Some of the buildings in the forbidden
city with more minor original functions have been
internally converted to hold permanent, but sometimes
changing, exhibitions of artefacts of various types -
including clocks, ceramics, paintings and bronzes. But
first, a little background.
The emperors of China retained artists
and craftsmen to manufacture works of the highest quality
both to please their senses and add weight to their claim
of legitimacy. Under the Qing dynasty, imperial porcelain
makers from JingDeZhen introduced new glazes, shapes and
techniques. The imperial studios produced paintings with
traditional themes such as portraiture, landscapes, birds
and flowers, and religious subjects, as well as detailed
representations of political ceremonies, military
conquests, and imperial processions.
Unlike earlier dynasties, the Qing
court also employed Jesuit artists from Europe, whose
introduction of western painting techniques and
aesthetics stamped the academy as a whole with a unique
The Qing emperors retained their sacred
Manchurian traditions, performing shamanistic rituals
within the seclusion of the Forbidden City. In addition,
they became ardent supporters of tantric Buddhism,
imported from Tibet and Mongolia. Tibetan monks,
stationed at the Hall of Uprightness, were
employed as artists to produce religious objects for the
One example of their fine handiwork is
the gilded alms bowl laced with eight dragons and
Buddhist symbols. In contrast to its inherent symbolism,
the bowl is opulently lined with silk and threaded with
Another example is the gold figure of
Maitreya-the Buddha of the future who waits patiently in
heaven, bestowing his limitless compassion on human
beings until he is reborn on earth in 548 million years.
Composed of solid gold and encrusted with pearls, the
figure stands nearly twenty inches in height and weighs
more than forty-two pounds.
Throughout their long reign, the Manchu
leaders of the Qing dynasty strove to retain their own
culture while adopting that of their subjects as well.
This balance between cultural assimilation and
isolationism is evident in the decrees issued for
imperial apparel within the Forbidden City.
Reflecting the nomadic heritage of the
rulers, robes were close-fitting on top and slit on the
sides to allow comfort in the saddle. Sleeves were tight
around the arms to keep out the wind, and the
'horse-hoof' shaped cuffs flared out to protect the
hands. However, although the cut and style of the robes
depicted Manchu style, the color and symbolism of court
apparel followed the traditional Chinese pattern. Bright
yellow was reserved for the emperor, empress and empress
dowager. Likewise, the dragon, long a symbol of the
emperor in China, was a principal motif not only for
stately court robes but also for the emperor's
As Manchu women rejected the
traditional Chinese practice of footbinding, their feet
appeared large in the eyes of their Chinese subjects. To
make their feet look less inelegant, they adopted a style
of shoe with a high platform, which forced them to take
the small steps characteristic of Chinese women whose
feet had been bound.
Hall of Clocks and Watches
the Hall of Clocks and Watches.
From the courtyard between the Inner
and Outer Courts, turn to the east and you will see a
gallery behind the Palace of Earthly Tranquility
to the north-east. It is located in the east of the Inner
Court through the Gate of Respect Movement (Jing
The Hall for Ancestral Worship
(FengXianDian) was built in 1656 during the Qing dynasty.
It has a front hall and a rear hall, which are connected
by a lobby. Its main function was to offer sacrifices to
imperial ancestors. Grand sacrifice ceremonies would be
held in its front hall on important occasions. On the
days of their ancestors' birth, death and traditional
festivals, ceremonies would be held in the rear hall.
Shrines and statues in the hall were destroyed during the
The lobby has been expanded and now the
hall looks almost square inside. This hall is now open to
the public as the Clock and Watch Exhibition Hall.
This exhibition hall houses about 200
clocks and watches from the imperial collection. These
watches and clocks are mostly made in Switzerland,
England, France, the U.S and Japan, gifts presented to
the emperor by envoys. Some Chinese made timepieces are
also on display.
There are two clocks that deserve the
greatest attention. You can easily see them when you
enter the Hall. The one on the left is a Chime Clock, it
was made during the Qing Dynasty, around 1797, by the
royal clockmakers. This clock can still run up to 72
hours after it is well wound and it can also strike hours
and quarters. It is 5.85 metres high and stands on a 2.6
metre high square base.
Symmetrically standing on the right
hand side is a huge water clock made in 1799. The clock
is 6 metres high and is the largest water clock in China.
