Hong Men (红门)
Chinese. ‘Red Gate’ or ‘Red Door’. Name for the red gateway doors used in imperial
China, initially at palace gates, such as those of the
Forbidden City (fig.), but nowadays also used elsewhere, e.g. in temples and defensive walls, but also decoratively, e.g. in restaurants. The original large, heavy imperial doors were made from wood, painted bright red and inlaid with eighty-one golden studs, i.e.
nine rows of nine golden studs, which refer to the Emperor, as the number nine or any multiple thereof is associated with the Emperor, because the character for ‘nine’ (九) resembles that of ‘power’, ‘force’ and ‘strength’, i.e. li (力), and its pronunciation (jiu) is a homophone for the word ‘long-lasting’ (久). In that sense, the emperor’s number nine and its multiples was deliberate and appears repeatedly in the design of the Forbidden City, e.g. the original Ming buildings measured nine roof spans, nine gates with watchtowers, each with nine roof beams, eighteen pillars, and seventy-two ridgepoles, whilst the Emperor's Hall of Supreme Harmony, located at the central axis, had highest possible level of nine
Chinese Imperial roof decorations fig.). This use of nine and its multiples thus held a deeper meaning and any commoner who copied the emperor’s stud design could face execution. Princely gates would have gold studs on red as well, but they were limited to forty-nine in seven rows of seven. Lesser officials would have green or black gates, depending on rank, and could have twenty-five bronze or iron studs in five rows of five, a system reminiscent of the ancient Chinese practice of exposed doorways beams (fig.). All these traditional door types also are adorned with golden or bronze door knockers, usually in the form of the head of a demon or
lion, or another mythological or auspicious creature, such as a
dragon. In present-day China, these type of doors are often still used decoratively and may have any number of studs, though they typically have rows of nine studs vertically. Whereas in China red is the colour symbolizing prosperity, in
Vietnam the Emperor's imperial door is yellow, i.e. the colour associated with the Emperor and previously reserved solely for the Monarch (fig.).
See also TRAVEL PICTURES.