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, then the central route and are finally on the eastern route! 😀
First along the eastern route is the 景运门 (Jing Yun Men), Gate of National Prosperity:
This gate was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and was renovated in 1655 during the Qing Dynasty. It is one of the gates in the palace leading to the Inner Court. Along both sides of the gate were offices of Mongolian nobles, nine chief ministers and imperial guards.
In the Qing Dynasty, except for officials on duty or those who had been summoned, princes and officials were not allowed to enter this gate. In order to ensure the safety of the Emperor, the guards of princes and officials had to halt 20 paces from the steps. (Kind of like 隆重门 (Long Zhong Men), Gate of the Distinguished Clan, at the start of the western route.)
Past the 景运门 (Jing Yun Men) is the 钟表馆 (Zhong Biao Guan), Hall of Clocks and Watches:
We didn’t enter that hall as not only did we have to pay an extra entry fee of RMB 10 per person, but it was also running late and we wanted to finish as much of Forbidden City as possible.
Bypassing 钟表馆 (Zhong Biao Guan), we went to 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong), Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity:
Although this part of Forbidden City requires an extra charge of RMB 10 per person, we went ahead with the payment as we’re just left with this last part to ‘complete’ our eastern route.
Originally, 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong) included 仁寿宫 (Ren Shou Gong), Palace of Benevolence and Longevity, 哕鸾宫 (Hui Luan Gong), Hall of Chirping Phoenixes, 喈风宫 (Jie Feng Palace), Hall of Phoenixes, where empress dowagers and imperial concubines lived in the Ming Dynasty.
In the Kangxi reign period of the ing Dynasty, it was renamed 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity and also served as the residence for empress dowagers and imperial concubines.
In 1776, the 41st year of the Qianlong reign period, the palace was rebuilt into a residential area for Emperor Qianlong after he abdicated. The layout of the whole palace is an imitation of the Forbidden City, with a central axis and front and rear parts:
The buildings in the front part include “九龙壁” (Jiu Long Bi / Nine Dragon Screen), “皇极门” (Huang Ji Men / Gate of the Norms of Government), “宁寿门” (Ning Shou Men / Gate of Peace and Longevity), “皇极殿” (Huang Ji Dian / Hall of the Norms of Government) and “宁寿宫” (Ning Shou Gong / Palace of Peace and Longevity).
(The buildings are placed in order of sight as you walk through the front part (see plan view above); originally, we had thought there was a “mis-order” because the gate usually opens to the hall/palace, but 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong) has 2 gates to 2 hall and palace, hence in this “mis-order”.)
The rear part consists of three routes:
- Along the central route is the “养性殿” (Yang Xing Dian / Hall of Moral Cultivation), “乐寿堂” (Le Shou Tang / Hall of Joyful Longevity), “颐和轩” (Yi He Xuan / Hall of Harmony) and “景祺阁” (Jing Qi Ge / Pavilion of Prospective Happiness).
- “阅是楼” (Yue Shi Lou / Pavilion for Reading) and “畅音阁” (Chang Yin Ge / Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies) are on the eastern route.
- On the western route is “宁寿宫花园” (Ning Shou Gong Hua Yuan / Garden of the Palace of Peace and Longevity) or “乾隆花园” (Qian Long Hua Yuan / Qianlong Garden).
The names of all the buildings in this area express wishes for longevity, peace and harmony, such as “乐寿堂” (Le Shou Tang / Hall of Joyful Longevity) and “颐和轩” (Yi He Xuan / Hall of Harmony).
After Emperor Qianlong abdicated in favour of his son, Emperor Jiaqing, he remained in 养心殿 (Yang Xin Dian), Hall of Moral Cultivation, until his death and never resided in “宁寿宫” (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity.
Banquets were held at this palace on the birthdays of the emperor and empress dowager. On his 80th birthday, Emperor Qianlong held a banquet to entertain 1,000 old men here. In the late Qing Dynasty, 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi once lived here.
First in 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong), Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity, is the 九龙壁 (Jiu Long Bi), Nine Dragon Screen Wall:
This glazed screen wall facing 皇极门 (Huang Ji Men), Gate of the Norms of Government, was constructed when Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty renovated the 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity area. There are nine dragons on the wall, hence its name.
九龙壁 (Jiu Long Bi) has a double roof in thatched hall style covered with yellow glazed titles and sits on a white marble stone Sumeru base, 3.5 metres high and 2.4 metres wide. This wall is composed of 270 glazed decorative bricks.
