The Forbidden City

Forbidden City

“Gugong” redirects here. For other uses, see Gugong (disambiguation).

For other uses, see Forbidden City (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 39°54′53″N 116°23′26″E / 39.91472°N 116.39056°E / 39.91472; 116.39056

Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

State Party China
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv
Reference 439
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1987  (11th Session)
Extensions 2004
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government.

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms[1] and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture,[2] and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987,[2] and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Part of the museum’s former collection is now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums descend from the same institution, but were split after the Chinese Civil War.


The Gate of Divine Might, the northern gate. The lower tablet reads “The Palace Museum” ()

The common English name, “the Forbidden City”, is a translation of the Chinese name Zijin Cheng (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zǐjinchéng; literally “Purple Forbidden City”). Another English name of similar origin is “Forbidden Palace”.[3]

The name “Zijin Cheng” is a name with significance on many levels. Zi, or “Purple“, refers to the North Star, which in ancient China was called the Ziwei Star, and in traditional Chinese astrology was the abode of the Celestial Emperor. The surrounding celestial region, the Ziwei Enclosure (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zǐwēiyuán), was the realm of the Celestial Emperor and his family. The Forbidden City, as the residence of the terrestrial emperor, was its earthly counterpart. Jin, or “Forbidden“, referred to the fact that no-one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission. Cheng means a walled city.[4]

Today, the site is most commonly known in Chinese as Gùgōng (), which means the “Former Palace”.[5] The museum which is based in these buildings is known as the “Palace Museum” (Chinese: ; pinyin: Gùgōng Bówùyùan).


Main article: History of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City as depicted in a traditional Ming Dynasty painting

The site of the Forbidden City was situated on the Imperial City during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Upon the establishment of the Ming Dynasty, the Hongwu Emperor moved the capital from Beijing in the north to Nanjing in the south, and ordered that the Yuan palaces be burnt down. When his son Zhu Di became the Yongle Emperor, he moved the capital back to Beijing, and construction began in 1406 of what would become the Forbidden City.[4]

Construction lasted 15 years, and required more than a million workers.[6] Material used include whole logs of precious Phoebe zhennan wood (Chinese: ; pinyin: nánmù) found in the jungles of south-western China, and large blocks of marble from quarries near Beijing.[7] The floors of major halls were paved with “golden bricks” (Chinese: ; pinyin: jīnzhuān), specially baked paving bricks from Suzhou.[6]

From 1420 to 1644, the Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming Dynasty. In April 1644, it was captured by rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, who proclaimed himself emperor of the Shun Dynasty.[8] He soon fled before the combined armies of former Ming general Wu Sangui and Manchu forces, setting fire to parts of the Forbidden City in the process.[9] By October, the Manchus had achieved supremacy in northern China, and a ceremony was held at the Forbidden City to proclaim the young Shunzhi Emperor as ruler of all China under the Qing Dynasty.[10] The Qing rulers changed the names on some of the principle buildings, to emphasise “Harmony” rather than “Supremacy”,[11] made the name plates bilingual (Chinese and Manchu),[12] and introduced Shamanist elements to the palace.[13]

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, Anglo-French forces took control of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war.[14] In 1900 Empress Dowager Cixi fled from the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, leaving it to be occupied by forces of the treaty powers until the following year.

After being the home of 24 emperors — fourteen of the Ming Dynasty and ten of the Qing Dynasty — the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Under an agreement with the new Republic of China government, Puyi remained in the Inner Court, while the Outer Court was given over to public use,[15] until he was evicted after a coup in 1924.[16] The Palace Museum was then established in the Forbidden City in 1925.[17] In 1933, the Japanese invasion of China forced the evacuation of the national treasures in the Forbidden City.[18] Part of the collection was returned at the end of World War II,[19] but the other part was evacuated to Taiwan in 1947 under orders by Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang was losing the Chinese Civil War. This relatively small but high quality collection was kept in storage until 1965, when it again became public, as the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.[20]

The East Glorious Gate under renovation as part of the 16-year restoration process

