After exploring the Outer Court of Forbidden City, we could choose among three different routes to take in order to get to the exit. We had chosen to go on the western route first and are now on to the central route.
Next, we got to 御花园 (Yu Hua Yuan), Imperial Garden (which is the ‘end’ of the central route, if we had chosen it; but is now the ‘start’ of our central route back to the centre of the palace). The Imperial Garden was first constructed in 1420, the 18th year of the Yongle reign period of the Ming Dynasty and was slightly renovated in the Qing Dynasty.
Most of the buildings in the Imperial Garden were constructed in the Jiajing and Wanli reign periods of the Ming Dynasty. In the Ming Dynasty, it was known as “宫后园” (Gong Hou Yuan), Garden in the Rear of the Palace, and since the Qing Dynasty, it was known as the 御花园(Yu Hua Yuan), Imperial Garden.
The garden is 130 meters wide from east to west, and 90 meters from south to north, and covers an area of 12,000 square meters. It is the older and largest Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City. In the garden, several-hundred-year-old pines, cypresses and Chinese wistaria grow luxuriantly and exotic stones are scattered here and there, in addition to various kinds of potted landscapes.
Imagine how beautiful the garden would look if it snows! 😉
Over 20 halls, pavilions and towers in various styles are symmetrically located on the eastern and western sides of the central axis. The paths in the garden are meticulously paved with coloured cobbles, in over 900 patterns.
One of the pavilions in the Imperial Garden:
Didn’t manage to get the name of this ‘tower’:
The Imperial Garden is the place where the Emperors, Empresses and Imperial Concubines appreciated the scenery and amused themselves. In the Qing Dynasty, girls were selected here for the Emperor’s harem.
This is the 颜回戈 (Yan Hui Ge), Pavilion to Usher in Light:
Constructed in the Ming Dynasty, this pavilion was originally named “清王戈”(Qing Wang Ge), Pavilion of High Expectations. The name was changed to “颜回戈” (Yan Hui Ge) in the Qing Dynasty.
It has a rolled gable roof covered with yellow glazed tiles and stands facing “堆秀山” (Dui Xiu Shan), Hill of Accumulated Elegance.
In the Qing Dynasty, it was the place where the Emperor’s concubines were selected.
Emperors Qianlong, Daoguang and Xianfeng onced composed poems and amused themselves in this pavilion. Emperor Jiaqing preserved over 10,000 calligraphic works written by Emperors in this pavilion.
With its splendid shape and great adaptability, the cypress is an indispensable ornamental tree in traditional Chinese garden. In perfect harmony with ancient architecture, it is live cultural heritage that can never be reproduced:
This is the 堆秀山 (Dui Xiu Shan), Hill of Accumulated Elegance:
This artificial hill was made of rocks piled on the original site of 观花殿 (Guan Hua Dian), Hall of Appreciating Flowers, against the northern palace wall. Originally, it was named “堆绣山” (Dui Xiu Shan), Hill of Accumulated Embroidery, and in the Qianlong reign period given its present name, “堆秀山” (Dui Xiu Shan), Hill of Accumulated Elegance.
The hill is about 10 meters high. On the top stands 御景亭 (Yu Jing Ting), Pavilion of Imperial Scenery, which is reached by a path. On 重阳节 (Zhong Yang Jie), Double Ninth Festival every year, the Emperors, Empresses and Imperial concubines climbed the hill along that path.
Halfway up the hill, there is a brick cave running from east to west. A cave at the foot of the hill has an arched roof, with a stone caisson carved in the shape of a dragon. Over the entrance hangs a horizontal board inscribed with two words, “堆秀” (Dui Xiu), Accumulated Elegance.
Halfway up the hill, there are bronze jars to store water. When water runs from the hill, it spurts out of the dragonheads on the backs of lions on the left and right sides of the hill.
Next, we went to 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong), Hall of Earthly Tranquility:
This hall was first constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and was later rebuilt in 1655 during the Qing Dynasty as a copy of 清宁宫 (Qing Ning Gong), Palace of Peace and Tranquility, in Shenyang (Liaoning Province).
