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Forbidden City

The Forbidden City (紫禁城 in pinyin: zĭ jn chng, literal meaning: "Purple Forbidden City"), located at the exact center of the ancient City of Beijing, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Nowadays as the Palace Museum (故宮博物院 Ggōng Bwyan), its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square metres, 800 buildings and 9,000 rooms. (Not to be confused with National Palace Museum in Taiwan.) As such, it is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the World, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987. The Imperial Palace grounds are located directly to the north of Tiananmen Square and are accessible from the square via Tiananmen Gate.

Although no longer occupied by royalty, the Forbidden City remains a symbol of Chinese sovereignty and its image appears on the seal of the People's Republic of China.

The construction of the Forbidden City started in 1406 and took 14 years and an estimated 200,000 men. From its completion in 1422 to 1644, when a peasant revolt invaded it, the Forbidden City served as the seat of the Ming Dynasty. The onfollowing Qing Dynasty also occupied the Forbidden City.

Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are 9,999 buildings. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate, to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen 神武門 in pinyin: shn wŭ mn), which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. The walls are thick and squat and were specifically designed to withstand attacks by cannons.

There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside. The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. The Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China in 1912 with the abdication of the Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China. However, he was allowed (and in fact required) to live within the walls of the Forbidden City until a coup launched by a local warlord in 1924. Until then, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. In 1947, Chiang Kai-shek ordered many of the artifacts within the Forbidden City to be moved to Taiwan where they formed the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This action has been extremely controversial, with some regarding it as looting while others regarding it as safekeeping, especially with the events of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland.

Since the 1949 revolution, the front of the Forbidden City (Tiananmen Gate) has had a picture of Mao Zedong and two placards. The left one reads 中华人民共和国万岁 (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Wansui; "Long Live the People's Republic of China"), while the right placard reads 全世界人民大团结万岁 (Quanshijie Renmin Tuanjie Wansui; "Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples"). Somewhat ironically, the expression used for 'Long Live' was the one traditionally reserved for Emperors of China.

The Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world.

Zhongnanhai, the complex of buildings which serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China, is adjacent to the Forbidden City, and located on its western side.

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