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, some damage was done to the Forbidden City as the country was swept up in revolutionary zeal.[21] During the Cultural Revolution, however, further destruction was prevented when Premier Zhou Enlai sent an army battalion to guard the city.[22]

The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 by UNESCO as the “Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties”,[23] due to its significant place in the development of Chinese architecture and culture. It is currently administered by the Palace Museum, which is carrying out a sixteen-year restoration project to repair and restore all buildings in the Forbidden City to their pre-1912 state.[24]

In recent years, the presence of commercial enterprises in the Forbidden City has become controversial.[25] A Starbucks store that opened in 2000 sparked objections and eventually closed on July 13, 2007.[26][27] Chinese media also took notice of a pair of souvenir shops that refused to admit Chinese citizens in order to price-gouge foreign customers in 2006.[28]


The Forbidden City, viewed from Jingshan Hill to the north

Plan of the Forbidden City. Labels in red are used to refer to locations throughout the article.

– – – Approximate dividing line between Inner (north) and Outer (south) Courts.

A. Meridian Gate
B. Gate of Divine Might
C. West Glorious Gate
D. East Glorious Gate
E. Corner towers
F. Gate of Supreme Harmony
G. Hall of Supreme Harmony
H. Hall of Military Eminence
J. Hall of Literary Glory
K. Southern Three Places
L. Palace of Heavenly Purity
M. Imperial garden
N. Hall of Mental Cultivation
O. Palace of Tranquil Longevity

The Forbidden City is the world’s largest surviving palace complex and covers 72 ha. It is a rectangle 961 metres (3,153 ft) from north to south and 753 metres (2,470 ft) from east to west. It consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms.[1] The Forbidden City was designed to be the centre of the ancient, walled city of Beijing. It is enclosed in a larger, walled area called the Imperial City. The Imperial City is, in turn, enclosed by the Inner City; to its south lies the Outer City.

The Forbidden City remains important in the civic scheme of Beijing. The central north-south axis remains the central axis of Beijing. This axis extends to the south through Tiananmen gate to Tiananmen Square, the ceremonial centre of the People’s Republic of China. To the north, it extends through the Bell and Drum Towers to Yongdingmen.[29] This axis is not exactly aligned north-south, but is tilted by slightly more than two degrees. Researchers now believe that the axis was designed in the Yuan Dynasty to be aligned with Xanadu, the other capital of their empire.[30]

Walls and gates

The Meridian Gate, front entrance to the Forbidden City, with two protruding wings

The northwest corner tower

The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 7.9 metres (26 ft) high city wall[11] and a six-metre deep, 52 metres (171 ft) wide moat. The walls are 8.62 metres (28.3 ft) wide at the base, tapering to 6.66 metres (21.9 ft) at the top.[31] These walls served as both defensive walls and retaining walls for the palace. They were constructed with a rammed earth core, and surfaced with three layers of specially baked bricks on both sides, with the interstices filled with mortar.[32]

At the four corners of the wall sit towers (E) with intricate roofs boasting 72 ridges, reproducing the Pavilion of Prince Teng and the Yellow Crane Pavilion as they appeared in Song Dynasty paintings.[32] These towers are the most visible parts of the palace to commoners outside the walls, and much folklore is attached to them. According to one legend, artisans could not put a corner tower back together after it was dismantled for renovations in the early Qing Dynasty, and it was only rebuilt after the intervention of carpenter-immortal Lu Ban.[11]

The wall is pierced by a gate on each side. At the southern end is the main Meridian Gate (A).[33] To the north is the Gate of Divine Might (B), which faces Jingshan Park. The east and west gates are called the “East Glorious Gate” (D) and “West Glorious Gate” (C). All gates in the Forbidden City are decorated with a nine-by-nine array of golden door nails, except for the East Glorious Gate, which has only eight rows.[34]

The Meridian Gate has two protruding wings forming three sides of a square (Wumen, or Meridian Gate, Square) before it.[35] The gate has five gateways. The central gateway is part of the Imperial Way, a stone flagged path that forms the central axis of the Forbidden City and the ancient city of Beijing itself, and leads all the way from the Gate of China in the south to Jingshan in the north. Only the Emperor may walk or ride on the Imperial Way, except for the Empress on the occasion of her wedding, and successful students after the Imperial Examination.[34]

