Posted by: rbbadger | June 9, 2009

The Forbidden City

This magnificent palace, once home to China’s Ming and Qing Emperors, no doubt has a fascinating history.  I do love the traditional architecture of Korea, especially its palace architecture.  Sadly, the Korean palaces are not what they once were, as large sections of them were destroyed.  Some, like Deoksu Palace, are but a mere shell of what they once were.  China, Japan, and Korea have very distinct architectural styles.  As a reminder, here is the main hall of Gyeongbok Palace.  Look carefully at the design of the roof.  Chinese roofs differ from Korean ones.  And even in China itself, there are a multitude of different regional architectural styles.  The Forbidden City is a representative of northern Chinese architecture.  There are more straight lines, something which traditional Korean architecture does not embrace.  Everything is very carefully proportioned, too.


In looking at the wonderful, natural curves of Gyeongbok Palace and comparing them to the forbidden city, you can’t help but be struck by how much straighter it is and how many less curves the Forbidden City has.  After passing through the Gate of Heavenly Peace (the one with Chairman Mao’s picture), you pass through a couple of magnificent gates.  The painting on all of these is exquisite.


Other than a slight raising at the corners of the eaves, everything tends to follow a pretty straight line.  Indeed, the Forbidden City is exquisitely laid out with everything in proportion and everything centred around the central axis of the main throne hall.  Speaking of the main throne hall, here it is.  Note the colour of the tile on the roof.  Yellow was the colour associated with China’s emperors.  So unlike Korean palaces, which tend to have blue tile, the Forbidden City is tiled in yellow.


The painting on all of the buildings is amazing.  Here is a shot of the main doors of the main hall.


Unfortunately, I was not able to get a good shot of the interior.  However, behind the main hall, there are a number of other halls, all with a throne in them.  This photo came out pretty well and should give you an idea of the magnificence of many of the buildings.


Here is a Chinese lion.  These were symbols of imperial authority and are very unique looking creatures.  This is situated near the main hall.


Unlike the Ming Dynasty, the emperors of China’s last dynasty, the Qing were not of the main Han Chinese ethnic group.  They were of the Manchu ethnic group.  So it is perhaps not surprising that you can find bilingual signage on some of the buildings.  Unlike Chinese, the Manchu language has its own alphabet written vertically rather than horizontally.  However, the Qing dynasty did make positive contributions to the Chinese language, such as the standardization of the radicals (building blocks of Chinese characters) and the Kangxi dictionary published with the support of the Emperor Kangxi.  The Manchu language is now dying out, given that most of them are heavily influenced by the Chinese now.  Interestingly enough, more and more people of Manchu heritage are now proclaiming themselves to be Manchu, as the Chinese government will allow ethnic minority couples to have more than one child.


The dragon is a very favourite symbol of royal or imperial authority in East Asia.  Rather than being a creature to be feared, as in European literature, the Chinese dragon is a benevolent creature.  Here is a carving a river of dragons behind one of the halls.


After passing through the three gates at the entrance, you come upon a moat.  According to the theories of feng shui, which still dominate architecture in Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere in the Chinese world, one should pass over a bridge.  Ideally, there should be a mountain range directly behind the structures, but Beijing is very, very flat.  Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul is ideal in this respect, though the bridges and moat have long since disappeared. 




  1. Thanks for the email. I was looking forward to these pictures. 🙂 That is so, so pretty!

  2. […] See the original post here: The Forbidden City […]

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