Mystery of the Design and Figures of Beijing Forbidden City

Post Date: Feb 01st, 2013

alt Forbidden City serves as the home of 24 emperors of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) over 5 centuries.

Construction on the Forbidden City began in 1406 when Zhu Di, son of the Hongwu Emperor, became the Yongle Emperor and moved the capital of China to Beijing.

The Forbidden City is actually a palace and grounds located in the heart of Beijing. It is the world’s largest palace with the most magnificent buildings, best preserved ancient places group. Among the buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most magnificent building, in which the emperor holds the ceremony of ascending the throng, wedding, and investiture and so on.

Accordance with the ancient Chinese astrology doctrine, the name of Forbidden City was taken from the Polaris of the Ursa Minor (In China, Polaris is called Ziwei Star). Polaris is located in the center of the stars and surrounded by stars, so the residence of emperor’s on the earth. Hence the name “Zijin Cheng” after “Ziwei Star (Polaris)”.

In support of this argument, the Forbidden City features Seven Pink Gold Rooftops (four on the rooftop of Five-Phoenix Towers, one on the rooftop of Hall of Central Harmony, one on the rooftop of Hall of Union and Peace, and one on the rooftop of the Hall of Imperial Peace). Meanwhile, the palace is the residence of immortals on the earth, so the outsiders are forbad entering, later known as the Forbidden City.

altThe feudal emperor claimed to be the son of the Emperor of Heaven, the real dragon chosen by the Emperor of Heaven; so the myth of their own could help them to maintain their empire better. At the same time, the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, for the maintenance of their own authority and dignity, and consider their own safety, build Forbidden City grandeur with astonishing fortified barriers. This city, not only has numerous palaces, crowded pavilions, but also enclosed by a 10-meter-high red walls and a 52-meter-wide moat, and outpost buildings heavily guarded. In ancient China, civilians are not allowed to get close to this city, even look at it.

1. Why 999.5 rooms in Forbidden City?

altLegend Says, when the Yongle Emperor Zhu Di intended to built a palace showing the royal authority and dignity of emperor, Liu Bowen ( 1311.7.1-1375.4.16, outstanding strategist, statesman, astronomer and a man of letters of Ming Dynasty, who accompany the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang build the Ming Dynasty, and try to maintain the stability of the country.) came and said: " Last night, I had a dream, dream of the Jade Emperor who says: your emperor is going to build a palace, you tell him! His palace shall not exceed my 1000 rooms’ palaces. Besides, he needs 36 Buddha's guardian warriors and 72 dì shà (stars in charge of murder) to protect his palace. "

It’s so weird that the emperor Zhu Di had the same dream, so he ordered Liu Bowen to build a palace less than 1000 rooms protected by 36 Buddha's guardian warriors and 72 dì shà.

After some days, Liu Bowen reported to emperor he have done the task. When the emperor saw the palace, he was astonished by this glittering city guarding by immortals and rewarded Liu Bowen with a lot of jewelry.

altLater, it was learned that that Forbidden City has 999.5 rooms, the 36 Buddha's guardian warriors are the 36 copper vats and the 72 dì shà are the 72 trenches.
Some Explanation:
When Zhu Di planning the Forbidden City, the genius military counselor Liu Bowen has already died for years. So, why people connect them together?
Firstly, Liu Bowen is proficient in astronomy and geography.
Secondly, Liu Bowen is the designer of the Nanjing City, the first capital of Ming Dynasty.
Thirdly, Liu Bowen did have Beijing City Plan, so Zhu Di took it out for reference.

2, Why no trees planted in the courtyards of Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony and Hall of Perfect Harmony?

altForbidden City consists of two parts, the Outer Court and Inner Court. The Outer Court, which consists of the palaces on the axis from Tiananmen Tower-Meridian Gate-Hall of Supreme Harmony-Hall of Central Harmony to Hall of Preserving Harmony and the other palaces on each side, is the palace where emperor holds the ceremony of ascending the throng, wedding, and investiture and so on. The Inner Court, which consists of the palaces on the axis from the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union and Peace, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, Imperial Garden and other palaces on each side, is the residence of emperor and his queen and concubines.

Why no trees planted in the courtyards of three palaces? Somebody said it would be a threat to the safety of the emperor if the assassin hides in the trees. It sounds right, but, why tall and dense trees in the Imperial Garden?

Some people said that no tree planted in the courtyards is to heighten the meaning of “Palaces of Heaven”.

These three palaces are the places emperor holds the big events, the very center of Forbidden City and the whole Beijing. For highlight the majestic momentum of this place, one of the practical ways is not planting trees from the Tiananmen Square, the End Door, and the Meridian Gate to the Gate of Supreme Harmony (The trees near the End Door were planted after the Revolution of 1911).