The hall symbolised Manchu architectural style with its gate on the eastern side rather than in the middle. It was renovated in 1798. It is nine bays wide and three bays deeps. This hall has double eaves and a thatched hall style roof covered with yellow glazed tiles.
During the Ming Dynasty, this hall was the residence of the Empresses. After the rebel peasant army, led by Li Zicheng, captured Beijing in 1644, Emperor Congzhen’s Empress hung herself in this hall.
The two rooms on the eastern side were the imperial bridal suits:
Emperor Kangxi, Emperor Tongzhi, Emperor Guangxu and the last Emperor Pu Yi, lived in this hall after they married, before moving to other halls.
The four rooms on the western side are the sacrificial shrines where there are ring-shaped pits for holding statues of gods and cauldrons for cooking sacrificial meat. The rooms enshrine statues of Sakyamuni, the Goddess of Mercy, Lord Guang and other Mongolian gods.
Traditionally, 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong) and 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong) were where the Emperor and Empress slept. “乾清” (Qian Qing) and “坤宁” (Kun Ning) mean that “The sky is clear and the earth is peaceful”, implying that the Emperor would rule the country forever.
Between 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong) and 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong) is this square hall, 交泰殿 (Jiao Tai Dian), Hall of Union and Peace:
This hall was constructed from 1522 to 1566 during the Ming Dynasty and was rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty. This square hall is three bays wide and three bays deep with single eaves and pyramid-shaped roofs on the four corners. Each roof has a gold-plated top similar to but smaller than that of 中和殿 (Zhong He Dian), Hall of Supreme Harmony.
In the centre of the hall, there is a throne, behind which hangs a board inscribed with words written by Emperor Kangxi meaning “doing nothing”. Below the board, there is a screen with an inscription by Emperor Qianlong.
On the left side, there is a copper clepsydra, a kind of ancient Chinese water clock:
On the right side is a bell:
In the Qing Dynasty, a yearly grand ceremony was held here on the Empress’ birthday, the Lunar New Year and the Winter Solstice.
In 1748, Emperor Qianlong placed 25 jade seals, symbolising imperial power, in hsi hall. On the Day for ‘Opening Up Treasures’ in the first lunar month, the Emperor held a grand ceremony.
The words “交泰” (Jiao Tai) come from the Book of Changes, meaning the union of heaven and earth. Hence, 交泰殿 (Jiao Tai Dian) is situated between 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong), Palace of Heavenly Purity, and 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong), Hall of Earthly Tranquility.
This is the 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong), Palace of Heavenly Purity:
This palace was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and was rebuilt in 1798 during the Qing Dynasty. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Emperor lived and handled political affairs in this palace. After Emperor Yongzheng ascended the throne, he lived in 养心殿 (Yang Xin Dian), Hall of Mental Cultivation, held ceremonies as well as met officials and foreign envoys in this palace.
In the Qing Dynasty, after an Emperor passed away, his coffin was kept in this hall, to prove that he had died peacefully. After the memorial ceremony, the coffin would be moved to 观德殿 (Guan De Dian), Hall for Observing Military Virtue, in 景山 (Jing Shan), Prospect Hill Park. Finally, the funeral ceremony would be held and the deceased emperor would be buried in the Imperial Mausoleum.
The “Heir Apparent Box”, a system secretly set up by Emperor Yongzheng was placed behind the board inscribed with the words, “正大光明” (Zheng Da Guang Ming), meaning open and aboveboard. The name of the emperor’s successor, written by the emperor himself, was kept in this box. After the emperor passed away, the secretly appointed crown prince would then ascend the throne.
乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong), Palace of Heavenly Purity, and 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong), Hall of Earthly Tranquility were where the Emperors and Empresses lived.
According to the Book of Changes, “乾” (Qian) refers to heaven while “坤” (Kun) refers to earth. Flanking the palaces are gates named 日精门 (Ri Jing Men), Gate of Sun Excellence and 月华门 (Yue Hua Men), Gate of Lunar Glory, implying ‘Heaven and Earth are bright under the sun and moon, and the whole world is open and peaceful.’
