Before entering the Hall of Mental Cultivation, visitors can see two concentric discs with dragons. It symbolize respectively heaven and earth; but there is no means at present of knowing whether they already had this, or ineed any symbolic meaning in the late Stone Age. The mirror also holds and reflects the rays of the sun, warding off evil and lighting the eternal darkness of the tomb.
Built in the Ming Dynasty this Hall deserves particular attention. On the staircase leading up to the door is a small slab carved with dragons and clouds, indicating an imperial residence. Inside is a throne and table, and above is an octagonal coffered ceiling in a dragon design. Incense burners and tripods stand to the each side of the table. It served as the living quarters for emperors over many centuries and gained added importance. This is where the Qing Yongzheng emperor (1723-35) moved into this building in 1723, held private audiences, read memorandums and reports and issued decrees. For nearly 200 years until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, all subsequent Qing emperors lived and attended to state affairs in this hall. In front of the hall is a pair of gilded bronze lions. It is believed that most of the Qing emperors lived and worked in this hall. The central hall in the Hall of Mental Cultivation was the audience chamber where the emperor read memorials, granted audience to officials and summoned his ministers for consultation. Behind the imperial throne (furnished with yellow satin) is a rosewood tablet engraved with a motto written by the Qing Qianlong emperor. Over it hangs horizontal tablet bearing the Chinese characters for “just and benevolent” in Emperor Yongzheng’s handwriting.
The hall has a magnificent ceiling sculpture of a dragon playing with a huge pear.
The Eastern Warmth Chamber is where the two dowager empresses, Cixi( Compassionate Fortune) (1835-1908) and Ci’an ( the first empress of Xianfeng, 1837-81, some people said she was poisoned by the dowager empress Cixi), attending to state affairs from behind a screen, while in front sat the boy emperor, Tongzhi(1862-74) and Guangxu(1875-1908). This was beca-use women were not supposed to be seen in public. But with the sudden death of Ci’an one morning in 1881, which many people believed was due to an act of intrigue by the dowager empress Cixi’s, state power passed entirely into the hands of the Dowager, known as the “battle axe.” She nominally gave up her authority on Guangxu’s coming of age in 1890, but later in 1898, became a dictator when she placed the Guangxu emperor under house arrest at Water Terrace Pavilion, an islet in Central and South Lakes, after she exposed his plans for political reform. A woman with no scruples, Cixi, also called the Old Buddha(in Manchu usage) a title of respect for the queen mother or the emperor’s father, mismanaged the government and indulged in extrav-agant living for 48 years, plunging China into disasters and humiliations unparalleled in the annals of its history. Actually, she ruled with an iron hand from 1861 to 1908 of China’s feudal monarchy. All the vital decisions were made here, and some were of national betrayal. Among these were imperial edicts, which authorized the signing of unequal treaties forced upon China by foreign imperialist powers reducing China to a semi-colonial status. Later Guangxu’s widow, the dowager empress Longyu, similarly held court while Puyi sat in front. In Western Warmth Chamber, the emperor received his defence minister and other trusted officials. To the west of this chamber is the Room of Three Rarities, which provides glimpses of the private life of the Qianlong Emperor, who ruled for 60 years from 1736 to 1795. His abdication in 1796(because he considered it unfilial to occupy the throne longer than his illustrious grandfather- the Kangxi emperor, reigned 1662-1722 for 61 years) marked the end of the great days of the Qing Dynasty. The room bears testimony to his patronage of the classics, calligraphy and painting, and impresses the tourist with an air of elegance without being ostentatious. The royal seat is placed behind a small desk for reading and writing, with writing brushes and ink stones arranged along the windowsill to the left. In this room the emperor read reports and discussed military and political affairs with his officials. The partition in front of the western chamber was to prevent the secret talks between the emperor and ministers from leaking out.
The Qing Dynasty, which was the last imperial dynasty in the history of China, was overthrown in the 1911 Revolution let by Dr Sun Yat-sen. Dr Sun yat-sen is still revered today as the founder of modern China. The Puyi emperor was forced to issue an edict in the Hall of Mental Cultivation declaring his abdication and formally recognizing the Republic on February 12, 1912. Under the terms of preferential treatment for the ex-Qing court, Puyi and his family continued to enjoy the privilege of living in the Hall of Mental Cultivation for another 13 years. In 1925, they were forced to move out of the palaces for good.
Behind the Hall of Mental Cultivation is the Hall of Manifesting Obedience. In the courtyard stands a huge piece of crystal, which was supposed to be a symbol of the emperor’s character.