Outer Court

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

The sign of the Hall of Supreme Harmony

The throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony

The Hall of Central Harmony (foreground) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Traditionally, the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court () or Front Court () includes the southern sections, and was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court () or Back Palace () includes the northern sections, and was the residence of the Emperor and his family, and was used for day-to-day affairs of state. (The approximate dividing line shown as red dash in the plan above.) Generally, the Forbidden City has three vertical axes. The most important buildings are situated on the central north-south axis.[34]

Entering from the Meridian Gate, one encounters a large square, pierced by the meandering Inner Golden Water River, which is crossed by five bridges. Beyond the square stands the Gate of Supreme Harmony (F). Behind that is the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square.[36] A three-tiered white marble terrace rises from this square. Three halls stand on top of this terrace, the focus of the palace complex. From the south, these are the Hall of Supreme Harmony (殿), the Hall of Central Harmony (殿), and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (殿).[37]

The Hall of Supreme Harmony (G) is the largest, and rises some 30 metres (98 ft) above the level of the surrounding square. It is the ceremonial centre of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China. It is nine bays wide and five bays deep, the numbers 13 and 20 being symbolically connected to the majesty of the Emperor.[38] Set into the ceiling at the centre of the hall is an intricate caisson decorated with a coiled dragon, from the mouth of which issues a chandelier-like set of metal balls, called the “Xuanyuan Mirror”.[39] In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state. During the Qing Dynasty, as Emperors held court far more frequently, a less ceremonious location was used instead, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings.[40]

The Hall of Central Harmony is a smaller, square hall, used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies.[41] Behind it, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, was used for rehearsing ceremonies, and was also the site of the final stage of the Imperial examination.[42] All three halls feature imperial thrones, the largest and most elaborate one being that in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.[43]

At the centre of the ramps leading up to the terraces from the northern and southern sides are ceremonial ramps, part of the Imperial Way, featuring elaborate and symbolic bas-relief carvings. The northern ramp, behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony, is carved from a single piece of stone 16.57 metres (54.4 ft) long, 3.07 metres (10.1 ft) wide, and 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) thick. It weighs some 200 tonnes and is the largest such carving in China.[6] The southern ramp, in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, is even longer, but is made from two stone slabs joined together — the joint was ingeniously hidden using overlapping bas-relief carvings, and was only discovered when weathering widened the gap in the 20th century.[44]

In the south west and south east of the Outer Court are the halls of Military Eminence (H) and Literary Glory (J). The former was used at various times for the Emperor to receive ministers and hold court, and later housed the Palace’s own printing house. The latter was used for ceremonial lectures by highly regarded Confucian scholars, and later became the office of the Grand Secretariat. A copy of the Siku Quanshu was stored there. To the north-east are the Southern Three Places () (K), which was the residence of the Crown Prince.[36]

Inner Court

The Inner Court is separated from the Outer Court by an oblong courtyard lying orthogonal to the City’s main axis. It was the home of the Emperor and his family. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived and worked almost exclusively in the Inner Court, with the Outer Court used only for ceremonial purposes.[45]

The Palace of Heavenly Purity

At the centre of the Inner Court is another set of three halls (L). From the south, these are the Palace of Heavenly Purity (), Hall of Union, and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. Smaller than the Outer Court halls, the three halls of the Inner Court were the official residences of the Emperor and the Empress. The Emperor, representing Yang and the Heavens, would occupy the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The Empress, representing Yin and the Earth, would occupy the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. In between them was the Hall of Union, where the Yin and Yang mixed to produce harmony.[46]

