The Forbidden City is arguably one of the most recognized landmarks in China. First built under the orders of Ming Emperor Yongle, it has since been a landmark of Beijing. Under the Qing Dynasty many other structures were built. During the Republic of China, Emperor Xuantong or Puyi and his small court continued to live there until they were expelled in 1923 and a Palace Museum was opened two years later. Despite threats under the Communist Party, the Forbidden City was able to survive and is today one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Forbidden City was built after the end of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty when the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing. Between 1416-1420, the main structures of the Forbidden City were constructed. These include the Meridian Gate and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The Meridian Gate is the massive main entrance into the Forbidden City, while the Hall of Supreme Harmony is where many palace events would take place. The Hall of Medium Harmony is where the emperor would rest before these important events. In the Hall of Protective Harmony, the emperor would hold banquets and also interview those who had passed the civil service exams. Also built in 1420 was the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the living quarters of Ming emperors. During the Ming Dynasty, the Hall of Union and Peace was established behind the Palace of Heavenly Purity, intended to be the empress’s throne room, but later becoming the house of seals. In the middle of these two stands the Hall of Earthly Peace, which was the empress’s living quarters. In the midst of the Hall of Imperial Peace, a Taoist temple was erected in the Imperial Garden. The Gate of Divine Prowess is where the servants would enter and leave the Forbidden City.
The Ming Dynasty ended in 1644 and the Qing Dynasty began with Manchu Emperor Shuzhi assuming control. Emperor Kangxi, the second Qing emperor, was mainly interested in education, therefore the Hall of Literary Flourishing and the Hall of Relaying the Mind were built under his rule in 1683. His son, Emperor Yongzheng was more interested in eternal life and had the Palace of Longevity and Health built in 1735. Ironically, he died the same year most likely due to the lead-based elixirs he took to achieve immortality. The most notable Qing ruler, Dowager Empress Cixi, was one of the last rulers in the Forbidden City. During this time, the Han Chinese were becoming disillusioned with the idea of Manchus ruling them. While Emperor Guangxu was working to enacting reform, he and the Dowager Empress Cixi died and the Qing Empire ended in 1911.
During the era of the Republic of China, Emperor Xuantong or Puyi, who took the throne at 6 years old with a small court, continued to live in the Forbidden City. They were eventually expelled in 1923 and a Palace Museum was opened in 1925. Under the Nationalist government, the capital was moved back to Nanjing. After its defeat in 1949, the Nationalists took a great deal of the palace’s treasures with them to Taiwan. In 1949, the Communist Party formed the People’s Republic of China.
Chariman Mao Zedong wanted China to forget its feudal past and enter the modern world. He moved the capital back to Beijing. When architects Liang Sicheng and Chen Zhongxiang presented the 49 Scheme, involving the preservation of the Forbidden City, the plan was rejected. Beijing Mayor Peng Zhen advocated tearing down the palace walls, and so they were. During the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, many plans were made to demolish the main palace structures, but the economic and political turmoil of the time prevented that. The museum in the palace was closed from 1967-1970, but was reopened by Premier Zhou Enlai for the Nixon China visit in 1973.
In 1987, the Forbidden City became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then it has become a popular tourist destination in China. Its rich cultural history has helped it survive despite many threats during the Maoist period. Today, travelers from all of over the world can visit the Forbidden City and see how emperors under the Ming and Qing Dynasty lived.