The not Forbidden City

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by garymarsh6 on September 18, 2009

This is a city built for the Chinese Emperor who was cocooned in the vast city within a city. Building started on the palace in 1406 and it took 16 years to build. Over one million workers were involved in the building of it and precious woods and marble were used from all corners of China in its construction. The area it covered is approximately 720,000 square meters. It was a massive project which was to house the imperial Chinese dynasties from early Ming dynasty to Qing dynasty, the last emperor. In total it housed 24 Emperors 14 from the Ming Dynasty and 10 from the Qing Dynasty.

As the most of the palace is made primarily of rare woods it has during its history experienced many fires. There are massive bronze cauldrons filled with water to be used in case of fire dotted throughout the palace. The fires were started both accidently and on purpose. There was an abundance of use of lanterns which sometimes caused a fire. Fireworks were another cause of fire and finally sometimes the Eunuchs would set fire to the palace so that they were given work and paid for the work to rebuild it. At the end of the 18th century the palace was home to 9000 people including the Emperor.

The rectangular shaped palace is surrounded by a massive 29 foot high wall which is 28 feet wide at the base and 21 feet wide at the top and it has four entrances. The city is surrounded by a water filled moat 170 foot wide. At each corner there is a large watchtower. The most commonly picture that conjures up in ones mind is the South front entrance by which most people enter facing the massive Tiananmen Square. This entrance was used by the Emperor that is now adorned with a massive picture of Chairman Mao Tse Tung over it.

There are five arched entrances in the south wall the middle entrance is the largest and only the Emperor was permitted to enter by this entrance. After this entrance there was a stone flanked walkway through to the palace that only the Emperor was allowed to walk or ride on which led to the palace. Anyone who dared attempt to enter the palace by this entrance was summarily executed by being beheaded. The other entrances were used by different grades of ministers or dignitaries according to their rank.

Walking through the centre archway you come into a massive open courtyard which is a huge open area with a river flowing through it. Here there is a military presence on the right hand side for the red army whose role is the ceremonial guard duties around the palace and in Tiananmen Square. They have a practice area here for marching and perfecting their high leg swings. This leads to five bridges that cross the river to reach the gate of the Supreme Harmony.

When you have gone through this gate you enter the square of the supreme harmony and standing majestically the magnificent Hall of the Supreme harmony appears before you and two other great hall one called the hall of central harmony and the other the hall of preserving memory. The Hall of supreme harmony was used for coronations, investitures and imperial weddings. All three halls had an imperial throne in it for the Emperor the biggest one being in the Hall of the Supreme harmony. The halls are ornately decorated and painted with intricate paintings on the ceilings. The imperial seals were stored in one of the halls. The buildings are exquisitely ornate and very colourful.

The ramp leading up to the Hall of supreme harmony is approximately 150 feet of solid marble that had been hand carved with dragons and other delightful carvings. At the base of the stairway and ramp there is a pair of lions standing guard. The lion that has a ball under its paw is the male lion and the one with the baby cub under its paw is the female.

The roofs of the buildings within the palace all had golden coloured tiles which denoted that royalty lived there. They were decorated with sets of dragons down the edges of the roof. Depending on how many dragons on the roof would give some indication of how important the person was who lived in this building. The emperor of course having the most dragons adorning his roof.

Reaching the inner courtyard you are now entering the private quarters of the Emperor and those of his concubines. There are three more massive halls called the hall of the palace of heavenly purity lived in by the Emperor, the union hall and the palace of earthly tranquillity the empresses quarters. The emperor dressed in golden or yellow coloured garments which were only to be worn by the emperor there were different coloured plates used depending on ones hierarchal standing and only the Emperor and Empress were permitted to eat off gold or silver plates.

After this great collection of buildings are minor quarters where the concubines lived. There are music rooms, tea rooms, sleeping quarters and various rooms where activities took place. Small courtyards with rooms around them decorated with dragons and other metal bowls and miniature trees. There is a small garden area for the concubines to enjoy.

The only men other than the Emperor that were allowed in this area were Eunuchs who were there to protect the women of the harm. The Eunuchs had their testicles removed which were placed in a small box so that when they died they could be buried with them otherwise they believed they would never enter heaven as they would have been incomplete and would be damned to walk the earth for eternity never being able to rest.

The method of castration was particularly barbaric the boy or man was sat in a chair with a hole in it and a swift swing of the knife removed his testicles in one fair swoop. Many men died by bleeding to death but for those who survived it lead to a fairly comfortable life. Well fed and watered. At the beginning of the Qing dynasty there were 9000 Eunuchs in the palace and only 1800 by 1908. Life was very harsh for the Eunuchs and many were executed for the most simplest of reasons. There was a lot of bitchiness and jealousy amongst the Eunuchs and power struggles.

When the Emperor wanted one of the concubines he would decide which one he wanted to spend the night with. She was washed and bathed by the eunuchs and all hair from below her chin was removed. She was wrapped in a yellow cloth and carried to the Emperors room. This ensured that no weapons were concealed about her person. Once the deed had been completed she was not permitted to spend the night with the emperor but slept in an ante room. The date and time of the union was recorded in case there was a resulting pregnancy.

Towards the back of the palace is the north gate. There is the dragon’s wall with a relief of 9 dragons along the wall. It is brightly coloured with blue glazed tiles and it is quite beautiful and took ages to make and one of the dragons has a flaw in it. The builders were under strict orders to finish it but it was running behind schedule so one of the builders used a piece of wood to cover a piece that he could not complete in time which meant that he would have faced execution. Fortunately for him it was not noticed by the Emperor and he kept his head.

Many of the occupants never or rarely left the confines of the Palace walls at least we got out with all bits and bobs intact you might be glad to hear.

The Forbidden City is a fantastic collection of rooms and hallways all decorated in red and gold. It is really a highlight to any visit to Beijing and is well worth spending several hours here exploring and looking through the palace. There is no way that you would see everything on one visit as the palace has 980 buildings within the palace and 9,999 including ante rooms. Some of the rooms are not open to the public but the main halls and the concubines quarters are available to look into or around and explore.

It costs approximately 60 Yuan to go in which works out just over £5. The best time to visit is spring or autumn bearing in mind the intensive heat and smog in Beijing in the summer months when temperatures can go up into the 40C’s. Also bear in mind that there will be millions of visitors and there is no way on this earth you are going to get a photo without someone else being in the photo.

Forbidden City
North Of Tiananmen Square Dong Cheng District
Beijing, China, 100009
+86 (0)10 6512 2255

© LP 2000-2009