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Olivia Adamson April 13 - Olivia's Blog

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, or Beijing's Imperial Winter Palace, is the palace complex, aimed at demonstrating the exceptional nature of the imperial power and might of numerous Chinese dynasties. The magnificent structure was constructed in the early 15th century AD. For more than 500 years, it has served as the ritual and political heart of China. Chinese emperors from the Ming (1368–1644) to the Qing Dynasties (1644–1911) lived here with their families and servants. In 1925, the palace complex was transformed to Museum. For now, it is one of the most visited museums in China. In 1987, the Museum became the first UNESCO heritage object in China. Although it is no longer the Emperor’s residence, this is still one of the most impressive architectural complexes in the world. Moreover, its original construction according to the principles of Chinese philosophy feng shui raises the question of the meaning of symbolism in architecture. The Forbidden City represents an alternative framework for complexity in design and realizes the philosophy of the unity of man with nature.

History of the Palace

The construction of the palace complex started in 1406 AD and it was caused by political reasons. The founder of the Ming dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang and his sons lost their throne when his younger son Zhu Di had succeeded in his coup d’état attempt. The new owner of the throne started to rule with the self-invented title Yongle Emperor, which meant Happiness. He started the construction of the palace to demonstrate his power and wealth. As a result, this palace complex represents the city itself in the city of Beijing. Now, the complex is located east to the modern residence of the country’s leaders and north to the famous main Tiananmen square. The Forbidden City covers over 180 acres of land and consists of 980 buildings.

Architectural Traditions in China

From the architectural point of view, the palace complex is the greatest achievement of Chinese traditional architecture. The Yongle Emperor and other rules of China, who had ordered to develop the complex, considered it not only as a place for living but also as a ceremonial and ritual facility. However, the palace was created according to Confucian ideology and the norms of Chinese cosmology, where the monarch was considered the Celestial Emperor, entitled with the right to maintain balance between the human and natural world. The palace’s architecture also reflects the hierarchy of the Chinese court. In the 11th century, all requirements to the ritual and ceremonial standards were collected in one manual Treatise on Architectural Methods or State Building Standards (Yingzao fashi). This manual includes the specific design requirement for every building of different rank in Chinese social structure. The buildings of the palace complex follow this manual in general and in details.

Feng Shui in Chinese architecture

The above-mentioned 12th-century manual is not the only guide for the Forbidden City’s architecture. Speaking about the architectural principles of this great palace, one should mention the Chinese philosophy of feng shui. Thus, several important principles can found in the planning and decoration of the palace. The first one is the strict geographical orientation. There is the central axis from north to south, and the entire palace complex is built along it. For example, the main buildings were leveled on a straight line from south to north as the northern side was considered as the negative direction. Almost all structures in the Forbidden City are turned to the sacred south in order to gain protection against the north. Moreover, feng shui recognizes the five primary elements of nature such as water, land, fire, wind, and metal. The harmony of these elements can also be tracked in the architecture of the palace. Furthermore, colors have their proper meanings in feng shui as well. Thus, yellow, the color of gold, was regarded as the most sacred color and the symbol of power. Consequently, the most important buildings in the palace complex are yellow. For example, the roofs of the Forbidden City are covered with the glazed tiles of yellow color. Red is also an important color, it symbolizes power and wealth, and it is the color of fire. Therefore, the gates, doors, windows, and columns are mostly red. At the same time, green and black are the colors of official power, which is also ab important symbol in the Forbidden City. Finally, feng shui pays a great attention to the numbers. For example, nine is the number of the Emperor because it is the greatest of the single numbers. This number is presented in the palace’s architecture since the most important structures in the Forbidden City have nine figurines on their roof ridges. Another respected number is five, but four and eight are unlucky. Therefore, some unusual architecture forms in the Emperor’s palace and decisions are predefined with feng shui.

General View of the Complex

The palace consists of two parts: inner and outer, or foreign and domestic. In Chinese traditions, the division of the house or the group of houses in rich mansions into internal and external parts corresponds to the division into the public and domestic parts. The northern part is the domestic one, while the southern one is the outer court. In the Emperor palace, the outer court belonged to the sphere of the state affairs. Women had no access to this part of the palace. Formal receptions, state ceremonies, and religious rituals were conducted in this part. The Southern Gate, also known as the Meridian Gate (Wumen), were the main entrance to the palace.

