Huabiao On Tian’anmen

huabiao in tiananmen
huabiao in tiananmen

Tian’anmen(Gate of Heavenly Peace)is the main gate of the Forbidden City. Before and behind Tian’anmen are pairs of sculpted white marble columns Called huabiao( Sculpted White Marble Columns).
Why were these huabiao erected here? What did they signify? The answers go back to the time of Shun舜, a sage king in ancient China some 4,000 years ago.
At that time a huabiao was made of wood in the shape of a pillar with a crossbar at the top, and was called feibangmu(诽谤木) or bangmu(谤木),meaning”the wood for commenting upon wrong-doings” According to Huainanzi, a book compiled in the Western Han Dynasty(206 BC-AD 23), Shun set up bangmu at major crossroads so that people could write their criticisms on Them.The sage king wanted to show his willingness to accept the views of common people.

huabiao in Tian’anmen

Bangmu were also called biaomu(表木,wooden sign), and were used as street signs. Bangmu were abolished in the Qin Dynasty(221-207 BC) but reappe- ared in the early Han(206 BC-AD 220). They were then called huabiao桓表 and later huabiao.
The new huabiao tended to be made of stone rather than wood. On top was a plate for collecting dew(承露盘,legend has it that the Wudi emperor(156-187BC) of the Western Han Dynasty(206 BC-AD 23) wanted to be a supernatural being, The purpose of these dishes was to catch the “jade dew”imbibed by the Wudi emperor of the Han Dynasty to ensure a long life. On top of it squats a stone mythological animal called hou (a legendary animal); the body of the column was elegantly sculptured. Huabiao appeared in front of palaces bridges, city walls, gardens and tombs, thus becoming architectural ornaments.
Splendid examples of their kind, the huabiao at Tian’anmen were erected at a time when the Gate of Heavenly Succession(承天门,now Tian’ anmen)was built during the reign of the third Ming Yongle emperor(1403-24). The pair of hou(a mythological animal) on the huabiao in front of Tian’anmen, facing south, are called wangjungui(望君归), meaning“ awaiting the emperor’ s return.”It was supposed that their duty was to watch over the emperor’s behaviour when he went on an inspection tour. If he were gone out for too long a time, the wangjungui would summon him back to attend to state affairs. The hou on the huabiao behind Tian’anmen, facing north towards the Forbidden City, are called wangjunchu(望君出),meaning“awaiting the emperor’s emergence. ”They were too watch over the emperor’s behaviour inside the palace. If the emperor spent too much time with his empress and concubines, the wangjunchu would call him out to court.
Like the early bangmu, the huabiao with their hou supposed to convince the common people that their emperor was on the job.