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LEXICON

 

 

Forbidden City

The Forbidden Palace, i.e. the Chinese imperial palace of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) Dynasties in Beijing, which between 1420 and 1912 served for almost 500 years as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government, as well as residence of the emperors and their households. It is built on what during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty was the site of the Yuan Palaces, which were burnt down after Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu), the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty moved the capital from Beijing to Nanjing. When his son Zhu Di (Yong Le - fig.) in 1402 became emperor of China after seizing the throne from Zhu Yunwen (Jianwen), the grandson of Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu), he moved the capital back to Beijing and in 1406 ordered the construction of the new imperial palace, which took almost 15 years to complete and used a workforce of over a million labourers, many of them eunuchs. Its central North-South axis is the central axis of Beijing and was designed in the Yuan Dynasty to be aligned with Xanadu, the other capital of their empire. The Forbidden Palace is surrounded by 7.9 meter high walls with multiple watch towers, that –according to legend– are designed after the cricket cage of one of the senior court eunuchs. When none of his previous designs could please the emperor, the eunuch-architect was threatened with execution if he wouldn't come up with a proper design within 24 hours. Anticipating his own death and unable to sleep, rather than trying out yet another design for the critical emperor, he instead built an intricate wooden cricket cage (fig.) for his beloved pet. Upon completion and tiered from working on it throughout the night, the eunuch eventually dozed off. When the emperor in the morning entered the room of the still sleeping eunuch, he saw the elaborate cricket cage and mistakenly thought it was the new design for the watch towers, which he found pleasing and approved upon. Hence the life of the eunuch was spared. The palace covers an area of 720,000 square meters and houses a total of 980 buildings and 9999.5 rooms, making it the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world and the closest one can get to the palace of the gods, which is said to have 10,000 rooms. The Forbidden City is divided into two parts, i.e. the Outer Court or Front Court in the South which is used for ceremonial purposes, and the Inner Court or Back Palace in the North, which was the imperial residence. The Hall of Supreme Harmony at the heart of the palace is the world's largest single building. Most pavilions have yellow glazed tiles roofs, representing the colour of the emperor, whilst two pavilions have black tiles, the colour associated with water and thus representing fire-prevention, whereas the Crown Prince's residences have green tiles, which is associated with wood and represents growth. In April 1644, Zhu Youjian (Chonzhen), the then ruling emperor of the Ming Dynasty, committed suicide after the Forbidden City was captured by the rebel forces of Li Zicheng (Li Hongji), who proclaimed himself emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty. However, the latter was soon overthrown by the combined armies of a former Ming general and Qing (Manchu) forces, and fled the Forbidden City setting fire to parts of it in the process. By October 1644, the Manchus had achieved supremacy in northern China, and Aisin Gioro Fulin (Shunzhi), the third ruler of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty was proclaimed emperor of China. During the Second Opium War, Anglo-French forces took control of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war in 1860. In 1900, the Empress Dowager Cixi fled from the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, a proto-nationalist movement that opposed foreign powers and imperialism, leaving it to be occupied by forces of the treaty powers until the following year. By the early 20th century, mass civil disorder had begun, starting on 10 October 1911 with the Wuchang Uprising (fig.) and followed by the Hsin-Hai Revolution, which eventually ended with the creation of the Republic of China. The Empress Dowager Longyu (Xiao Ding Jing) issued an imperial edict bringing about the abdication of the child emperor Aisin Gioro Pu Yi (Xuantong - fig.), and on 1 January 1912 a new central government was formally established in Nanjing, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen (fig.), thus ending 2,132 years of imperial rule in China. Consequently, the Forbidden City ceased to be the political centre of China, though the last emperor was initially allowed to remain in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City, until he was evicted after a coup in 1924. The following year, the Palace Museum was established within the Forbidden City. In 1933, the Japanese invasion of China forced the evacuation of the national treasures in the Forbidden Palace and only part of the collection was returned at the end of World War II, whilst the other part was evacuated to Taiwan by the Kuomintang in 1947, when the nationalists were losing the Civil War, and is today housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. In Chinese known as Gu Gong (故宫), i.e. the Former Palace’ or ‘Old Palace, and Zi Jin Cheng (紫禁城), i.e. the Purple Forbidden City (Walls), akin to the Hue Citadel in central Vietnam (fig.). The latter name is an abbreviation for Zi Wei Xing Yuan (紫微星垣), the name of the abode of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of Heaven (fig.), which is said to correspondent to the Pole Star. Thus, profiling himself as the earthly son of god, the mortal emperor took the name of the dwelling of the Chinese Celestial Emperor for his own residence, as it was the place where he received his mandate. One of the main attractions is a 16.5 meters long monolithic dragon staircase slab said to weigh around 250 tonnes (fig.).