Friday, May 21, 2010

The Forbidden City of China

      The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. This is the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. It was so named because entry was restricted to the few, and those who entered often did so to live and die within its walls. The Forbidden city was also called Purple city.

For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government.

The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420. In ancient times, the emperor claimed to be the son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven.

It took 200,000 men close to fourteen years to complete it. Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people. Only the emperor's household was allowed entrance. And following its completion, the emperors and their families would live behind its walls in palaces for the remainder of the Ming Dynasty, all the way through to the Qing Dynasty, until the last emperor abdicated the throne in 1912.

Some interesting facts about Forbidden City

The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares with a total floor space of approximately 150, 000 square meters. It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms.

All of the buildings are made from painted wood. To deal with the fire risk, giant bronze cauldrons filled with water were placed at intervals throughout the Palace. 

At the end of the 18th century approximately 9000 people lived within the Forbidden City, composed of guards, servants, eunuchs, concubines, civil servants and the Royal Family. 
The inner sanctum rooms were forbidden to women except to the Empress on her wedding day.

The tradition of castrating male servants dates back over two thousand years. The Qing Dynasty started with 9000 eunuchs, reducing to about 1500 in 1908. Their testicles were mummified and stored in jars, to be buried with them after their death. Many eunuchs were harshly treated, or executed at whim. Corruption, power struggles and personal vendettas flourished.

Emperors were entitled to several wives and many concubines. (Qianlong had two official wives and 29 concubines). Concubines were well-educated women selected from the best Manchu families. Nightly, the Emperor would decide which concubine would visit him that evening. She would then be stripped, bathed and depilated before being carried to his chamber. The number of times a concubine was chosen secured her social standing.

Manchu women did not bind their feet, but wore shoes mounted on six- to eight-inch platforms, giving them the tottering gait considered seductive.
The Emperor's choice of successor was usually kept secret until after his death, when it was verified by bringing together a document held by the emperor with a document previously concealed in a sealed box. 

"The Last Emperor", familiarly known as Puyi, succeeded to the throne at the age of three. He was forced to abdicate in February 1912, but was held in the Forbidden City until 1924. During those years he had a British tutor, Reginald Johnston, who gave him his first bicycle.

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