With seawater as the background, nine dragons are encircled by waves and clouds and separated by six groups of rocks. A yellow dragon is in the centre and eight dragons in blue, white, purple and yellow are on both sides. The dragon was the symbol of the Emperor in ancient China.
The roof has five ridges, each having a dragon while the main ridge also has five dragons. Incidentally, 山西大同 (Shan Xi Da Tong), Datong in Shanxi Province, has a Nine Dragon Screen Wall built in the Ming Dynasty, and 北京北海公园 (Bei Jing Bei Hai Gong Yuan), Beihai Park in Beijing, has one constructed in the Qing Dynasty.
Past the 皇极门 (Huang Ji Men), Gate of the Norms of Government, is the 宁寿门 (Ning Shou Men), Gate of Peace and Longevity:
These statues in front of 宁寿门 (Ning Shou Men) are different:
Walking on, we see the 皇极殿 (Huang Ji Dian), Hall of the Norms of Government:
Constructed in 1689 during the Qing Dynasty, this hall was originally named “宁寿宫” (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity, but was renamed “皇极殿” (Huang Ji Dian), Hall of the Norms of Government, after its renovation in 1776. This hall was renovated again in 1802 and 1884.
It is nine bays wide and five bays deep, with a double roof in thatched hall style covered with yellow-glazed tiles.
On the fourth day of the first lunar month, Emperor Qianlong held a banquet for 1,000 elderly men in this hall. 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi, celebrated her 60th birthday here and on her 70th birthday, she received foreign envoys at this hall. Before 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), was buried, her coffin was placed in this hall:
The words “皇极” (Huang Ji) are from the Book of History and mean ‘The Emperor sets the supreme rules’.
Visitors were not allowed to enter all the other halls in the earlier part of the Forbidden City, but we could actually enter 皇极殿 (Huang Ji Dian) in 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong)!! 😀
Do you see all that gold glistening in the background? 😛
Next, we went to 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity:
The above is as much of 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong) we could take as the “walkway” from 皇极殿 (Huang Ji Dian) to 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong) was short.
Constructed in the Ming Dynasty, this palace was originally named “仁寿宫” (Ren Shou Gong), Palace of Benevolence and Longevity. After renovation in 1689 during the Qing Dynasty, it was renamed “宁寿宫后殿” (Ning Shou Gong Hou Dian), Rear Hall of the Palace of Peace and Longevity. In 1776, it was reconstructed as a copy of “坤宁宫” (Kun Ning Gong), Hall of Earthly Tranquility (middle of central route), and the board reading “宁寿宫” (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity, was moved here.
When Emperor Qianlong prepared for his abdication, he offered sacrifices to the gods in this hall. In celebration of Emperor Qianlong’s 80th birthday and Emperor Jiaqing’s 50th birthday, banquets were held here.
The words “宁寿” (Ning Shou) comes from the Book of History and imply good health and longevity.
We then took a walk in the corridor linking 宁寿门 (Ning Shou Men) and 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong) (see plan view), where there was an exhibition of Imperial Treasures (or “antiques”) ranging from daily essentials to stone drums to cosmetics to treasures (Our camera started dying on us from this point, so we do not have many photos to show of the exhibition…):
The ‘Imperial Treasure’ exhibition marks the end of the front part of 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong), Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity, and we went on to the rear part, where we kind of zig-zagged between the central and eastern route because of how closely they were and how the routes were outlined on the map found on the audio guide; we missed 乾隆花园 (Qian Long Hua Yuan / Qianlong Garden) while following that map (which is the only map we had with us!)…
First in the rear part of 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong) is 养性殿 (Yang Xing Dian), Hall of Moral Cultivation:
The above is as much of 养性殿 (Yang Xing Dian) we could take as the “walkway” from 养性门 (Yang Xing Men) to 养性殿 (Yang Xing Dian) was short.
This hall was constructed in 1776 during the Qing Dynasty, as a copy of 养心殿 (Yang Xin Dian), Hall of Mental Cultivation (start of western route). Emperor Qianlong planned to live here after his abdication but never did.
In December 1781, the Emperor held a banquet in this hall to entertain princes, high-ranking officials, Mongolian chieftains and Manchu nobilities.