The clock is made up of four bronze pots, these bronze
pots, identical in size, are arranged vertically. The
water in the upper pot drops into the second one through
a small hole and, in turn, drops into the third and
finally into the bottom. There is a float in the bottom
pot with markers for the time that the water level
The Treasure Hall consists of three
imperial palaces : namely, Character Cultivation
Palace, Happiness Longevity Hall and Combined
Harmony Porch. The private apartments of Emperor
QianLong and Empress Dowager Ci'Xi were here.
The Character Cultivation Palace
must have reminded the old Emperor QianLong of the Hall
of Mental Cultivation where he had lived for a long
time. Happiness Longevity Hall used to be
Emperor QianLong's library, and the Empress Dowager Ci'Xi
also celebrated her 61th birthday here. The Combined
Harmony Porch was the repose of Emperor QianLong.
Now, these three palaces have been
turned into three exhibition halls where some of the
imperial treasures are displayed.
Many of the exhibits are tea sets or
dinner sets made of materials like gold, silver and jade.
The dinner sets were mostly made of
silver as it could indicate whether or not the food was
poisonous; the silver container would turn black when it
contained poisonous food.
Other exhibits are old chimes, imperial
seals, milk containers, Ruyi (a lucky sceptre), small
incense burners and other religious vessels and bowls.
The jade jar and mountain carries the good wishes of the
emperor. It comes from a Chinese couplet wishing the
Emperor happiness as boundless as the water in the East
Sea, and his life as long as the old pine tree on the
There are also many pavilions, pagodas
and towers made of gold or jade. These were gifts for the
emperor's concubines. Also noteworthy is the gold stupa
used to collect the fallen hair of Emperor QianLong's
mother. It weighs more than 100 kg and is made of gold.
The treasured ivory mat deserves
special attention. It is 216 cm long and 139cm wide and
made of delicate ivory strips. It is said that the mat
was woven about 250 years ago. Altogether, 5 mats were
produced and kept in the Museum at that time. Where are
these valuable treasures now? You may wonder. Well, in
1960, when the relics of the Palace Museum were
catalogued, only one was found, the other four had simply
disappeared. A few years later, the Shangdong Provincial
Museum in East China collected one from a local peasant.
The peasant said that the ivory mat was brought there by
a local pearl broker and in turn, he sent it to a nearby
noble at the beginning of the century. The peasent had
received the mat as part of the distribution during the
Land Reform of the 1950s.
So how did this treasure fall into the
hands of a pearl broker? Specialists believe that the mat
was stolen by the Anglo-French force that invaded China
in the 1900s, and later sold to the pearl broker. Another
possibility is that it was stolen and sold by a court
eunuch. Regardless of the reason, it is fortunate that
this Chinese artifact was recovered. Later, when the
Palace Museum was sorting out Taiwanese bamboo mats,
surprisingly, another ivory mat was found hidden among
them. This ivory mat was treated by a special process,
and even today, it can be easily rolled up. It is a pity
that the technique has been lost!
Not only can ivory be made into mats,
but feathers have also been woven into beautiful
garments. In 1983, two feather dresses of the Miao
Nationality were discovered in a peasant's home. Made
from the feathers of more than 100 birds, each coat has
three distinctive parts, each part able to serve as a
child's coat by itself. Though more than 300 years old,
the feather coat has remained bright and colorful. It is
said that it was left by a king's concubine of the Miao
Unlike feather coats, jade clothing was
made for the deceased. During the Han Dynasty about 2,000
years ago, it was fashionable to dress deceased emperors
or nobles with this attire. Three styles existed : using
gold, silver or copper thread to sew the jade slip
together. The emperor wore the garment sewn in gold,
kings and princesses wore ones sewn in silver, while
other officials and nobles had ones sewn in copper
thread. The jade slips somewhat resemble shining fish
Each was made of more than 2,000 jade
pieces. The gold threads used in the garment weigh about
1,800 grams. Most of the jade pieces are rectangular or
square in shape, some are also triangular or other
shaped. It is clear when examining the garment that each
jade piece has been polished and every hole carefully
drilled. At least ten different procedures were involved,
including material selection, drilling and polishing.
Specialists say that even with today's technology, it
would take a jade carver ten years to complete one of
The exhibits we have
discussed are only a small portion of the treasures of
the Forbidden City. And the items on display are only a
part of the total collection. So it is difficult to
imagine how many treasures there were originally in the
Forbidden City. When the KuoMingTang government of Chiang
Kai Shek fled the mainland for Taiwan, they packed almost
everything movable. Altogether, 2,972 cases of treasures
were shipped to Taiwan. Nonetheless, what you can see
today provides a good taste of the treasures of the
Hall of Paintings
: The Nine Dragon Screen