Gate of Heavenly Purity
This is the gateway leading to the inner court. It was erected in 1429 and rebuilt in 1655. The Qing emperors sometimes gave an audience to the government officials here.
On the east were study rooms for the emperor’s children. On the west were offices for guards and eunuchs. In front of the Palace of Heavenly Purity, there are two small miniature temples, one standing on each side of the courtyard, and is surmounted by a sort of gilded tabernacle. The one on the east was called Jiangshan Pavilion representing territorial integrity. The one on the west is Sheji, the God of Land and Grain, a symbol of bumper harvest.
The inner palace, or residential quarters of the imperial family, is entered through the Gate of Heavenly (Celestial) Purity. In front of the gate stand two gilded bronze lions and on each side a gilded bronze cauldron. During the Qing Dynasty, a throne was placed at the gate for the emperor to hear reports from high officials and issue his decisions: This illustrates the personal style of the Qing emperors in administration, and was called “governing the state under an imperial gate.”
At most of the ancient buildings’ doorways in Beijing, there is always a high step over there. What is it? You know ancient Chinese believed that all evil spirits couldn’t jump over high steps. Therefore, the threshold was actually for warding off evil spirits. But on the western route of the Forbidden City, why are all the thresholds put by the side of the doorways against the walls?
Remember the last Qing emperor Puyi issued an order that all the thresholds on the western route of the Forbidden City be sawed, so that he could ride a bicycle in it. By the way, you are not supposed to step on the thresholds. It’s considered bad luck.
Another saying about the threshold goes like this: the higher the step, the more noble people became. The third tale is that threshold used to be a part of the door frame, and played the role of reinforcement.
Palace of Heavenly Purity乾清宫
The palace of Heavenly Purity lies in the foremost of the Inner Court of the Forbidden City. The Palace was first built in 1420 and renovated in 1798. In 1644, when the peasant uprising led by Li Zicheng attacked the city, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty was in panic and escaped from this palace and finally hanged himself on a Chinese scholartree in the Coal Hall Park just north of the Forbidden City. The Qing emperors of Shunzhi and Kangxi lived in this palace and handled the state affairs in this palace. When the Qing Yongzheng emperor mounted the throne as the third emperor of the Qing Dynasty, he moved to the Hall of Mental Cultivation and lived there. The Palace was still used for the emperor to read the reports, dispatch officials and call in his subordinates. In 1853, the Xianfeng emperor dispatched troops to suppress the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Revolution*(Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace). After 1901, the Dowager Empress Cixi worked in collaboration with foreign envoys and betrayed national interest.
Foreign ambassadors were also received here. The big mirrors and red candles are all part of the original furniture. The mirror was for vanity purpose and drive away evil spirits. On the west was the emperor’s cloakroom. It was also used for holding mourning service before the remains of his deceased predecessor. The wedding ceremony of the last Qing emperor Puyi was held here in 1922.
Far back on the wall you can see a plaque bearing an inscription, reading “ Be open and aboveboard,” written by the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty. When the peasant insurgents broke into Beijing towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the last Ming Chongzhen emperor fled from here to the Coal Hill Park where he hanged himself.
It was here in 1542 that one of concubines the Ming Jiajing emperor led a contin-gent of more than a dozen palace women in an attempt to strangle the emperor in his sound sleep. Unfortunately, the knot in the noose they brought slipped. For their pains, the gang was executed in public by having their throats cut and the flesh of their limbs sliced off. Following this incident, the emperor spent 20 years cultivating his mind in solitude in a palace in what is now Zhongnanhai( Central and South Lakes), only returning to the Palace of Heavenly Purity for one day before his death. Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty passed away in the small room on the west side of the Palace, and his son, the Taichang emperor only remained on the throne for 29 days before he died in the Palace itself after taking a double dose of a mysterious medicine.
It was rare for emperors to live long lives in ancient Chinese dynasties. Some emperors were later found to have poisoned themselves to early deaths after hiring quack doctors to make certain medicines ( the so-called elixir of life), which they believed would keep them young forever,but proved to be fatal. They, as emperors, considered themselves tianzi (Sons of the Heaven), and had limitless power, thousands of concubines and absolute freedom to have their needs met and desires satisfied. As a result, they considered their lives more worthy than their subjects and cherished the dream of keeping themselves alive permanently. Ironically, they would have lived much longer had they been ordinary folks.
The plaque inscribed by the first Qing emperor Shunzi hangs over the throne in the palace reads, “ Be open aboveboard.” It enumerates with modesty the qualities an ideal “Son of Heaven” should possess. Beginning in the reign of Qianlong emperor (1736-95), for reasons of security the name of the successor to the throne was not announced publicly, as it had been previously, but was written instead on two pieces of paper, one kept on the emperor’s person throughout his reign, and the other placed in a small strongbox that was stored behind this plaque. The box was opened only when the emperor passed away.