably the most important historical figure to Beijing. The layout of present Beijing is in a way founded during his reign. Zhudi was the 3rd Ming emperor and the 4th son of the first Ming Emperor Zhuyuanzhang. He was born in 1360 and died in 1424 at the age of 65 on his way back Beijing after the 5th expedition to Mongolia. According to Chinese hereditary system in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), only the eldest son is the legitimate successor to the throne. But unfortunately, the eldest son of the first Ming emperor, Zhubiao, died in 1392, six years earlier than his father. So the emperor chose his first grandson, Zhuyunwen, as the crown prince. In 1398, the 21 year old grandson succeeded the throne after the death of his grandfather and became the 2rd Ming emperor. At that time, he was assisted by several court officials in governing the county. In order to centralize power and consolidate his reign, he adopted the suggestion of his court officials to weaken the power of the 23 regional garrison commanders who were actually his uncles, sons of the first Ming emperor. But these measures met with strong resistance from his uncle Zhudi, who was assigned to guard Beijing with 100,000 soldiers. He was mad when he heard that his power would be reduced and saw this as a good opportunity to take action in advance. In 1399, with the excuse of wiping out traitors around the emperor, Zhudi, together with his 100,000 soldiers marched to Nanjing and started the civil war, the capital of China then. After 4 years battling, Zhudi finally usurped the power from his nephew and became the 3rd Ming emperor with the reign title Yongle. After he ascended the throne in Nanjing, the first thing he did was to slaughter all the people who supported his nephew. Since he was from Beijing and there were more supporters, he decided to build the Forbidden City from 1406 and moved the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing the following year after the completion of the Forbidden City in 1420. Ironically, he only stayed in the Forbidden City for four years as an emperor. Emperor Zhudi ruled China from 1402 to 1424 for a total of 22 years during which time he made great achievements in political, military, economic, cultural and diplomatic aspects. It is he who built the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Big Bell Temple and Ming Tombs as well as moving the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing. During his reign, China was in its pinnacle with some tributaries.

Emperor Qianlong

Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) is the fourth Qing Emperor who ruled China from 1736 to 1795. In 1795, at the age 85, he abdicated to show respect to his grandfather Emperor Kangix who reigned 61 years. Emperor Qianlong is regarded as the most famous and competent emperor in Chinese history. Being on the throne for 60 years, Emperor Qianlong, together with his grandfather Kangxi and father Yongzheng, jointly created the last and the most prosperous period of Chinese feudal dynasties, which is called “Kang-Qian Flourishing Age” in history. Economically, he encouraged farming and building irrigation works, which contributed to the prosperous economy and a continuously increasing population, with nearly 300 million, almost one third of the global population then. Culturally, Emperor Qianlong was keen on traditional Chinese culture, and he himself was a great poet who composed over 30,000 poems in his lifetime. In order to protect traditional culture, he collected ancient books across the country and appointed ministers to organize large-scale cultural projects including compiling Complete Works of Chinese Classics, a total of 3,457 ancient books were included and 36275 books were bound up. Large quantities of precious ancient books were preserved due to the compilation of the Complete Works of Chinese Classics which is a collected masterpiece of the culture of ancient books in China. Also, it is for celebrating Emperor Qianlong's eightieth birthday that the famous four Anhui opera troupes went to Beijing, thus fostering the formation of Peking Opera, the most outstanding art in China. The late Emperor Qianlong also ordered to build the Old Summer Palace in the western suburbs of Beijing which symbolized the summit of Chinese garden art.

Last Emperor Puyi

The last Emperor Puyi (Reign title Xuantong) was born in 1906 and died in 1967 in Beijing. He succeeded to the Manchu throne at the age of 3 after the death of his uncle Emperor Guangxu in 1908. He reigned under regency for three years, and then in 1912, in response to the 1911 Republican Revolution, he was forced to abdicate, ending the 267-year Qing rule of China and the 2,000-year-old imperial system. As a preferential treatment, Puyi was permitted to continue live in the Inner Palace of the Forbidden City. Puyi chose Henry as a given name and was thereafter known as Henry Puyi in the West. After being kicked out by the Warlord Feng Yuxiang in 1924, he secretly left Beijing to reside in the Japanese concession at Tianjin. In 1932, he was installed as president, and from 1934 to 1945 was emperor of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria (Northeast of China) under the reign title of Kangde. In 1945, Puyi was captured by Soviet Red Army at the end of the Second World War. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he was sent back to China in 1950 and imprisoned for another 10 years. In 1959, together with some other war criminals, the Last Emperor Puyi was given amnesty by the Chinese government. After that, he started a new life and was assigned a job to work in the Beijing Botanical Garden during which time he wrote a famous book entitled “From Emperor to Citizen”. Puyi died of kidney cancer at the age of 61 with no offspring. During his life time, Puyi married five times and is the only Chinese emperor that was divorced by his wife when he was in prison.

Kuai Xiang

Kuaixiang was a Chinese architect well-known for designing the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Gate. At the early time of Ming dynasty, he was born in a carpenter’s family in Suzhou city, Jiangsu province. His father was a famous craftsman at that time. Under the influence of his father, he started to learn the engineering of construction from his father since his childhood. In his 30s, Kuaixiang became a famous craftsman in China. When Emperor Zhudi decided to move the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing in 1407, Kuaixiang was ordered to design and construct the Forbidden City. He used the Imperial Palace in Nanjing as a model and combined features of palaces built in the Tang and Song dynasties into his design. After the completion of the Forbidden City, he was widely praised by the public and even nicknamed “Kuai Luban” (Lu Ban was the greatest master and the forefather of Chinese craftsman).