When 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi lived in 乐寿堂 (Le Shou Tang), Hall of Joyful Longevity, in the late Qing Dynasty, she dined in this hall in 东暖阁 (Dong Nuan Ge), East Chamber of Warmth.
In 1903, when 光绪皇 (Guangxu Huang), Emperor Guangxu, lived here, he and 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou) would meet the wives of foreign envoys in the hall.
In 1909, a celebration was held here when Empress Dowager Long Yu was given a title of honor.
The words “养性” (Yang Xing) are derived from the Mencius, meaning ‘cultivating one’s character to achieve benevolence’.
Now, this hall is used to exhibit ‘ritual artifacts’.
Right at the entrance is a set of bells and stone chimes:
Court music can be divided into three categories – ritual music, benquet music as well as pipes and drum music. Sets of 编钟 (Bian Zhong), bells, and 编磬 (Bian Qing), stone chimes, were indispensable for playing the refined ritual music called 中和韶 (Zhong He Shao) in Qing Dynasty.
This set of bells which was cast in 1791, 55th year of Qianlong reign period, required 13,600 taels (Qing unit of weight) of gold. The eight yin bells and eight yang bells are all of the same size and shape but have walls of varying thickness to produce different pitches. The thickest one, ying bell, weighs 14,317 grams and produces the highest note; the thinnest one, Beiyize, weighs 4,703 grams and produces the lowest note.
The stone chimes are made of green jade and adorned with gold-traced dragon design on both sides.
This is the 金瓯永固杯 (Jin Ou Yong Gu Bei), “Territorial Integrity” cup:
It is an artifact of the 嘉庆皇 (Jia Qing Huang), Emperor Jiaqing, reign period (1796 – 1820) of the Qing Dynasty.
This is the 金奉天之宝 (Jin Feng Tian Zhi Bao), Gold Imperial Seal:
It is an artifact of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).
In another room are 25 Imperial seals:
All 25 seals are made of different materials, have different shapes, have different texts carved on them, are used for different purposes:
Just nearby (but having to “leave” the central route to go on to the eastern route) is 畅音阁 (Chang Yin Ge), Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies:
When we were taking a photo of 畅音阁 (Chang Yin Ge) at first, we got “photo-bombed” but on second-look, this photo actually looks quite unique…
This pavilion was constructed in 1776, the 41st year of the Qianlong reign period of the Qing Dynasty. In 1817, the 22nd year of the Jiaqing (son of Qianlong) reign period, a three-storey opera stage, the largest stage in the palace, was added to the pavilion.
The pavilion is 20.71 metres high, with a construction area of 685.94 square metres. The three storeys of the stage from highest to lowest are called 福 (Fu), Good Fortune, 禄 (Lu), Prosperity, and 寿 (Shou), Longevity, respectively. The Longevity stage has five trapdoors leading to the basement and three trapdoors in the ceiling leading to the Prosperity Stage. By the trapdoors, there are capstans and wheels, allowing dramatic entrances and exits of supernatural beings, ghosts and demons during the performances.
During large-scale performances, actors and actresses appear on all three stages at the same time. The stage can hold 1,000 people.
This pavilion faces 阅是楼 (Yue Shi Lou), Pavilion for Reading, to the north.
The words “畅音” (Chang Yin) signify loud and cheerful sounds.
To the north of 畅音阁 (Chang Yin Ge), is the 阅是楼 (Yue Shi Lou), Pavilion for Reading:
Built in 1776 during the Qing Dynasty, this pavilion has two storeys. Every New Year’s Day and on the Emperor’s birthday, the Emperor, Empress, Princes and high-ranking officials watched operas here. Officials sat in the covered passages on both sides.
On her 60th birthday, 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi was accompanied by 光绪皇 (Guangxu Huang), Emperor Guangxu, his Empress and officials in watching performances for more than 10 days in this hall! (Imagine how tired he must’ve been!)
The words “阅是” (Yue Shi) mean making correct judgement of reality from watching stage performances.
Returning to the central route, we saw 乐寿堂 (Le Shou Tang), Hall of Joyful Longevity:
This hall was constructed in 1776 during the Qing Dynasty as a copy of 纯花轩 (Chun Hua Xuan), Purity Pavilion, in 长春园 (Chang Chun Yuan), Garden of Eternal Spring, for Emperor Qianlong’s retirement.
In front of the hall, on the wall of the covered corridor, there is a stone inscription reproducing the Rubbings of Model Calligraphy of Jingsheng Studio.
