Meridian Gate is the main gate of the Purple Forbidden City. It is 37.95 meters high. The gate was the most forbidden portal in the palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The purple color was symbolically attributed to the North Star, and it was used here to show that the imperial residence was a cosmic center. The emperor believed that the meridian line went through the city. The gate was also nicknamed the “Five Phoenix Tower,” in which drums (on the east) and bells (on the west) were installed. When the emperor went to the Temple of Heaven, bells were struck to celebrate this important occasion. When The emperor went to the Ancestral Temple, it was made known to the public by beating drums.
The gate has five openings. The central passage was reserved for the emperor alone. High-ranking civil and military officials went in through the side gate on the east and royal family members on the west. The further side gates were for petty officials. Celebrations of victories, ceremonies of “accepting” prisoners of war and in the Ming Dynasty, this was also the place where the emperor punished high officials. The offending officials would be taken out of the gate and beaten with sticks. In 1524, it was recorded that 134 men were beaten on one single occasion and 17 died on the spot.
During the Qing Dynasty, the civil officials and military officers in the capital would wait inside the Meridian Gate, every morning for the emperor to appear in court. The drums and bells in the pavilions on other side of the tower-gate would announce the emperor’s arrival. When the emperor left the palace and performed sacrificial rites at either the Temple of Heaven or the Temple of Earth, the bells were rung, and when the emperor went to the Supreme Ancestral Temple (now the Cultural Palace of working people to offer sacrifices to his ancestors. The drums were beaten. When a general returned from battle, the captives would be “offered “with a ceremony held here. The announcement of the new calendar also took place here.
To get into the Forbidden City requires a 60 yuan or US$8 ticket (80 yuan or US$10.67 for a through ticket). Also, if you purchase the through ticket (or comprehensive ticket), remember to keep your ticket handy for inspection, as you will need to show it upon entering certain different parts of the museum. If you lose the original ticket you will have to buy a new one at each separate section, although these tickets are only 10 yuan (US$ 1.34) a piece.
Now we approach the Five Marble Bridges on Golden Water Stream. The bridges were supposed to represent the five virtues preached by Confucius benevolence, righteousness, rites (propriety), intelligence (wisdom) and fidelity. They were shaped like five arrows reporting symbolically to Heaven, because the emperor considered himself the Son of Heaven. In the Forbidden City is the Golden Water Stream, a second moat; noticeable by the way it meanders through the area. It too is a fire suppression tool, used by the many emperors’ forces as a source for water in times of fire.
The buildings on the east were for the Imperial Secretariat, where scholars recorded daily activities for the emperor. The buildings on the west were the Chronicler’s Offices for translators. Apart from practical functions and aesthetic consideration, almost every part of the Forbidden City was designed to carry a certain political or culture massage. The first and foremost concern was class and rank. Everything was meticulously discriminated to show hierarchical order. Roofs, doors, windows, and ceilings were developed to suit the different ranks of imperial buildings. Statuettes were also made distinct by size and number of architectural components.
The big golden pegs studded on gates for decoration is an example. On the gate of a palace the number of pegs is 81. It is 49 for a prince’s residence, and 25 for the houses of any other sons of emperors. Another instance is the number of mythical beasts crouching on the roof ridges of the palaces. There are 10 on each roof ridge of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (this is an exception, showing the importance of the building in the Forbidden City), but only nine on the Palace of Heavenly Purity, seven for the Palace of Earthly Tranquility and five for each one of the 12 halls located down the flanks of the Forbidden City. Also, the Forbidden City embodies traditional Chinese philosophies. One is the philosophy of five elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth; held by the ancients to compose the physical universe and later used in traditional Chinese medicine to explain various physiological and pathological phenomena), which in ancient China people used to explain the way things in the universe interplay and evolve.
Examples of this are the dwellings for descendants of the royal family. The South Three Halls of the Forbidden City were covered by green glazed-tiles instead of yellow ones, which dominate most other buildings in the entire complex. That is because according to the theory of five elements (representing five states of forces in expansion or condensation); green is the color of wood, the element demonstrating the force of growth, the rising sun and the bountiful spring.
As the geographical center of the imperial China, the Forbidden City was also carefully designed to follow the theory of fengshui the traditional Chinese geomancy. The doctrine stipulates that geographical features affect the fortunes of a house. To acquire the best advantages from fengshui (the location of a house or tomb, supposed to have an influence on the fortune of a Family; geomantic omen; as a traditional Chinese cultural viewpoint, fengshui is a wide-spread folk custom. It is an “environmental science” that combines geography, aesthetics, landscape, architecture, ecology and psychology), a hill was built behind the northern wall of the Forbidden City, and two parallel rivers, running west to east, were dug.
According to fengshui theory, a house is best located with a mountain behind it with water in front. The original environment did not satisfy, so emperors used human labor to achieve fengshui perfection he construction of the Forbidden City marked the great days of the traditional Chinese architecture. These are the astonishing facts that demonstrate the extraordinary finesse of the architectural art. One vivid example is that the gold foil used to wrap the wooden pillars inside the palaces is so thin that, legend relates that, the foil made out of one liang of gold (31.25 grams) could cover 1.3 mu of land (0.087 hectare or 0.217 acre), and if a piece of the gold foil slipped down from the pillar, it would float in calm air like gossamer. As so often demonstrated by China’s cultural legacy, the Forbidden City is a marvel built by unimaginable human persistence.