Eight Banners and Bannerman

The Eight Banners (Baqi) were the military and social structure of the Manchu people in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). It was officially founded by Nurhachi, founder of the Qing Dynasty. Initially, there were only four banners that represented the four different military units: the Yellow Banner, the White Banner, the Red Banner and the Blue Banner. In 1614, a decision to unite all the factions resulted in the addition of the Border Yellow Banner, the Border White Banner, the Border Red Banner and the Border Blue Banner. Collectively, these banners were called the Eight Banners and they commanded the Manchurian, Mongolian and Han armies. During wartime, the Eight Banners functioned as armies, but the banner system was also the basic organizational framework of all of Manchu society. As Mongol and Han Chinese forces were incorporated into the growing Qing military establishment, the Mongol Eight Banners and Han Eight Banners were created alongside the original Manchu banners. The banner armies were considered as the elite forces of the Qing military, while the remainder of imperial troops was incorporated into the vast Green Standard Army. Membership in the banners was hereditary and hierarchic, and bannermen were granted land and income according to their ranks. For example, for the imperial guards, they must be the members of the top three banners: Border Yellow, Yellow and White. And the people from the top three banners used to live in the north or northeast part of Beijing, which was easier to defend the nomads who came from the north. That is one of the reasons that the wealthy people in Beijing prefer to live in the north now. It was the Manchu Bannermen who really created the Beijing culture. They loved Beijing Opera, and Beijing used to have more than 40 opera theatres and training schools. The Bannermen, who loved animals, raised songbirds and pigeons, bred goldfish and small dogs like the Pekinese. And because they were fed by the Qing government, some bannermen even didn’t work. That is why nowadays, some Chinese still call the people who don’t work but live well Ba Qi Zi Di, the Chinese name for Bannermen.

Imperial Concubine Selection in the Qing Dynasty

In Chinese history, most emperors often possessed countless women in the harem as a symbol of power. Where did these women come from? What criteria were used to find women for the harem? In the early period of Chinese history, emperors normally chose their wives from the families of high-ranking officials. During the Qing Dynasty, according to its statutes, every three years all the Manchu women between 13 to 16 years old were required to present themselves at the Forbidden City for imperial selection. Before the selection, the Board of Revenue sent requests to the banner officials in the capital and in the provincial garrisons. With the help of clan heads, the banner officials submitted a list of all the available women to the Banner Commanders Headquarters in Beijing and the Board of Revenue. The Board of Revenue then set a date for the selection. On the appointed day, girls were brought by their parents or relatives, together with their clan heads and local banner officials, to the North Gate of the Forbidden City to await selection. The girls were first inspected by court officials who matched those present against the list and chose as many as they needed to serve the palace. Some were immediately rejected and then were free to marry other banner leaders. Those who passed the initial inspection would stay in the palace. During the next five years, they would go through a series of further inspections for their family background and birth dates to see whether they match the person they were about to marry. They had no daily expenses and were provided one tael of silver per month as stipend until they were either promoted to the harem or released from the palace. The purpose of Concubine Selection was to guarantee the Qing emperors and princes the best marriage partners.

Red Wall and Yellow Glazed Tile Roofs

The yellow and red colors used in the Forbidden City are not only for beautification purpose, but also to show the emperor’s absolute authority, supremacy and richness. Yellow has long been considered a pure color since ancient times. According to the theory of Five Elements, the color yellow represents earth, which occupies the central position, symbolizing the supreme power of the emperor. According to the historical records, the yellow colored robe worn by the emperor appeared firstly in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Later, it was forbidden for others to dress in yellow. As time went on, the color yellow became the symbolic color of the emperor. Yellow glazed tile roofs, used in the construction of the imperial palace started in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the Ming and Qing dynasties, it was mandated absolutely by the emperor. According to the imperial edicts, the yellow glazed tile roofs could only be used in the construction of the imperial palace, imperial tombs, temples and altars. No other buildings were allowed to use yellow glazed tile roofs. Whoever used them in any other way could be sentenced to capital punishment. The color red in China has always been regarded as the noble color for solemnity, happiness, wealth and honor, suggesting righteousness and auspiciousness. It also represents perfection, wealth and rank in China’s history. It is said that even 20, 000 years ago, the Upper Cave Man, a group of primitive human beings who lived near Beijing, decorated their caves in red. The red-painted palaces continued all the way down to the Qing Dynasty. Because the Forbidden City was the residence of the emperor, the red walls and yellow glazed tile roofs were used everywhere. However, there are still a few palace buildings in the Forbidden City that are exceptions for superstitious reasons. Wenyuange (Imperial Library) was built with black glazed tiles. According to the theory of Five Elements, the color of black represents water. Since books were stored in the Imperial Library, a black roof was used as the ideal color of water to protect the building from catching fire. According to the imperial rule, green tiles were to be used in the Prince’s residence. Nansansou, the Qing Crown Prince’s residence was built with the green glazed tiles on the roof to show its difference.

Opening Hours

Closed on Mondays except on Official holidays and between July 1st- August 31st

08:30-17:00 (Apr.-Oct.)

08:30-16:30 (Nov.-Mar.)


Entrance Fee:

¥ 60 (Apr. - Oct.)

¥ 40 (Nov. - Mar.)


No.4 Jingshan QianJie, Dongcheng district, Beijing



City Center

Getting There


Line 1 Tiananmen East Exit A

Line 1 Tiananmen West Exit B



(Please take me to the East Gate of the Forbidden City)

Travel Tips

Meridian (south) gate is the only entrance to get inside

If you are taking a taxi, make sure to get off at the East Gate, then walk to South Gate

Passport needed to buy ticket as well as getting inside

Last Updated

2018-05-05 16:05:58

© 2015 WikiBeijing. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.