Walls and Gates

The city is surrounded with a tall brick wall that serves not only as the barrier but also shapes the city. The walls form the lines, and all buildings inside are placed along this axis. Each corner of the walls has a sit tower. The palace complex has four gates that rise high above the ground and give the impression of being far below the zone of privilege. The Southern Gate (Wumen or Umen) is the largest one. It looks like a small fortress with two side towers. The primary color is red, and the gate has golden tiles on the roof and five arches, according to feng shui. The central arch was reserved for the Emperor only. When writing about the architecture of the Forbidden City, Barmé called it the Palace of Blood and Tears. This name is linked to the numerous myths and legends that are related to the City. For example, according to some of them, the Southern Gate was used for the execution of top officials. In reality, only one minister was executed here.
The palace’s Northern Gate can be viewed as a separate work of architectural art. This gate were renamed several times, and now, it is are known as the Gate of Divine Might. The northern gate in Chinese tradition is usually called the gate of the black turtle or the black warrior. In feng shui, the northern side is considered negative. There are two reasons for this. First, in the Northern hemisphere, the southern side is always associated with warmth. Second, China usually had the military conflicts with its northern neighbors, the Great Chinese Wall was a great evidence to this. Thus, the Northern gate had to protect the residents of the palace from the evil. This gate is built along the central axis, which places it on the same line with the
Meridian Gate.

Symmetry as the Main Principle of Harmony
Chinese traditions and feng shui consider the symmetry as the base of harmony. Therefore, symmetry rules in the Forbidden City as well. The building and other elements are placed in such a way that they remain symmetrical from any point of view. All buildings are placed along the axes, and the main entrances are on the south. The pavilions visually can be divided into several layers, with their pyramidal roofs and terraces. Thus, the horizontal visual symmetry is shaped with basements, terraces, and roofs; the vertical symmetry is visualized with walls and columns. The space between the buildings is also formed with the strict lines. Consequently, the internal and external symmetry and harmony create the visualization of a strict order. In such a way, harmony, the main principle of the feng shui, is realized at the architectural level.

Unity Between a Man and Nature

After entering the palace through the Southern Gate, the visitor sees the channel with five white marble bridges. Chen and Wu assert that the Chinese philosophy of the unity between a man and nature is brilliantly reflected in the architecture of the Forbidden City. The small stream inside the city is forwarded to the beautifully decorated channel and the white marble bridges add to the compositions of the palace. In fact, no other royal building in the world is placed in the living nature, thus uniting the natural elements of landscape with buildings while maintaining strict symmetry.

Outer and Inner Yard

In the center of the Outer yard, one can see three pavilions, intended for court and public ceremonies. Each of the pavilions serves its purpose - one is for the Emperor, another is for the New Year banquets, and the third one is for peers. The main material is the carved and painted wood. All pavilions are decorated with different symbols of power and prosperity such as dragons, copper cranes, and vessels. These pavilions are of different sizes but of the same shape and colors. In such a way, the numerous architects of the complex created the feeling of unity for all its parts.
The architecture of the Inner yard follows the same principles. There is also an inner wall between two parts of the City that divides it into almost equal parts. The buildings inside the inner city are not intended for official events, but they also decorated according to the principles of feng shui. The palaces inside the City were reconstructed at different times; however, every reconstruction also followed the traditions and feng shui. Thus, the row of connected central palaces is counterweighted with a large open central square. The square is intended for military parades and other ceremonial events. During the 500 years of the City’s existence, several emperors and empresses were buried there and the tombs inside the complex contributed to its harmony and beauty. All open pavilions are used for the exhibition of Chinese ceramics, traditional costumes, and other things and documents, related to the history of China.

Conclusion

The Forbidden City is the palace complex in the center of Beijing. The complex follows the traditions of Chinese architecture that is closely connected to the philosophy of feng shui. One of the main principles of feng shui is harmony, so all building of the complex represent a harmonic combination of buildings, open spaces, bridges, gates, and other natural and human-made elements of the landscape. The Forbidden City’s balanced composition of different size and shapes of buildings, gates, passages, and tiered roofs with curved edges makes it the diamond in the crown of Chinese architectural masterpieces. Due to its size, historical importance, and unique beauty, the palace complex is rightfully considered the masterpiece of Chinese architecture.

The article was written by professional writer - Olivia Adamson, more her papers you can find following freshessay.net writing service.

  • The Forbidden City
                                    
                                    The Forbidden City, or Beijing's Imperia... via Olivia Adamson

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