Into the Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Finally we approach the entrance to the Forbidden City with its picture of Chairman Mao. Every time I have been there, crowds of people are entering. Most of the tourism in China is Chinese. When you think about it, it makes sense. It is a country of about 1.3 billion people. If only 1% of them travel, that’s 13 million people! And with the Forbidden City being the heart of China, it is understandable that it would always have a large number of visitors. Thankfully, the area it occupies is very large. It is about 750 meters (820 yards) across and about a kilometer (1093.6 yards) long. We have entered at the south end through the Tiananmen Gate.

Once inside, we are in a public area of the Forbidden City. In this area there are shops and souvenir stands and until recently, there was even a Starbucks. It offended the sensibilities of some of the Chinese and it eventually closed. Somehow, I agree with them. The beauty of the Forbidden City and other Chinese sites is their uniqueness and their strong ties to Chinese culture and history. In this area there are trees and plants. There are no trees and plants in the official area of the Forbidden City.

Behind us, Tiananmen Gate; ahead of us, Meridian Gate

Behind us, Tiananmen Gate; ahead of us, Meridian Gate


This area has almost a fair-like quality. People walk slowly, sit on benches, and children play. Once we pass through Meridian Gate, everything changes. That is the entrance to the official part of the Forbidden City- a place where one only could enter with an invitation. Those with requests of the emperor often waited from four or five o’clock in the morning with a letter of reference, many of them only to be turned away hours later. It was there the condemned criminals’ sentences were announced and there the results of the examinations for mandarin service were reported.

Looking up at Meridian Gate

Looking up at Meridian Gate

Back of Meridian Gate

Back of Meridian Gate

Inside we find the Hall of Supreme Harmony which was where the emperor used to greet dignitaries.
The emperor had many many concubines and a staff of hundreds of eunuchs. In fact, they were the only men aside from the emperor who were permitted to remain in the Forbidden City overnight.

The number 9 is very important in Chinese folklore. It is considered the luckiest number and is the Imperial number. The Forbidden City is rumored to have 999 buildings. Some say it has 999 rooms. I never counted, but there are an enormous number of buildings, all of them impressive. Here’s just one view of an area that was recently restored.

Inside the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

And here we are walking through another gate to yet another area. The enormity of this complex, built between 1406 to 1420 is breathtaking!

A gate in the Forbidden City

A gate in the Forbidden City

One of the more amazing things in the Forbidden City is this piece of carved stone. It is over 16 meters long and 3 meters wide and 1.7 meters thick. It weighs more than 200 tons! The stone dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was quarried in the western suburbs of Beijing. It was brought to the Forbidden City by sprinkling water on the way in order to make and iced road and pulled along the iced road. It was re-carved in 1761.

Large stone carving

Large stone carving

We have been walking through the official area of the Forbidden City- the place where the emperor carried out his official duties. There are, in this area, several museums including a museum of clocks. The Chinese imperial family loved western culture. Among their treasures are clocks made in Germany and France.

Below is the entrance to the private area where the emperor, the empress, the emperor’s concubines, his children, and the eunuchs lived.

Entrance to private family area of Forbidden City

Entrance to private family area of Forbidden City

Next time I will show you some of the private area of the Forbidden City, but, of course, to really experience it, you must visit it in person.

Comments

  1. I learned a lot from your blog.Thank you!

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