The Forbidden City, now called
the Palace Museum, is located in the center of Beijing.
Starting in 1420, the Forbidden City was the home to
24 Chinese emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties
(1368-1911). Now, it has developed into the Palace Museum,
which displays art treasures of the past dynasties and
is the richest treasury of cultures and arts in China.
Lofty and magnificent, the Forbidden City is acclaimed
to be one of the world five great palaces, parallel
with Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace
in Britain, White House in the United States and Kremlin
in Russia, and was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural
Heritage Site in 1987.
Extending 750 meters east-west
and 960 meters north-south, The Forbidden City covers
720,000 square meters, and is the largest palatial complex
in the world and the most complete ancient architectural
group extant in China. It has 9,999 buildings, and is
called the Ocean of Palaces. Be it in terms of plain
layout, three-dimensional effect or magnificent appearance,
the complex is really an unparalleled masterpiece in
the world. A central axis runs through the whole palace
and the axis happens to be on the central axis of Beijing
City. The Forbidden City is divided into southern and
northern parts by the axis: The former served as the
emperor's work area and the latter as his living quarters.
The main structures are arranged along the central axis,
and the buildings on both sides of it are symmetrical.
The main structures in the work
area that cannot be missed are the Taihe Dian (the Hall
of Supreme Harmony), Zhonghe Dian (the Hall of Central
Harmony) and Baohe Dian (the Hall of Preserved Harmony).
All the three main halls are built on an eight-meter-high
platform covering a total area of about 85,000 square
meters. The Taihe Dian is the largest and most imposing
hall. It is 60.1 meters wide, 33.33 meters deep and
35.05 meters high. Here the most important ceremonies
of the feudal dynasties were held, such as the emperor's
enthronement, his marriage and his conferring of titles
and issuing orders on expeditions. On these occasions,
thousands of people chanted "long life, long life,
and long, long life" to his majesty, and hundreds
of musical instruments and bells and drums sounded in
unison. Behind the Taihe Dian is the Zhonghe Dian, where
the emperor used to rest and receive officials before
attending major ceremonies. The northernmost structure
is the Baohe Dian, in which the emperor threw banquets
and interviewed successful candidates for imperial examinations.
The living quarters include the
Qianqing, Jiaotai and Kunning halls and the six lesser
halls on the east and west sides, which together are
called "three main halls and six lesser halls",
where the emperor and his concubines lived. North of
the living quarters is a small but exquisite imperial
garden. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and at the beginning
of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), all the emperors lived
in the Qianqing Gong (the Palace of Heavenly Purity),
while empresses lived in the Kunning Gong (the Palace
of Earthly Tranquility). The Jiaotai Dian (the Hall
of Union) was a place for the activities of the empresses.
But in the middle and late periods of the Qing Dynasty,
the emperors and empresses all moved to the six lesser
halls on the west side. The most famous is the Yangxin
Dian (the Hall of Mind Cultivation). It became the place
where most Qing emperors, starting from Emperor Yongzheng,
lived and handled state affairs. It is also the place
where Empress Dowager Cixi attended to state affairs
behind the scenes for as long as 40 years.
The whole complex is tightly guarded
by two defense lines. One is the moat, which is 52 meters
wide and six meters deep, surrounding the city wall;
and the other is the city wall, which is 3,400 meters
long, 10 meters high and 8.62 meters wide at the bottom.
There are four gates: Wumen Gate to the south, Shenwu
Gate to the north, Donghua Gate to the east and Xihua
Gate to the west. On the four corners stand four turret
towers, each with three layers of eaves and 72 ridges.
They are masterpieces of the ancient architectural art.
Some halls in the Palace Museum
have developed into the Hall of Historical Arts, the
Hall of Jewelry, the Hall of Watches and Clocks, the
Hall of Paintings, the Hall of Potteries, the Hall of
Toys and so on. The museum has a collection of 1,052,653
pieces of ancient art treasures, accounting for one
sixth of the total cultural relics in China. It is the
museum with the richest collection of cultural relics
in China, and also a world-famous museum of ancient
cultural arts. Many cultural relics preserved in it
are unique in the world.