Since the Qing Dynasty, a huge jade carving titled “大禹治水遏制洪水 (Da Yu Zhi Shui E Zhi Hong Zhui)” has been preserved in the hall. It is the largest jade carving in the Palace Museum.
After the celebration of her 60th birthday, 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi, lived in the west chamber of this hall.
The words “乐寿” (Le Shou) come from The Analects of Confucius, meaning ‘intelligent people are happy people and the benevolent live long’.
丹台春晓图玉山 (Dan Tai Chun Xiao Tu Yu Shan), Spring Dawn on Cinnabar Terrace, a Grey Jade Mountain:
Popularly known as “寿山” (Shou Shan), ‘Longevity Mountain’, this sculptured stone is made of jade from 新疆和田 (Xin Jiang He Tian), Hetian in Xinjiang, by a craftsman from Yangzhou who spent 4 years on it. Weighing some 1,500 kilograms, it was completed in the tenth lunar month of 1780, 45th year of Qianlong reign period. It signifies “寿比南山不老松” (Shou Bi Nan Shan Bu Lao Song), which means eternal longevity.
青玉云龙纹瓮 (Qing Yu Yun Long Wen Weng), Green Jade Urn with Cloud and Dragon Design:
This urn is popularly known as “福海” (Fu Hai), Sea of Blessings. It is made of jade from 新疆和田 (Xin Jiang He Tian), Hetian in Xinjiang, by a craftsman from Yangzhou who spent 4 years on it. Weighing about 2,500 kilograms, it was completed in the tenth lunar month of 1780, 45th year of Qianlong reign period. The design of ocean-waves on the base signifies “福如东海长流水” (Fu Ru Dong Hai Chang Liu Shui), which means eternal blessings.
秋山行旅图玉山 (Qiu Shan Xing Lǚ Tu Yu Shan), Green jade mountain of travelling in autumn:
Made of jade from Xinjian province from 1766 to 1770. In the beginning, it was carved in Beijing. Afterwards, because of low productivity, it was brought to Yangzhou for completion. This artifact was carved by making optimal use of the material peculiarity, so the composition was perfect, becoming unifying with nature.
会昌九老图玉山 (Hui Chang Jiu Lao Tu Yu Shan), Green jade mountain of nine old men gathering in the year of Hui Chang:
This jade mountain was made of jade from 新疆和田 (Xin Jiang He Tian), Hetian in Xinjiang and completed in 1786. It was carved with the design of landscape and people. In the front and top of the jade, 4 characters “古稀天子” (Gu Xi Tian Zi) were carved while on the left, 5 characters “会昌九老图” (Hui Chang Jiu Lao Tu), the name of this artifact, were carved. Under the pavilion, “乾隆丙午年制” (Qian Long Bing Wu Nian Zhi), were carved; it means that this artifact was carved in Qian Long reign period, Year Bing Wu. In addition, Emperor Qianlong’s poetry was carved on the back of the jade mountain.
大禹治水遏制洪水 (Da Yu Zhi Shui E Zhi Hong Zhui), Jade mountain of Da Yu curbing the flood:
This jade mountain features the legend of sage king, 大禹 (Da Yu), channeling off flood waters and building water-control works. Work on it began in 1781, 46th year of Qianlong reign period, and was not completed until six years later. It was originally placed in 乐寿堂 (Le Shou Tang), Hall of Joyful Longevity in the Forbidden City. Made of jade from Mount Mileta in Ye’erqian area of Xinjiang, it weighs about 5,300 kg and is the largest jade carving in the Palace Museum.
After viewing the jade exhibits at 颐和轩 (Yi He Xuan), Hall of Harmony, and 景祺阁 (Jing Qi Ge), Pavilion of Prospective Happiness, we went on to 珍妃灵堂 (Zhen Fei Ling Tang), Mourning Chamber in Memory of Concubine Zhen.
Concubine Zhen (1876 – 1900) was chosen in 1888, together with her elder sister, as the fifth-level consort of Emperor Guangxu.
In 1894, she was promoted to concubine, the fourth-level consort. She was the beloved concubine of Emperor Guangxu. She sympathized with and supported the Emperor’s views on constitutional reform and modernisation.
After the reform was suppressed by 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi, the Emperor was taken into custody in Yingtai while Concubine Zhen was confined in a heavily-guarded house.
