Beijing Day 4: Forbidden City

Ben had planned to bring me to the Forbidden City on a week day to avoid the crowds during weekend. We went there on a Monday. The Forbidden City name is commonly known to the Chinese as Gugong which means the old palace.

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This is one of my favourite walk in Beijing; it’s along the eastern perimeter of the Forbidden City and along the only section of the moat that is accessible to the public. The tree lined perimeter, guard towers and the moat makes the stroll a very pleasant one. And this is most definitely the approach to the Forbidden City that is not crowded and not known to many people.

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The Meridian Gate (Wumen), sometimes also called Five Phoenix Tower  is the front door of the Forbidden City. It is the largest and the most spectacular of the gate structures along the central axis. On top of the U-shape base are five separate pavilions representing the five cardinal Confucian virtues; humanity, refinement, justice, education and trust.

Wumen is where the emperor announced yearly planting schedules according to the lunar calendar. This is actually the main gate to the Forbidden Palace. Beyond the walls here is the Forbidden City proper.

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West of Wumen is where the main ticket office and audio-guide rentals are. Entrance fee is RMB40 per person (about CAD6.70). There is always a long line at the ticket office (the picture above is not of the ticket office but of the Audio Guide rental office). There are scalpers who will try to entice you to buy the tickets from them to avoid the long lines.

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We noticed that the rental of the audio-guide in foreign language is 4 times more expensive than those in Chinese. Did you notice that sign above? In Chinese, the rental is 10 RMB but in English it is 40 RMB!

Too bad we are not very good in Mandarin, otherwise we can save 30 RMB.

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The Forbidden City today is officially known as the Palace Museum (Gu Gong). It was listed as a World Heritage site in 1987. According to UNESCO, the Forbidden City represents the largest collection of preserved wooden structures in the world and also the largest palace complex in the world too.

The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts, the Outer Courtyard and the Inner Courtyard. The Outer Courtyard comprises of three large halls (the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony) used by the Ming and Qing emperors for public ceremonial purposes. The Inner Courtyard comprises of three large palaces (the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union and Peace and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility), used for the more private day-to-day affairs of state, as well as the residential quarters of the emperor, his family and servants.

The Forbidden City was built by the third Ming Emperor, Yongle who moved the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing about 600 years ago. Since then, the Forbidden City is the seat of the government of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties for 500 years. In effect, the Forbidden City is considered then as the center of China and the Chinese universe.

The photo above is one of the five marble bridges that cross the Golden Water River which runs from the northwest corner of the Forbidden City southward along the west side of the complex before crossing the width of the courtyard between the Wumen and the Gate of Supreme Harmony (in the background) and eventually arriving at the southeast corner of the complex. Actually, this small river serves a purpose of providing water to fight fires! You see, the palaces are all built of wood and over the years, the palace were struck by lightning and burnt down a few times. Continue reading