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity

The Palace of Heavenly Purity is a double-eaved building, and set on a single-level white marble platform. It is connected to the Gate of Heavenly Purity to its south by a raised walkway. In the Ming Dynasty, it was the residence of the Emperor. However, beginning from the Yongzheng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived instead at the smaller Hall of Mental Cultivation (N) to the west, out of respect to the memory of the Kangxi Emperor.[11] The Palace of Heavenly Purity then became the Emperor’s audience hall.[47] A caisson is set into the roof, featuring a coiled dragon. Above the throne hangs a tablet reading “Justice and Honour” (Chinese: ; pinyin: zhèngdàguāngmíng).[48]

The Palace of Earthly Tranquility () is a double-eaved building, 9 bays wide and 3 bays deep. In the Ming Dynasty, it was the residence of the Empress. In the Qing Dynasty, large portions of the Palace were converted for Shamanist worship by the new Manchu rulers. From the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor, the Empress moved out of the Palace. However, two rooms in the Palace of Earthly Harmony were retained for use on the Emperor’s wedding night.[49]

Between these two palaces is the Hall of Union, which is square in shape with a pyramidal roof. Stored here are the twenty-five Imperial Seals of the Qing Dynasty, as well as other ceremonial items.[50]

The Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity

Behind these three halls lies the Imperial Garden (M). Relatively small, and compact in design, the garden nevertheless contains several elaborate landscaping features.[51] To the north of the garden is the Gate of Divine Might, the north gate of the palace.

Distributed to the east and west of the three main halls are a series of self-contained courtyards and minor palaces, where the Emperor’s concubines and children lived.

Directly to the west is the Hall of Mental Cultivation (N). Originally a minor palace, this became the de facto residence and office of the Emperor starting from Yongzheng. In the last decades of the Qing Dynasty, empresses dowager, including Cixi, held court from the eastern partition of the hall. Located around the Hall of Mental Cultivation are the offices of the Grand Council and other key government bodies.[52]

The north-eastern section of the Inner Court is taken up by the Palace of Tranquil Longevity () (O), a complex built by the Qianlong Emperor in anticipation of his retirement. It mirrors the set-up of the Forbidden City proper and features an “outer court”, an “inner court”, and gardens and temples. The entrance to the Palace of Tranquil Longevity is marked by a glazed-tile Nine Dragons Screen.[53] This section of the Forbidden City is being restored in a partnership between the Palace Museum and the World Monuments Fund, a long-term project expected to finish in 2017.


Religion was an important part of life for the imperial court. In the Qing Dynasty, the Palace of Earthly Harmony became a place of Manchu Shamanist ceremony. At the same time, the native Chinese Taoist religion continued to have an important role throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. There were two Taoist shrines, one in the imperial garden and another in the central area of the Inner Court.[54]

Another prevalent form of religion in the Qing Dynasty palace was Buddhism. A number of temples and shrines were scattered throughout the Inner Court, including that of Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism. Buddhist iconography also proliferated in the interior decorations of many buildings.[55] Of these, the Pavilion of the Rain of Flowers is one of the most important. It housed a large number of Buddhist statues, icons, and mandalas, placed in ritualistic arrangements.[56]


See also: Imperial City (Beijing)

Location of the Forbidden City in the historic centre of Beijing

Beihai – the Bai Ta is in the distance

The Forbidden City is surrounded on three sides by imperial gardens. To the north is Jingshan Park, also known as Prospect Hill, an artificial hill created from the soil excavated to build the moat and from nearby lakes.[57]

To the west lies Zhongnanhai, a former garden centred on two connected lakes, which now serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. To the north-west lies Beihai Park, also centred on a lake connected to the southern two, and a popular park.

To the south of the Forbidden City were two important shrines — the Imperial Shrine of Family (Chinese: ; pinyin: Tàimiào) and the Imperial Shrine of State (Chinese: ; pinyin: Tàishèjì), where the Emperor would venerate the spirits of his ancestors and the spirit of the nation, respectively. Today, these are the Beijing Labouring People’s Cultural Hall[58] and Zhongshan Park (commemorating Sun Yat-sen) respectively.[59]

To the south, two nearly identical gatehouses stand along the main axis. They are the Upright Gate (Chinese: ; pinyin: Duānmén) and the more famous Tiananmen Gate, which is decorated with a portrait of Mao Zedong in the centre and two placards to the left and right: “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” and “Long live the Great Unity of the World’s Peoples”. The Tiananmen Gate connects the Forbidden City precinct with the modern, symbolic centre of the Chinese state, Tiananmen Square.