Just imagine, after a long walk with invisible, growing mental pressure from the Tiananmen Tower to the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the ministers saw the wide square, towering three majestic palaces, the mental pressure would reach its peak, and that’s the emperor’s purpose.

This explanation seems reliable than the first one. However, does it have any other explanations? While touring, I wish you can have your own explanation.

3, who designed the Forbidden City?

altWho designed such a magnificent building, a huge project? It was indeed a historical mystery. Most people consider Kuai Xiang, an outstanding craftsman of Ming dynasty, designed it. However, in recent years, it is said that Kuai Xiang is only in charge of the site operation, and the real designer is Cai Xin.

When Kuai Xiang came to Beijing from Nanjing with Emperor Zhu Di, the Forbidden City has already begun large-scale construction in the charge of Cai xin.

The construction time of Forbidden City (1406-1420)
Engineering Materials Scheduling: Chen Gui
The project commander: Wu zhong
Chief architect: Cai Xin
The chief architect of stone design and processing projects: Lu Xiang
Bricklaying project chief architect: Yang Qing
The chief architect of woodworking project: Kuai Xiang (his father used to design Nanjing Forbidden City).

4, The Mystery Numbers 6:11, 9:5 in Forbidden City

altThe courtyard, which consists of the Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, is 218 meters long from south to north, 118 meters wide from east to west. The ratio is 6:11. The courtyard of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Preserving Harmony and the Hall of Central Harmony is 437 meters long from south to north, 234 meters wide from east to west. The ratio is 6:11.

The ancient Chinese emperors have the concept of “化家为国-governing the country is similar to managing a big family”, so they model the proportion of the inner court and build the outer court.. 

The Hall of Paying Tribute to Heaven of Ming Dynasty has 9 rooms between 10 pillars in width, and 5 rooms between 6 pillars in depth. The ratio is 9:5. The earth-shaped pedestal of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Perfect Harmony is 232 meters long and 130 meters wide. The ratio is 9:5. The Tiananmen Tower has the similar condition. In ancient China, odd number is called Yang, even number is called Yin. Nine is the biggest Yang Number, and five is in the middle. So, Nine and Five are used to symbolize the authority of emperor, who was entitled as “九(Nine)五(Five)之尊(Throne)”.

All of the rooms of emperor’s on the axis of Forbidden City are 9 rooms wide and 5 rooms deep. Besides, the furniture in these rooms contain Number 9 and 5, such as Nine Dragon Screen, Nine Dragon Chair, Eighty one nails on one door, roof has five ridges, Nine mythical animals on one roof ridge, the Nine Dragon Screen consists of 270 blocks, and the Forbidden City has 999.5 rooms etc,.

The doornails on every door of the Palaces should have 9 lines, and each line has 9 nails. The pronunciation of “Nine” in China is very similar with the Word “Permanence”, symbolizing the emperor’s dynasty lasts forever.

5. Mystery of Mythical Animals on the Roof

altIn addition, there is an unexplainable "accident". The mythical animals on the roof of Hall of Supreme Harmony are: Dragon(Symbol of the authority of imperial power)、Phoenix(The king of Bird--High and incomparable virtue)、Lion(Brave, avoid evil spirits)、Tianma(Mythical beast in Legends of Mountains and Seas)、Haima(one son of dragon)、Suanni(son of dragon, in charge of rain and prevent disaster), Yayu (son of dragon, in charge of rain and prevent disaster), Xiezhi (unicorn, it can distinguish good and evil), Douniu(son of dragon),Xingshen(a monkey with wings, has vajra in hands, it can defeat evil spirits)Then, a statue of a immortal riding a phoenix (Symbolizing turning bad luck into good fortune. Legend says when the emperor of Chi State lost a battle and ready to escape to his country, he was blocked by a river on his way. At that time, a phoenix came and helped him to the other side of the river.)

The only one time that these ten animals appeared together is on the roof of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. As the quantities and the order of these mythical animals, there is a strict rule in ancient China. Other ancient buildings can only use nine animals and only the Hall of Supreme Harmony has ten, which shows incomparable supreme position.

There are many other mystey hides by the history. However, some also could trace by the remains. You can find more with your own eyes. Here we select one typical Beijing Tours with Forbidden City for your reference.

6. The Best Time to Tour Forbidden City

Generally Speaking, The best seasons to tour Forbidden City should be the spring and autumn; the best months to tour Forbidden City should be the March, April, October and November. At that time, the air is a little cold, and jog can warm your body without sweating. Besides, March is the season to welcome spring with Temple Fairs and Flower festivals. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find some people singing Peking Opera and Doing Kung Fu in and around Beijing ancient buildings, such as Forbidden City. Check it by yourself.

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