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The Forbidden City or Forbidden Palace

Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, used to be the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). It is called the Palace Museum now. It lies 1 kilometer north of the Tian'anmen Square, with its south gate, the Gate of Devine Might (Shenwumen), facing the Jingshan Park.

Forbidden City is rectangular in shape, 960 meters long from north to south and 750 meters wide from east to west. There are gates on each sidewall. It covers an area of 72 hectares and the total floor space is about 150,000 square meters. Forbidden City is enclosed by a moat of 52 meters wide and a city wall ten meters high. At each corner of the wall there is a magnificent watchtower. It is said that there are total 9,999 and a half buildings.

Ancient Chinese people displayed their very considerable skills in building the Forbidden City. Take the grand red city wall for example. It has an 8.6 meters wide base reducing to 6.66 meters wide at the top. The angular shape of the wall totally frustrates attempts to climb it. The bricks were made from white lime and glutinous rice while the cement is made from glutinous rice and egg whites. These incredible materials make the wall extraordinarily strong. Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the Forbidden City. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process. However, there is one exception. Wenyuange, the royal library, has a black roof. The reason is that it was believed black represented water and could extinguish fire.

The Forbidden City or Forbidden Palace (Chinese: 紫禁城; Pinyin: zǐ jìn chéng; literally "Purple Forbidden City"), located at the exact center of the ancient City of Beijing, was the imperial palace during the mid-Ming and the Qing dynasties. Known now as the Palace Museum (Chinese: 故宫博物院; Pinyin: Gùgōng Bówùyùan), its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square meters, 800 buildings and 9,999 rooms. (It should not be confused with the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.) As such, it is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the World, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987. The Imperial Palace grounds are located directly to the north of Tiananmen Square and are accessible from the square via Tiananmen Gate. It is surrounded by a large area called the Imperial City.

Although no longer occupied by royalty, the Forbidden City remains a symbol of Chinese sovereignty and the image of its entrance gate appears on the seal of the People's Republic of China. The Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Recently, the site has been under much renovation which has limited visitors to the main courtyards and a few gardens.


The construction of the palace complex started in 1407, the 5th year of the Yongle reign of the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and was completed 14 years later in 1420. It was said that a million workers including 100,000 artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor. Stones needed were quarried from Fangshan, suburb of Beijing. It was said a well was dug along the road every 50 meters in order to pour water onto the road in winter to slide huge stones on ice into the city. Huge amount of timbers and other materials were all freighted from faraway provinces. Ancient Chinese people fully displayed their wisdom in building the Forbidden City. From its completion in 1422 to 1644, when a peasant revolt invaded it, the Forbidden City served as the seat of the Ming Dynasty. The following Qing Dynasty also occupied the Forbidden City. After being the home of 24 emperors - fourteen of the Ming dynasty and ten of the Qing - the Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China in 1912 with the abdication of Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China. He was, however, allowed and in fact required to live within the walls of the Forbidden City, until a coup launched by a local warlord in 1924. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. In 1947, after they had been moved from one location to another inside mainland China for many years (most recently to hide from the Japanese in the war), Chiang Kai-shek ordered many of the artifacts within the Forbidden City to be moved to Taiwan where they formed the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This action has been extremely controversial, with some regarding it as looting while others regarding it as safekeeping, especially with the events of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland.


Generally, it was divided into two parts, the northern half, or the Outer Court where emperors executed their supreme power over the nation and the southern half, or the Inner Court where they lived with their royal family.

Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 720,000 square meters. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are five halls, seventeen palaces, and numerous other buildings, the Forbidden Palace is reputed to have a total of 9,999.5 rooms. (The half-room, apparently, houses nothing more than a staircase. As the Forbidden City was on Earth, it was impossible to have 10,000 rooms, which would conflict with the number of rooms in the version found in Heaven, the number 10,000 also symbolizing infinity.) The wall has a gate on each side. At the southern end is the Meridian Gate (technically, Tiananmen Gate is not part of the Forbidden City), to the north is the Gate of Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. The walls are thick and squat and were specifically designed to withstand attacks by cannons.

There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside. The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court, consists of five halls used for ceremonial purposes. These include the magnificant Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿), itself fronted by the Gate of Supreme Harmony (太和門). The northern section, or the Inner Court, was where the Emperor worked and lived with his family, eunuchs and maid-servants.

At the northern end of the Forbidden City lies a kind of park within the Forbidden City itself. It is home to some relatively old trees - most are between 100 to 300 years old, with some older than 300 years. Hills are also seen. It is all rather small, or shrunk in dimension. Not to fear for the park fan: just north of the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park, which makes the park in the Forbidden City look tiny.

Since the 1949 revolution, Tiananmen Gate in front of the Forbidden City has had a picture of Mao Zedong and two placards. The left one reads 中华人民共和国万岁 (zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó wànsuì; "Long Live the People's Republic of China"), while the right placard reads 世界人民大团结万岁 (shìjiè rénmín dà tuánjié wànsuì; "Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples"). The phrasing has great symbolic meaning, as the phrase used for long live, like the palace itself, was traditionally reserved for Emperors of China, but is now available to the common people. 

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