In 1900, when 八国联军 (Ba Guo Lian Jun), Allied Forces of 8 Countries, attacked Beijing, Concubine Zhen was thrown into and drowned in this well by 太监崔玉贵 (Tai Jian Cui Yu Gui) ,Eunuch Cui Yu Gui, under the order of 慈禧太后 (Ci Xi Tai Hou), Empress Dowager Ci Xi.
Right in front of 珍妃灵堂 (Zhen Fei Ling Tang) is 珍妃井 (Zhen Fei Jing), Well of Concubine Zhen:
In 1901, Concubine Zhen was posthumously conferred the title of “珍贵妃” (Zhen Gui Fei), Noble Concubine, the third-level consort. Concubine Jin, her sister, set up the mourning chamber for her to praise her sincerity and determination.
珍妃井 (Zhen Fei Jing), Well of Concubine Zhen, marks the end of the 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong), Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity, which is the bulk of the eastern route., along which we saw:
- 景运门 (Jing Yun Men), Gate of National Prosperity
- 钟表馆 (Zhong Biao Guan), Hall of Clocks and Watches (which we did not pay to enter)
- 宁寿全宫 (Ning Shou Quan Gong), Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity (which we paid RMB 10 to enter and got to see the following: )
- 九龙壁 (Jiu Long Bi), Nine Dragon Screen Wall
- 宁寿门 (Ning Shou Men), Gate of Peace and Longevity
- 皇极殿 (Huang Ji Dian), Hall of the Norms of Government
- 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong), Palace of Peace and Longevity
- Imperial treasures exhibition in corridor linking 宁寿门 (Ning Shou Men) and 宁寿宫 (Ning Shou Gong)
- Ritual artifacts exhibition in 养性殿 (Yang Xing Dian), Hall of Moral Cultivation
- 畅音阁 (Chang Yin Ge), Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies
- 阅是楼 (Yue Shi Lou), Pavilion for Reading
- 乐寿堂 (Le Shou Tang), Hall of Joyful Longevity
- Jade exhibits at 颐和轩 (Yi He Xuan), Hall of Harmony, and 景祺阁 (Jing Qi Ge), Pavilion of Prospective Happiness
- 珍妃灵堂 (Zhen Fei Ling Tang), Mourning Chamber in Memory of Concubine Zhen
- 珍妃井 (Zhen Fei Jing), Well of Concubine Zhen
To exit the Forbidden City, we had to return to the central route where the exit, 神武门 (Shen Wu Men), Gate of Divine Prowess is:
Construction of the northern fortified gate of the Forbidden City was completed in 1420 during the Yongle reign period of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). It was originally named “玄武门” (Xuan Wu Men), Gate of the Dark Warrior, after a symbol for the north.
Later, during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), because the personal name of 康熙皇 (Kang Xi Huang), Emperor Kangxi (1662 – 1722), was “玄烨” (Xuan Ye), the character “玄” (Xuan), meaning mysterious, dark, was taboo and was therefore changed to “神” (Shen), meaning divine.
On the high terrace stands a gate tower with double eaves that housed drums and bells – they were sounded at regular two-hour intervals to give the correct time, except when the Emperor was sleeping in the palace.
Of the three passageways, the middle one was reserved for the Emperor and those on either sides for Imperial concubines, officials, guards, eunuchs and artisans.
In the Qing Dynasty, this gate was used when the Empress offered sacrifices to the Goddess of Silkworms, when palace maidens were selected and imperial concubines were welcomed.
In 1924, when the last Emperor, Pu Yi, was driven out of the palace, he and his retinue left through this gate.
Above the gate’s north face hangs a horizontal board, reading, “故宫博物馆” (Gu Gong Bo Wu Guan), Palace Museum, that was written in 1971 by the prominent historian 郭沫若 (Guo Mo Ruo).
It has been a very fruitful heritage walk / “learning journey” of the Forbidden City for us, we hope you’ve enjoyed following us on our walk of the:
of the Forbidden City! 😀
Right outside the Palace Museum were many hawkers peddling stuff, and D decided to try the much-heard of and raved about 冰糖葫芦 (Bing Tang Hu Lu), sugar-coated hawthorn berry.
J tried them too but because the berry was pretty large and filled with seeds, J had difficulty eating it and didn’t quite like it 😐 She only liked the sugar-coat, what a sweet tooth! 😛
On the other hand, D loved the 冰糖葫芦 (Bing Tang Hu Lu)!