Forbidden City, Beijing
Forbidden City was the former palaces of Ming and Qing Dynasties. It became a museum in 1925.
The original palaces were constructed during the Ming period almost 600 years ago. It covers an area of 720,000 square meters and has almost 10,000 rooms. The Forbidden City is surrounded by 10-metre high walls and a 52-metre wide moat.
For centuries, this mysterious and secret city was a world unto itself for the emperors and their families. Today, while we walk through the gates of the Forbidden City, we might not realize a century ago, even Chinese couldn't get near the Imperial Palace walls.
The Forbidden City has two major areas – the Outer Courtyards with three great halls of state, and Inner Courtyards with imperial residences for the emperors and their royal gardens. There are also galleries displaying exquisite artworks of bronze, ceramic, jade, clocks, armor and weaponry, precious treasures and paintings.
The collections comprise nearly a million art treasures spanning five thousand years of Chinese history with a rich concentration of art and artifacts from the Ming and Qing imperial courts.
If you are a Chinese art and artifacts fans, please do explore the Forbidden City intensively. I am sure you’ll find your tour extremely fruitful.
It is very easy to get to the Forbidden City as it is in the centre of Beijing. Just walk to Tiananmen Square from Wangfujing along Changan Avenue. If you go by subway, get off at the Tiananmen East station.
Go through the Tiananmen Square, cross the moat, and enter through the south entrance at the Wu Men Gate (Meridian Gate). Here you can buy your entrance ticket and pick up an audio guide. You can also sort out a detailed map of the Forbidden City, although the complex is nicely laid out in a grid.
Exploring the Forbidden City
You are recommended to enter via the south gate via Tiananmen which is usually the main entrance of the Forbidden City. This will allow you to experience the carefully laid out complex to best effect; and you will be facing front side of each structure as you progress northwards.
You will also experience the Forbidden City just as any foreign envoy in the past would have done, humbled by each gate, hall and massive courtyard as he made his way to see the emperor.
The Great Halls of State
Here are the three major Halls at the Outer Courtyard where emperors exerted their supreme power over the people and held their imperial ceremonial events. Do not miss any of them.
Tai He Dian 太和殿 - Hall of Supreme Harmony
You’ll find an incredible gilded imperial throne here. Everything here carries dragon patterns, symbolic of the emperor in Chinese culture. Even the six gold supporting posts are carved with dragons.
Here the Ming and Qing emperors held grand ceremonies to mark accessions, weddings, declaring wars as well as announcing the successful candidates in the imperial examinations.
Zhong He Dian 中和殿 - Hall of Central Harmony
Before presiding over grand ceremonies in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the emperor first came to rest here and receive respects from his officials. On the occasions of offering spring sacrifices to the gods of agriculture, earth, land and grain as well as the imperial ancestral temple, the emperor also came here to examine the sacrificial writings.
Bao He Dian 保和殿 - Hall of Preserved Harmony
Here was the place where emperors gave banquets to princes, dukes and ministers of minor nationalities at Chinese New Year eve.
It was also the site for the palace examination where the emperor interviewed and conducted the final examination to finalists in the imperial examination.
Offices and Residence of the Emperors
Qian Qing Gong 乾清宮 - Palace of Celestial Purity
This was actually the office of the emperors where they dealt with their daily work. Emperors also held their daily assemblies with their senior officials here as well as granting audiences to foreign envoys.
At Qian Qing Gong, you must observe the horizontal inscribed board with wordings
正大光明 above the imperial throne.
Emperor Kangxi had 16 sons. They fought against each other aiming to become the crown prince. That made the aged emperor sad. Kangxi invented the system of writing the name of his selected successor on a testament and hided it behind the board of 正大光明.
The testament was taken down and opened as soon as the emperor died, and then the appointed crown prince ascended the throne. You would expect people to steal the testament and alter it. Hence this has been the subject of many Chinese novels about the succession of Qing Dynasty emperors.
Note: Chinese characters can be read from left to right or vise versa. You’ll find it written as 明光大正 in Qian Qing Gong. See picture.
What does 明光大正 mean? It means “doing the right things the righteous way”. This is obviously the motto of an emperor.
Yang Xin Dian 養心殿 - Hall of Mental Cultivation
Emperor Yongzheng of Qing Dynasty moved his offices and residence here. This was also his study room.
Ruling Behind the Curtain - The east room of Yang Xin Dian was the place where Empress Dowager Cixi took charge of the state affairs behind the curtain when the emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu were in their childhood. She ruled China over half a century in late Qing Dynasty.
