China's Forbidden City in Beijing: An Imperial City For The Ming Dynasty
In the center of Beijing, the present capital City of China was a fortified enclosure called the Forbidden City, which sheltered the imperial court and the imperial family. This massive walled City embraced several Kilometers and is called Forbidden City because it was forbidden to the commoners. Built with stones and covered with tiled roofs glazed with yellow hue was an area solely reserved for the Emperors and the imperial household. The outside City surrounding the Emperors residences, also part of the imperial City, housed residences for high governmental officials, temples, and warehouses etc. The imperial City was circled by the Tartar City which was occupied by the Manchu banner men and to the South was another City where the native Chinese or the commoners resided.
This walled complex of buildings housing the former Imperial Palace and the Imperial City, built in 1421 remained a no-go area for the ordinary citizens until 1912. In 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed the Ming dynasty and established the capital at Nanjing on the Yangtze River. Zhu established himself as the Hongwu Emperor and became the first commoner to be an Emperor for about 1500 years, and the most repressive Emperor of his time.
After his death in 1398, one of his grandsons succeeded him as emperor. He was short lived as Hongwu’s direct son, Zhu Di, the new emperor’s uncle, seized the throne from him in 1402. Zhu Di established himself as the Yongle Emperor, and continued the expansion of the Empire. He fought the Mongols in the North and claimed some territories, fought in Java and installed a new king, fought in Vietnam and in Sinhala (current day Sri Lanka), captured their king and brought him as prisoner to China. Yongle moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing where he built a massive Palace and secured it with high walls in the middle of the Beijing City which became the Forbidden City.
After his death in 1424, the Empire was besieged by intruders from Japan and other parts of the region and the subsequent Ming Emperors became so weak to protect their territories. By the 16th Century, invaders from the Mongols had taken part of its Northern borders and internally, the Ming bureaucracy became absorbed by partisan controversies which led the Emperors to abandon most of their duties to the Eunuchs. In 1628, peasant protests and uprising began and metamorphosed into rebellion and in 1642, the Huang He dam was broken and the flood oozed out leading to the death of many and the consequent starvation that accrued because of the destroyed dam. Finally, Beijing was overcome by the rebel Li Zicheng in 1644, a day after the Ming Emperor committed suicide. Before the Emperor’s death, the Empire had lost most of their lands to neighbouring Empires and the once formidable Ming Empire became the weakest in the rejoin.
Architecture of the City:
The City is made up of a square enclosure in the North, circled by a wall measuring about 24km long and 15m high to protect the Imperial family. Its roofs were glazed with yellow roofing tiles and built in a very special way different from the commoners’. It is here that the Forbidden City is located and no commoner can access it. It was the most sacred and respected space in traditional, imperial China. The Imperial City is inside the Forbidden City; the outer part of the Imprial City contained government offices, temples, gardens and parks servicing the Forbidden City, seat of the Imperial family. Out side the Imperial City, were the homes of the senior class citizens, their markets and worship centers. There is another outside City encircled by a wall measuring about 23km long and contains residential areas for the commoners. The constructions of the different walls around the Cities were of different patterns and were used to distinguish between the classes of those inhabiting them. The imperial City being more fortified than the outer cities.
Though most of the Forbidden City’s structures were broken down during wars, some of them were repaired to preserve the medieval value of the City. One of the repairs was done to ‘the Gate of Heavenly Peace’ also known as Tiananmen and its square enlarged beyond what it used to be in 1950. The Great Hall of the People was built in Tiananmen in1959 to house the national legislature. So much have been done in form of repairs to upgrade the City to meet with the latest developments. The Forbidden City’s complex is now housing the Palace Museum which was founded in 1925 and was opened to the public in 1949. There have been a lot of face lift operations on the gardens, temples, palaces, parks and the offices in the City.
Picture by rahuldlucca (flickr.com)