from the Baohe Hall and following the stone stairs downwards one arrives
at an open rectangular courtyard. This space divides the Purple Forbidden
City into front and back. To the south of the square are the three main
Halls and, to east and west of them are the Wenhua Hall and the Wuying Hall.
These are commonly called the 'Outer Court,' where the Emperor primarily
conducted affairs of state. To the north of the square, inside the Qianqing
Gate, was the Inner Sanctum. In theQing dynasty, this is where the Emperor
and his Empresses and Concubines lived. The main buildings include the Qianqing
Palace, the Jiaotai Hall, the Kunning Palace, and six palaces to east and
The Qianqing Palace was at one time where the Emperor slept. During the Qing dynasty, however, the emperors used this as a place of daily administrative affairs. Later emperors also met foreign emissaries here. Behind the Qianqing Palace is the Jiaotai Hall, which is where memorials to the Empress were conducted and where she received congratulations on her birthday. It also is where the Qing dynasty's twenty-five 'treasures' were kept, the twenty-five seals by use of which the Emperor manifested his rule. Behind the Jiaotai Hall is the Kunning Palace, which was originally a sleeping chamber for the Empress. Later in the Qing dynasty it was made into a place where offerings to gods were made and also where the Emperor was married.
The Qianqing Palace, the Jiaotai Hall, and the Kunning Palace together constituted the Rear Three Palaces, their placement being basically the same as the Front Three Halls, but with decoration and coloring that were markedly different. The Front Three Halls used dragons as a primary motif. The Rear Three Palaces saw phoenixes gradually increase until there were numerous flying phoenixes, dancing phoenixes, phoenixes with peonies and other such decorative elements.
The East and West Six Palaces, where the concubines lived, were commonly known as the 'Three Palaces and Six Courtyards.' Today the Six Palaces of the East have been made into exhibition halls in order to display the rare paintings, ceramics, bronzes, and various crafts that were collected and kept in the Palace. The Six Palaces of the West are basically as they were, unchanged, so that people can see the actual living conditions of the feudal period, the historical reality of how royalty lived.
The most notable building is the Yangxin Hall, the Cultivating the Mind Hall. Qing-dynasty emperors mostly lived here, from the Emperor Yongzheng onward, or for some two hundred years. The Yangxin Hall therefore became the center of daily governing activities. Emperors often receivedMinisters here and issued decrees and orders. Two thrones were placed in the eastern room of the Yangxin Hall, to front and back; between them was suspended a golden-colored screen. This was where the Empress Dowager Cixi ruled from behind the screen (she lived from 1835-1908, was of the clan of Yehenala, and she ruled from behind the screen in two periods in 1861 and 1873).
From the Yangxin Hall moving northwards, one courtyard succeeds another in quiet elegance and serenity. Among these are the Changquan Palace and the Zhuxiu Palace, the latter being where Cixi once lived. Right now, the display in the Zhuxiu Palace is as Cixi had it arranged on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday.
Emerging from the Zhuxiu Palace, not far to the east, is the Yuhua Garden, or Imperial Garden. The area of the Yuhua Garden is small and intimate; its architecture and atmosphere are completely different from the front parts of the Palace. The pavilions and small buildings are set in the midst of pools and pine trees, fake mountains appear to be made of grotesque stones, there are potted garden landscapes, wisteria and bamboo. In the northeast of the Palace is also theNingshou Palace Garden, where the Emperor Qianlong (Qing dynasty Gaozong Aisin-Gioro Hongli 1736-1795) cultivated his mind after returning to power.
Coming out of the Yuhua Garden and following the passageway, one arrives at the northern gate of the Purple Forbidden City called the Shenwu Men. Opposite this gate is Jingshan Mountain. This small hill was built from dirt that came from digging out the moat when the Ming dynasty was building the Purple Forbidden City. Standing on the top of the hill and looking out over the Palace one sees wave after wave of buildings, crest after crest of rooflines and walls.
The Purple Forbidden City is also a great treasury of art objects. Great collections of paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, inscriptions, bronzes, ceramics, textiles and embroideries, jewels, clocks, articles made of gold and silver, and so on are kept here. The collection contains around 900,000 items. The Palace Museum also has preserved around nine million historical documents and materials from the Ming and Qing dynasties. These represent an important original resource for the study of the past five hundred years of China's history. Many of the more important documents can be seen in the special exhibition hall of the Palace.
Hall of 'Art through the Dynasties'
This is located in the Baohe Hall and in subsidiary buildings to its east and west. Treasures are exhibited here that range from Early Society to the Qing dynasty. Altogether around 6,000 years of history are displayed through 1,600 articles. Each of the displayed objects is a work of art and can be considered a treasure selected from amongst treasures. This hall has three rooms: the first is in Bache Hall and exhibits pieces from the late period of Early Society to the Spring and Autumn period; the second room displays items from the Warring States period to the Song dynasty; the third room displays artobjects of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.