From the outside, the Forbidden City doesn’t look impressive, it looks like a fortress or a prison due to the high red coloured walls surrounding the palace. Actually, indeed the walls in the past were there to protect the Emperors from outside world, or in the case of Pu Yi, The Last Emperor, the walls isolated or imprisoned him in the Forbidden City (read also previous blog about Pu Yi).
Coming inside, it is like a completely different world, large halls, large courtyards, large gates, large space, too large to be a palace or a prison for an emperor. There are halls after halls connected with other halls through stairways, gates , bridges and courtyards. It is an impressive example of city planning that is carried out on a huge scale yet is balanced, harmonious, graceful, and beautiful.
Chinese people believe in an essential unity between the universe, humanity, and nature. The Forbidden City, was created according to these principles of benevolence, harmony, balance and stability. All of these principles represent the essence and core of Confucian thought.
The design and its layout followed the ideal cosmic order in Confucian ideology considering the Forbidden City as a ceremonial, ritual and living space. The lay-out considered that all activities within the city were conducted in the manner appropriate to the participants’ social and familial roles. All activities, such as imperial court ceremonies or rituals, would take place in dedicated palaces depending on the events.
The unforgettable colossal scene from the movie “The Last Emperor” by Bernardo Bertolucci, the coronation of the 3 year old Emperor Pu Yi, took place in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. After the imperial seal was imprinted on the proclamation, wearing a small yellow imperial dragon robe, Pu Yi went out of the hall and looked into the huge courtyard beyond. Thousands of government officials and palace servants are arranged in ranks in the courtyard and in the square beyond. To rhythmic chants and commands, they all kowtow to the new emperor in a series of prostrations.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, where the coronation of Pu Yi and other important ceremonies took place, is the highest and largest building in the whole city. Behind it is the Hall of Central Harmony, which is smaller and once served as the lounge for the emperor ready to hold the ceremony or be enthroned inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Behind this hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, it was used for formal functions too, and where students past various studies and examinations in the Qing Dynasty.
Keep walking forward from the Hall of Preserving Harmony and through the Gate of Heavenly Purity, and you will enter the inner court. The inner court was the family residence of the emperor and was not open to the officials or civilians of that time.
The three most important palaces are located in the inner court, named The Palace of Heavenly Purity, The Hall of Union and The Palace of Earthly Tranquility.
The Palace of Heavenly Purity was built as the emperor's principal residence, where emperors slept and worked. Beginning in the Emperor Yongzheng reign, this palace was no longer a residence. The nearby Hall of Mental Cultivation took over that function. However, it was still a venue for emperors to conduct routine government business and celebrated major festivals and rituals.
The Palace of Earthly Tranquility is the residence of the Empress, and she held ceremonies here on the major festivals and celebrations receiving tributes. Since the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the hall was used to keep twenty-five imperial seals, each of which was designed for a certain purpose. These seals are laid in boxes which were covered with yellow silk as what they were.
The Hall of Union symbolizes the the union of the heaven and the earth which bring peace forth.
The hall is square in shape with a pyramidal roof. Stored here are the 25 Imperial Seals of the Qing dynasty, as well as other ceremonial items, including the clocks that set the official time in the palace.