The Private Area of the Forbidden City

The area behind the ceremonial part of the Forbidden City is where the emperor and his family and concubines and the eunuchs and servants lived. Unlike the official area where guests were greeted, ceremonies performed, examinations given, laws pronounced– where the terrain consisted of building after building with no greenery, the family area had greenery and at the very back, a lovely garden.

After passing the giant stone carving, to the north- in the direction we have been walking, there is a plaza and the entrance to the private area.

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This is simply a wall we walk by, but it stands out against all of the other walls we have seen in the Forbidden City which are “purple.” Now what the Chinese call purple, we might term terracotta, but the Chinese name for the Forbidden City is actually “the purple Forbidden City.”

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Even walking through the private area, it feels different– smaller in scale, quieter, calmer. It’s easy to understand why the emperor would want such a division between the official area and the private area.

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This is one of the bedchambers. It was probably used by one of the concubines. The emperor and the empress had their own buildings where they lived and the concubines lived in the equivalent of elegant dorms.

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This is the bridal chamber, the place where the emperor and empress would spend their first night together. Traditional Chinese beds are like elaborate boxes that have one side cut out. They have walls on three sides and a ceiling. It is possible to see it in both pictures above. In the bridal chamber, the bed is just to the left of the red column.

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Even in the picture, you can feel the release of tension as you see the softness of the flowers and trees in the imperial garden . The garden has a path running through it that is a kilometer long and it is made of mosaics that contain 720 pictures and patterns. Among the pictures are historical stories, people, and animals. The garden dates from 1417.

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This garden, like other formal Chinese gardens, contains the four essential garden elements: Buildings, water, greenery, and stones. Chinese people have always loved stones. They think of a garden as representing the world and the stones are the mountains. They also like to choose stones that have shapes reminiscent of animals. In this garden, they have taken stones from other places in China and piled them one on top of the other to form “the Hill of Accumulated Elegance.”

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A beautiful and fascinating place to visit– and I only have scratched the surface.

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