Forbidden City

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  • Other Names: 故宮 (gùgōng / kokyuu)
  • Chinese/Japanese: 紫禁城 (zǐjīnchéng / shikinjou)

The Forbidden City is a term often used to refer to the Chinese Imperial Palace, particularly that located in the city of Beijing. The Imperial Palace remains a prominent site at the center of the city today, and is home to the Imperial Palace Museum, among other historical sites and gardens.


Much of the palace was rebuilt during the reign of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402-1424) in the early Ming Dynasty, when the capital was returned to Beijing from Nanjing. Though known as the "Forbidden City" or simply "Imperial Palace" in English, in both Chinese and Japanese the palace is referred to as "purple forbidden castle," a reference to the "purple forbidden enclosure" (紫微垣, J: shibien, C: zǐ wēi yuán), the constellation surrounding the North Star and seen as the cosmic imperial residence.[1] During the Qing Dynasty, a complex of imperial yurts was erected alongside the palace, where emperors could engage in rituals and practices of Manchu rule.

Many portions of the palace surviving today date back to the Ming Dynasty, while other portions date only back to the Qing, or to 20th century repairs or restorations. The vast compound includes the Qianlong Gardens, constructed by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) and designed in part by the Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione. Extensive conservation work has been undertaken by the World Monuments Fund in this part of the palace since 2001. It includes the Juànqínzhāi, famous for its trompe l'oiel mural paintings and indoor theatre space.

The palace was last occupied by members of the Imperial family in 1924, after which it came more completely under the control of the State. The Palace Museum was opened within the palace a year later, on Oct 10, 1925.[2]


The Forbidden City complex covers a massive area, roughly a quarter of a square mile for the palace proper at the height of the Ming, and includes a great many buildings and gates. It sat within the Imperial City, a three-square-mile area closed to the general public and generally seen only by scholar-bureaucrats and others of the government and palace. This larger area included, among many other facilities, gardens and lakes, residences for the palace eunuchs, bakeries, confectioneries, banquet halls, stables, armories, printers, a book depository, temples, imperial residences, and supply depots, rendering the Imperial City, essentially, self-sufficient. The palace was staffed by as many as 20,000 eunuchs and 3,000 women.[3] As many as several hundred consorts and concubines of the emperor also lived within the palace walls.[4]

Surviving palace buildings today include some 9,000 halls, gates, and other distinct architectural elements, covering roughly 150,000 m2 within the larger 720,000 m2 palace compound.[5]

Forbidden Palace

The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿, Tàihédiàn) is the largest building within the complex, and the largest wooden palace building extant in China today, covering an area of 2,377 square meters.[6] It was here that a variety of official state rituals were enacted, including the offering by officials and others (including foreign embassies) of formal New Year's greetings to the emperor. The Hall is essentially an audience hall, consisting primarily of a three-story white marble dais upon which the Emperor could stand to survey the officials gathered before him. The Hall stands roughly 36 meters high, 35 meters deep, and 64 meters wide, and has been described as one of the largest and most magnificent palaces in the world.[7] The Hall of Supreme Harmony faces south across a plaza, accessed by the Gate of Supreme Harmony (太和門, Tàihémén) on its southern side. Beyond this is the wǔmén 午門, the main southern gate of the palace. To the east and west of the Gate of Supreme Harmony stand the Dōnghuámén (東華門) & Xīhuámén (西華門) gates respectively.

To the north of the Hall of Supreme Harmony stands another large palace building, the Hall of Preserving Harmony (保和殿, Bǎohédiàn), where large banquets were often held. Beyond this was a further enclosed area, accessed by the Qiánqīngmén (乾清門), and containing the emperor's private residential quarters. Just to the west of this, outside the gates of that enclosure, stood a building known as the Jūnjīchǔ (軍機処), which housed the highest administrative organs of the Qing state.

A hall near the northwestern corner of this section of the compound was known as the Zhónghuágōng (重華宮), and was the site of certain formal banquets.

The Shénwǔmén (神武門) was the main gate on the north side of the palace. This area, surrounded by high walls on all four sides, and in turn by a moat, was about 1000 meters from the Shénwǔmén in the north to the Wǔmén in the south, and about 760 meters from east to west.[1]

Palace Museum

The Palace Museum, established in 1925 after the Forbidden City became public/state property, is one of the largest and most major museums in the world. At the height of Qing imperial collecting, it's believed the imperial collections contained as many as 1.1 million objects.[5]

Roughly 1.5 million of the items housed at China's first national museum, the Antiques Exhibition Hall (est. 1913), are held at the Palace Museum today. Roughly 650,000 additional objects from imperial collections (and held for a time at the Exhibition Hall) were brought to Taiwan in 1948-1949 by the Republic of China government. While some eight million imperial court records and other documents from the palace archives were transferred to the First Historical Archives, some 380,000 were also moved to Taiwan.[8]


  • Gallery labels, "Kuninda - Ryûkyû to Chûgoku no kakehashi," special exhibit, Okinawa Prefectural Museum, Sept 2014.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Watanabe Miki, Hirakawa Nobuyuki 平川信幸, Yomigaeru Ryûkyû ôkoku no kagayaki 甦る琉球王国の輝き, Okinawa Prefectural Museum (2008), 10.
  2. Guo Changhong, "The Qing Palace: from a Forbidden City to a Public Heritage," Museum International 60:1-2 (2008), 79.
  3. Ray Huang, 1587: A Year of No Significance, Yale University Press (1981), 12-13.
  4. Huang, 28.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Guo Changhong, 82.
  6. Ryûkyû kokuô hyôbun sôhon ten 琉球国王表文奏本展, Okinawa Prefectural Archives (2000), 11.
  7. Maehira Fusaaki, Ryûkyû shisetsu no ikoku taiken 琉球使節の異国体験, Kokusai kôryû 国際交流 59 (1992), 64.
  8. Guo Changhong, 83.