Places of Interest
One of the many small courtyards in the
The Hall of
The main building to the west of the
Inner Court is the Hall of Mental Cultivation.
It was built during the Ming Dynasty.
Emperor KangXi of the Qing Dynasty took
this hall as his study. Starting with Emperor YongZheng
(1723-1735), this hall served as the living quarters for
the emperors. Emperor YongZheng also took the central
hall here as his office, where he could deal with state
affairs. As a matter of fact, eight of the Qing Emperors
both lived and worked here. Emperors ShunZhi, QianLong
and TongZhi even died here.
The central hall was the office in
which the emperor met foreign diplomats, and summoned his
officials for consultation. It was also here that the
last emperor in Chinese history, Emperor PuYi, announced
Emperor YongZheng named the western
hall the Hall of Three Rare Treasures. This
referred to three outstanding calligraphy masterpieces by
Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, and Wang Xun, three pioneers in
Chinese calligraphy. Emperor YongZheng, a great
calligraphy lover himself, had a collection of the
outstanding works by the three Wang's, hence the name.
The emperor's seat is well arranged for
reading and writing, and the writing brushes and
inkstones are placed in proper order. Secret talks on
political and military affairs also took place here. The
screen partition in front was supposed to stop the
secrets from leaking out.
The eastern hall is of historical
significance. This was the site of the well known 'power
behind the throne' or 'behind the screen'. Most people
think that only Empress Dowager Ci'Xi gave audience
behind the screen, but in fact, this was first jointly
practiced by the Empress Dowager Ci'Xi and another
empress called Ci'An. However, the sudden death of
Empress Ci'An in 1881 left the power solely to the
Empress Dowager Ci'Xi. Empress Ci'An was believed to have
been poisoned by Ci'Xi.
Ci'Xi ruled over China for about 40
years from behind the yellow screen. She had to stay
behind the screen all the time because at that time in
China women weren't supposed to be in the Outer Palace or
to hold any public positions! If you have a close look at
the setting here, you will find that a lot of scenes were
shot here for the film 'The Last Emperor', the first
western film made in China.
This last emperor was PuYi just a child
when chosen by Ci'Xi as her next puppet. The next day the
imprisoned emperor was poisoned (probably) but that day
CiXi also died. Within four years came the Republican
revolution and PuYi was forced to abdicate.
The Six Western
These palaces are located north of the Hall
of Mental Cultivation, three palaces on each side of
an alley from north to south. They were the living
quarters for the empress and the concubines. The original
layout and decor has been preserved to offer visitors
some ideas about the way of life that the imperial family
led. The original 18th and 19th century furniture is on
display. Also on display are some fine paintings
illustrating the famous novel 'Dream of the Red Chamber'.
The Empress Dowager Ci'Xi lived in the Palace
of Eternal Spring (Chang Chun Gong) during the reign
of TongZhi. The last emperor's wife lived in the Palace
of Accumulated Elegance (Chu Xiu Gong) until 1924
when she and Emperor PuYi were expelled.
In the past, there was a well known
saying - that "3,000 beauties live in the Inner
Court". It actually referrd to those women
(concubines) living in the Six Western Palaces.
When the emperor fancied company at
night, he would write the name of his desired concubine
on paper and the on-duty eunuch would go to fetch her.
She would be stripped naked, to make sure she was without
weapons, then rolled in a rug, carried to the emperor's
chamber and deposited at the foot of the bed. A few of
the emperors were cruel and some of the concubines were
Apart from the emperor and his sons,
all other males in the Forbidden City were eunuchs,
castrated at start of service, before entry. The purpose
of this was to be sure that any children born belonged to
The Six Eastern Palaces stand on the
other side of the central north-south axis. Most of these
palaces were restored in the 17th century. They were also
the living quarters for the empresses and concubines.
Today, they have mostly been turned
into special exhibitions such as the Museum of Bronzes
and the Museum of Ceramics.
East of the Six Palaces lie the
store-houses for tea and some of the brocades. The Five
Northern Kitchens (BeiWuChu) to the north fed everyone
living in the eastern part of the inner court.
The Palace for
The Emperors were expected to fast the
night before they offered sacrifices to Heaven. As a
general rule, the emperors stayed here for the first two
days of their fast and then moved to an imperial
residence within the confines of the Temple of Heaven.
During the fast, the emperors abstained
from wine, onions, garlic, chives, praying, involvement
in petty affairs and making love. It must have been quite
a task for them!