While development is now tightly controlled in the vicinity of the Forbidden City, throughout the past century uncontrolled and sometimes politically motivated demolition and reconstruction has changed the character of the areas surrounding the Forbidden City. Since 2000, the Beijing municipal government has worked to evict governmental and military institutions occupying some historical buildings, and has established a park around the remaining parts of the Imperial City wall. In 2004, an ordinance relating to building height and planning restriction was renewed to establish the Imperial City area and the northern city area as a buffer zone for the Forbidden City.[60] In 2005, the Imperial City and Beihai (as an extension item to the Summer Palace) were included in the shortlist for the next World Heritage Site in Beijing.[61]


Imperial roof decoration of highest status on the roof ridge of the Hall of Supreme Harmony

The design of the Forbidden City, from its overall layout to the smallest detail, was meticulously planned to reflect philosophical and religious principles, and above all to symbolise the majesty of Imperial power. Some noted examples of symbolic designs include:

  • Yellow is the color of the Emperor. Thus almost all roofs in the Forbidden City bear yellow glazed tiles. There are only two exceptions. The library at the Pavilion of Literary Profundity () had black tiles because black was associated with water, and thus fire-prevention. Similarly, the Crown Prince’s residences have green tiles because green was associated with wood, and thus growth.[38]
  • The main halls of the Outer and Inner courts are all arranged in groups of three — the shape of the Qian triagram, representing Heaven. The residences of the Inner Court on the other hand are arranged in groups of six — the shape of the Kun triagram, representing the Earth.[11]
  • The sloping ridges of building roofs are decorated with a line of statuettes lead by a man riding a phoenix and followed by an imperial dragon. The number of statuettes represents the status of the building — a minor building might have 3 or 5. The Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10, the only building in the country to be permitted this in Imperial times. As a result, its 10th statuette, called a “Hangshi“, or “ranked tenth” (Chinese: ; pinyin: Hángshí),[50] is also unique in the Forbidden City.[62]
  • The layout of buildings follows ancient customs laid down in the Classic of Rites. Thus, ancestral temples are in front of the palace. Storage areas are placed in the front part of the palace complex, and residences in the back.[63]


Main article: Collections of the Palace Museum

Equestrian painting of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796) by Giuseppe Castiglione

A gilded lion in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity

The Jade Cabbage, formerly at the Forbidden City and now at the National Palace Museum, Taipei

The collections of the Palace Museum are based on the Qing imperial collection. According to the results of a 1925 audit,[64] some 1.17 million items were stored in the Forbidden City. In addition, the imperial libraries housed one of the country’s largest collections of ancient books and various documents, including government documents of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

From 1933, the threat of Japanese invasion forced the evacuation of the most important parts of the Museum’s collection. After the end of World War II, this collection was returned to Nanjing. However, with the Communists‘ victory imminent in the Chinese Civil War, the Nationalist government decided to ship the pick of this collection to Taiwan. Of the 13,427 boxes of evacuated artifacts, 2,972 boxes are now housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Almost ten thousand boxes were returned to Beijing, but 2,221 boxes remain today in storage under the charge of the Nanjing Museum.[20]

After 1949, the Museum conducted a new audit as well as a thorough search of the Forbidden City, uncovering a number of important items. In addition, the government moved items from other museums around the country to replenish the Palace Museum’s collection. It also purchased and received donations from the public.[65]

Today, there are over a million rare and valuable works of art in the collection of the Palace Museum.[66][67] Art works in the museum’s permanent collection total 1,052,653; these includes paintings, pottery, inscribed wares, bronze wares, and court documents.[66]


The Palace Museum holds 340,000 pieces of ceramics and porcelain. These include imperial collections from the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, as well as pieces commissioned by the Palace, and, sometimes, by the Emperor personally. The Palace Museum holds about 320,000 pieces of porcelain from the imperial collection. The rest are almost all held in the National Palace Museum in Taipei and the Nanjing Museum.[68]