In the east corridor of 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong) is 清帝大婚庆典展 (Qing Huang Da Hun Qing Dian Zhan), a display of the Qing Emperor’s Grand Wedding:
According to ancient custom, the Empress would enter the Imperial Palace at midnight of the wedding day. Therefore, all sorts of lanterns were lit and put on both sides of the roads and in the halls:
Rose Plate decorated with design of children playing:
During the Tongzhi Period (1862 – 1874), the Emperor would throw a grand banquet in 太和殿 (Tai He Dian, Hall of Supreme Harmony), inviting the clan of the Empress’ father and his officials. The Empress Dowager would also throw a party in 慈宁宫 (Ci Ning Gong), Palace of Benevolent Tranquility for the clan of the Empress’ mother. A huge number of porcelain bowls were used in the banquet.
Across on top is the gold censer with wooden handle used in the Tongzhi Period (1862 – 1874). The gold censer was one of the eight gold implements used in the wedding ceremony. Carrying the censers decorated with dragon and phoenix heads, the palace eunuchs guide the bridal palaquin of the Empress from her house to the Forbidden City.
In gold below is the gold seal of the Empress used in the Guangxu Period (1875 – 1908). Before guiding the Empress to enter the Forbidden City, the Emperor sent the envoys to the Empress’ home to hold the ceremony of ‘conferring title of nobility on the Empress’. During the ceremony, the gold album and “gold seal of the Empress” were given to the Empress to affirm her status. Then, she was carried by the bridal palanquin to enter Forbidden City.
The bridal palanquin and handkerchief were smoked by Tibetan incense to get rid of evil spirits before the Empress set out from her parents’ home. With the lighted Tibetan incense in their hands, the close princes guided the Emperor from 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong), Palace of Heavenly Purity to 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong), Palace of Earthly Tranquility, in order to drive our demons.
This is the dress of the Empress when she entered the Forbidden City:
On the day of the wedding, the Emperor was in dragon robe and wore a crown while the Empress was in a robe with designs of dragon and phoenix. The dress of the Empress varied in different rituals of the wedding ceremony.
Gilded Copper and Kingfisher Feather Hairpin with Peony design wishes for Prosperity while the Gilded Copper and Kingfisher Feather Hairpin with Pomegranate design wishes for fertility:
The rite of drinking from nuptial cups by the bridegroom and bride on their wedding day signified a man and woman’s formal union. The ceremony was most important in the wedding. To pursue the happy life after the wedding, the Emperor and Empress partook in the union banquet in the next morning of the wedding.
Belonging to the Qianlong Period (1736 – 1795), these are in the shape of gourds with the words, “大吉” (Da Ji), meaning ‘Good Luck’:
The morning after the wedding, the Emperor and the Empress in formal robes left for the main hall of 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong), Palace of Earthly Tranquility, to offer a sacrifice to the gods. Here is the scene of offering sacrifices to the wedding god:
There are the memorial tablet of the wedding god, golden incense, 如意 (Ru Yi)-scepter and apples.
The 清帝大婚庆典展 (Qing Huang Da Hun Qing Dian Zhan), display of the Qing Emperor’s Grand Wedding, marks the end of the central route, during which we saw:
- 御花园 (Yu Hua Yuan), Imperial Garden
- 颜回戈 (Yan Hui Ge), Pavilion to Usher in Light
- 堆秀山 (Dui Xiu Shan), Hill of Accumulated Elegance
- 坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong), Hall of Earthly Tranquility
- 交泰殿 (Jiao Tai Dian), Hall of Union and Peace
- 乾清宫 (Qian Qing Gong), Palace of Heavenly Purity
- 清帝大婚庆典展 (Qing Huang Da Hun Qing Dian Zhan), a display of the Qing Emperor’s Grand Wedding
We’re back in the ‘centre’ of the Forbidden Palace where we had first chosen to take the western route instead of the central or eastern route.
Our next post will be on the eastern route where the six East Palaces and “宁寿全宫” (Ning Shou Quan Gong (Palace)) are.