UNESCO World Heritage Site Forbidden City, Beijing

World / Asia / China


Getting to know the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China, was the Chinese Imperial Palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Inscribed as a World Heritage Sites by Unesco, it is also listed as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Covering an area of 720,000 square metres, the Forbidden City comprises 800 buildings with a total of 8886 rooms. Today it houses the Palace Museum.

Layout of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City covers a 720,000 sq metre rectangular area measuring 961m from north to south, and 753m from east to west. Surrounding the Forbidden City is a larger, walled area called the Imperial City, and surrounding the Imperial City is the Inner City and to its south, the Outer City.

A 6m-deep, 52-metre wide moat encircle it, along with an 8-metre high wall. The walls are 8.62 metres at the base, and 6.66 metres at the top, and designed to withstand attacks by cannon. At the four corners where the walls meet are towers with intricate roofs. These are reproduction of the Pavilion of Prince Teng and the Yellow Crane Pavilion from Song Dynasty paintings.

There are four gates into the Forbidden City. The main one, on the southern end, is called the Meridian Gate. On the north is the Gate of Divine Might, facing Jingshan Park. On the east and west are the East Glorious Gate and West Glorious gate.

History of the Forbidden City

The foundation of the Forbidden City can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty. The area was already part of the Imperial City during the preceding Yuan (@ Mongol) Dynasty. When the Mongols were overcome by the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, he moved the capital from Beijing to Nanjing, and in 1369 ordered that the Mongol palaces be burnt down. He installed his son Zhu Di as the Prince of Yan, with his seat in Beijing. In 1402, Zhu Di usurped the throne, and became the Yongle Emperor (that's the emperor famous for sending Admiral Zhenghe all over Asia and beyond). He made Beijing his secondary capital, and in 1406, began construction of the Forbidden City.

Construction of the Forbidden City took 14 years, and employed an estimated 200,000 workers. When it was completed in 1420, Emperor Zhu Di moved in and transferred the capital from Nanjing back to Beijing. However, just nine months after their construction, three main halls including there throne room were burnt down, and these were only reconstructed 23 years later.

The Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming Dynasty from 1420 until 1644, when the Manchus overcome the Mings. Prince Regent Dorgon proclaimed the Qing Dynasty as the successor to the Ming Dynasty with a ceremony at the Forbidden City. Prince Regent Dorgon put a five-year-old on the throne, making him the ruler of all China. The Forbidden City was not impenetrable. In 1860, Anglo-French forces took control of it, and occupied it until the end of the Second Opium War. In 1900, the Empress Dowager had to flee the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion.

The Forbidden City was the seat of the Qing Dynasty until the very last emperor, Puyi, whose reign ended in 1912 with the formation of the new Republic of China government. After his abdication, Puyi and his family continued to occupy the Inner Court of the Forbidden City until 1925, when Feng Yuxiang took control of Beijing in a coup and expelled Puyi from his home. On October 10, 1925, sections of the Forbidden City was open to the public for the first time, as the Palace Museum, and the Chinese people had the chance to view some of the treasures stored within.

When Japanese forces advanced on China, the treasures of the Forbidden City were secreted out. They were transported first to Nanjing, and then to Shanghai, and when Shanghai was also threatened by Japanese invasion, the treasures were transported further west. To prevent them from being intercepted, they were split into three lots. One went north towards Shaanxi, another taken up the Yangtze River to Sichuan, and one more moved south to Guangxi. In a cat-and-mouse game, the treasures were often just a few hours ahead of the invading Japanese forces. In the end, the treasures all reached Sichuan, and there they stayed until the end of the war.

When the Japanese captured the Forbidden City, there was no valuable inside. They were only able to remove a few bronze tubs and a few cannons. Most of these were recovered after the war, in Tianjin.

When the war had ended, the treasures stored in Sichuan were moved to Nanjing and to Beijing. Miraculously, nothing was lost or damaged. But more turbulent times lay ahead.

In 1947, with the Kuomintang losing the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek ordered that the treasures of the Forbidden City and the National Museum in Nanjing be shipped to Taiwan, to prevent them from falling into Communist hands. In any case, only the treasures stored in Nanjing got to Taipei - where they form the core collection of the National Palace Museum of Taipei. Those in Beijing stayed where they were.

The People's Republic of China was proclaimed at Tiananmen Square, right in front of the Forbidden City. During the first few decades of Communist rule in China, the Forbidden City became a neglected relic - many proposals were put forward on how best to make use of this prime real estate, to turn it into a park, a transport hub, or even an amusement centre. It suffered much indignity under the Cultural Revolution, with the goals of Mao Zedong to bring to an end the Four Olds - Old Custom, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas. Fortunately, despite all that it went through, the Forbidden City was left to stand.

The far-sighted Premier Zhou Enlai prevented further destruction of the Forbidden City by sending troops to guard it. From 1966 to 1971, the gates into the Forbidden City were sealed. It was only in 2005 that a massive restoration project kicked off to repair and restore all the buildings in the Forbidden City.

Admission Fee:RMB40.00 (Nov 1 to Mar 31)
RMB 60 (Apr 1 to Oct 31)
Opening Hours:8:30am - 4:20pm (oct 16 to Apr 15)
8:30am - 5:00pm (Apr 16 to Oct 15)

Photos of the Forbidden City

Forbidden City - Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Harmony Square, as seen from the Gate of Supreme Harmony
Author: Allen Timothy Chang (GNU Free Documentation License)

Tiananmen Gate, with the portrait of Mao Zedong
Author: Raimond Spekking (GNU Free Documentation License)

Forbidden City, inside the Palace Hall
Author: Wikipedian (GNU Free Documentation License)

Bronze guardian lion at the Forbidden City
Author: Allen Timothy Chang (GNU Free Documentation License)

Shenwumen Gate, Forbidden City
Author: Kallgan (GNU Free Documentation License)

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