The Palace Museum holds close to 50,000 paintings. Of these, more than 400 date from before the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). This is the largest such collection in China.[69] The collection is based on the palace collection in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The personal interest of Emperors such as Qianlong meant that the palace held almost all surviving paintings from the Yuan Dynasty and before. However, a significant portion of this collection was lost over the years. After his abdication, Puyi transferred paintings out of the palace, and many of these were subsequently lost or destroyed. In 1948, the pick of the remaining collection were moved to Taiwan. The collection has subsequently been replenished, through donations, purchases, and transfers from other museums.


The Palace Museum’s bronze collection dates from the early Shang Dynasty (founded c. 1766 BC). Of the almost 10,000 pieces held, about 1,600 are inscribed items from the pre-Qin period (to 221 BC). A significant part of the collection is ceremonial bronzeware from the imperial court.[70]


The Palace Museum has one of the largest collections of mechanical timepieces of the 18th and 19th centuries in the world, with more than 1,000 pieces. The collection contains both Chinese- and foreign-made pieces. Chinese pieces came from the palace’s own workshops, Guangzhou (Canton) and Suzhou (Suchow). Foreign pieces came from countries including Britain, France, Switzerland, the United States and Japan. Of these, the largest portion come from Britain.[71]


Jade has a unique place in Chinese culture.[72] The Museum’s collection, mostly derived from the imperial collection, includes some 30,000 pieces. The pre-Yuan Dynasty part of the collection includes several pieces famed throughout history, as well as artefacts from more recent archaeological discoveries. The earliest pieces date from the Neolithic period. Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty pieces, on the other hand, include both items for palace use, as well as tribute items from around the Empire and beyond.[73]

Palace artefacts

In addition to works of art, a large proportion of the Museum’s collection consists of the artefacts of the imperial court. This includes items used by the imperial family and the palace in daily life, as well as various ceremonial and bureaucratic items important to government administration. This comprehensive collection preserves the daily life and ceremonial protocols of the imperial era.[74]


Glazed building decoration


The Forbidden City, the culmination of the two-thousand-year development of classical Chinese and East Asian architecture, has been influential in the subsequent development of Chinese architecture, as well as providing inspiration for many modern constructions. Some specific examples include:

  • Emperor Gia Long of Vietnam built a palace and fortress that was intended to be a smaller copy of the Chinese Forbidden City in the 1800s. Its ruins are in Huế. In English it is called the “Imperial City“. The name of the inner palace complex in Vietnamese is translated literally as “Purple Forbidden City”, which is the same as the Chinese name for the Forbidden City in Beijing.
  • The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington was designed to incorporate elements of classical Chinese architecture and interior decoration. The ceiling of the auditorium features a dragon panel and chandelier reminiscent of the dragon caisson and Xuanyuan mirror found in the Forbidden City.[75]

Depiction in art, film, literature and popular culture

The Forbidden City has served as the scene to many works of fiction. In recent years, it has been depicted in films and television series. Some notable examples include:

  • The Last Emperor (1987), a biographical film about Puyi, was the first feature film ever authorised by the government of the People’s Republic of China to be filmed in the Forbidden City.

As performance venue

The Forbidden City has also served as a performance venue. However, its use for this purpose is strictly limited, due to the heavy impact of equipment and performance on the ancient structures. Almost all performances said to be “in the Forbidden City” are held outside the palace walls.

  • Giacomo Puccini‘s opera, Turandot, about the story of a Chinese princess, was performed at the Imperial Shrine just outside the Forbidden City for the first time in 1998.[76]
  • In 2004, the French musician Jean Michel Jarre performed a live concert in front of the Forbidden City, accompanied by 260 musicians, as part of the “Year of France in China” festivities.[77]

Architecture Of The Song Dynasty (960 – 1279)

Architecture of the Song Dynasty

The architecture of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) built upon the accomplishments of its predecessors, much like the subsequent dynastic periods of China. The hallmarks of Chinese architecture during the Song period were; its towering Buddhist pagodas, enormous stone and wooden bridges, its lavish tombs, and palatial architecture. Although literary works on architecture existed beforehand, during the Song Dynasty it blossomed into maturity and represents a more professional outlook, described dimensions and working materials in a concise, more organised manner. In addition to the remaining build examples, architecture in Song artwork and illustrations of architectural drawings in published books also aid modern historians in understanding the nuances of architecture originating from the Song period.