This is also another hot subject in Chinese movies and novels of how Empress Dowager Cixi seized her power and ruled behind the curtain. Take a look at Cixi’s bio.
Kun Ning Gong 坤寧宮 - Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility
The palace here was the empresses' chamber in the Ming dynasty. The two east side-rooms were the emperor's bridal chamber. Qing emperors Kangxi, Tongzhi and Guangxu were all married here.
Chu Xiu Gong 儲秀宮 – Palace of Imperial Concubines
Chu Xiu Gong was the residence of the empresses and the other imperial consorts. It is believed that Chinese emperors had as many as 3,000 concubines.
Empress Cixi once lived here when she was just selected as an honorable person – the basic level of an imperial concubine. She gave birth to emperor Tongzhi here in 1856. She was then promoted to senior concubine.
Jun Ji Chu 軍機處 – Military Department
The military department used to be one of the most secret and confidential places in the Forbidden City, absolutely not open to unauthorized persons. Emperors and their grand councilors of state and confidential secretaries met here to discuss and decide on matters regarding military and national securities.
The Forbidden City is also an incredible art museum. It has seven themed galleries filled with exquisite treasures. The Clock Gallery and Treasure Gallery even require an additional admission fee of ¥10.
Clock Gallery – check out the unusual clocks here. Most of them were produced in England. They were not only useful timepieces, but also exquisite artistic collections.
Treasure Gallery – look for goodies such as the gold seal of an empress, pearl necklaces, dagger with a jade horse, golden cups and saucers inlaid with pearls, weapons used by emperors, armor and swords. All these reflected the luxurious life of the imperial family.
Jade Gallery – check out the extraordinary white jade pendants and combs, jade horse and camel figures. All kinds of jade objects here demonstrated distinct Chinese jade craftsmanship and design.
Bronze Gallery – examine the ancient bronze tripods with fabulous stylized animal designs; wine vessel with animal-shaped handle; dragon-design dagger-axe and so on. Here you’ll walk through the 5,000 years Chinese history of bronze vessels.
Pottery Gallery – find out why China is called China. Obviously we are good at making china wares. Check out our extraordinary achievements on porcelain-making here.
Painting Gallery - check out the fine paintings and calligraphy masterpieces here. The collections are excellent works from masters of Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Enamel Gallery – the metal-roughcast enamel craft is relatively young in the history of Chinese arts and crafts. Here you’ll see how Chinese merge foreign cultures into its national tradition.
While impressed by the grandeur of the Forbidden City and its galleries, please do pay attention to details of the goodies around.
Watchtowers - At the Golden Water River, you might want to check out one of the four watchtowers guarding the Forbidden City.
Dragon pavement – At the back of the Hall of Preserved Harmony (Bao He Dian), don't miss the amazing dragon walkway. You can't walk on it, but this marble walkway is the largest stone carving in the Forbidden City.
Statues and sculptures - The Forbidden City has all kinds of statues and sculptures of animals which are fascinating. On the yellow glazed roof tiles, look for guardian figures that protect the Forbidden City and function as rain gutters – dragons, phoenixes, lions, flying horses, and figures of the Immortals. Don’t forget your binoculars.
Look for the bronze statue of a crane (symbol of good luck) near the Tai He Dian Hall, bronze tortoise (symbol of long life) and the exquisite Nine Dragon Wall. Huge bronze cauldrons served as fire extinguishers, are decorated with lion handles.
Lion statues - In front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony, take a close look at the emperor and empress lion statues. The empress lion statue is nudging a little lion cub under her paw. The emperor lion statue has a ball (symbol of imperial power) firmly squished under his paw.
Opening Hours and Admission
October 16 - April 15th: 08:30 - 16:30 (Last entry at 15:30)
(including the Clock Gallery and Treasure Gallery)
April 16 - October 15: 08:30 – 17:00 (Last entry at 16:00)
(including the Clock Gallery and Treasure Gallery)
From November 1 through March 31, admission is ¥40
From April 1 through October 31, admission is ¥60
1. Treasure Gallery and Clock Gallery require a separate ticket of ¥10 respectively.
2. Children under 120 cm in height are free of charge.
China travel tip: Forbidden City, Beijing
This is a walking tour. You would need to walk for at least three hours for a brief tour in the Forbidden City. It will take you one whole day for an intensive tour. Therefore please wear a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
There is no restaurant inside the Forbidden City, however snacks and drinks are available. Please bring lots of water and some food if you plan to spend a day here.
Go early in the day to avoid crowds. Don’t start late in the day, or you won’t have enough time to check out things worth seeing. Be prepared for crowds in certain areas.
From Forbidden City to Tiananmen Square