The profession of the architect, master craftsman, carpenter, and structural engineer were not seen as high professions equal to the likes of a Confucian scholar-official in pre-modern China. Architectural knowledge was passed down orally for thousands of years in China, usually from craftsman fathers to their sons. However, there were also government agencies and schools for construction, building and engineering. The Song Dynasty’s building manuals aided not only the various private workshops, but also the government employees enlisted as craftsmen for the central government.

City and Palace

Bianjing outer city

Diagram of “urn city and turrets from North Song Dynasty Wujing Zongyao

Bianjing city gate, detail from Along the River During the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan

Bianjing inner city gate (reconstructed)

The layout of ancient Chinese capitals followed the guidelines of Kao Gong Ji: a square city wall with several gates on each side and passageways for the emperor;[1] this was no exception for the capital of the North Song Dynasty. The outer city of ancient Bianjing was built in the reign of Emperor Shenzong. The plan of Bianjing’s outer city was rectangular, the length of NS sides were about 6000 m, the WE sides about 7000 m, almost square in shape. The south city wall had three gates, with Nanxun Gate at the center, Chenzhou Gate to its east and Dailou Gate to its west. The east city wall had four gates: namely Dongshui Gate (SE), Xinsong Gate, Xinchao Gate, North-East Water Gate. The west hall had four gates: Xinzheng Gate, West Water Gate, Wansheng Gate, Guzi Gate. The north wall had four gates: Chenqiao Gate at the east end, followed by Fengqiu Gate, New Wild Jujube Gate and Weizhou Gate. The outer wall was surrounded by a 30 m wide moat, called Dragon Guard River. Willow trees lined its two banks. There were turrets on top of the wall, one at every 100 steps.[2] The four central gates at the four sides were reserved for the emperor; these gates had straight passages and only two sets of doors, while the other city gates had zigzag passages and were guarded by three sets of doors.

Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan‘s painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival depicted the Dongshui Gate in detail, the building on top had Song Dynasty style five ridge roof with mild slope, supported prominently by two sets of bracket(dougong) assembly, the lower level bracket assembly sat on top of the city gate and formed a wooden foundation;a top level bracket assembly supporting the roof, similar to the dougong assembly of a still standing Song Dynasty building, the Goddess Temple in Taiyuan. This method of using a lower set of bracket assembly as foundation to support superstructure was specified in Yingzhao Fashi as “pingzuo” (literally “flat base”)vol 4.4[3]

The city wall itself was built with rammed earth, a technique detailed in Li Jie’s 12th century building manual Yingzao Fashi vol III Standard for Moat, Stronghold and Mason Work:

Foundation: For every square chi, apply two dan of earth; on top of it lay mixture of broken brick, tile and crushed stones, also two dan. To every 5 cun layer of earth, two men standing face to face, ram six times with pestles each man rams 3 times on a dent;then ram four times on each dent, two men again standing face to face, each rams twice on the same dent, then ram two times, each man rams one times. Following this, ram the surface with pestles or stamp with feet randomly to even out the surface. For every 5 cun thickness of earth, ram it to 3 cun; for every 3 cun of brick and stone layer, ram it to one and half cun.[4]

All rammed earth walls in ancient China used tapering technique, i.e., the bottom part of earth wall is thicker, tapering off and getting thinner and thinner. The bottom width of East Capital outer city wall was more than 34 meter, and its top width was greater than 5 m, the wall was more than 9 meters high.[5] The tapering technique was also detailed in Li Jie’s book:

Standard for city wall: For every 40 chi height, the width of the wall at the base will be increase by half of the height; the width of the top of the wall must be decreased by half the height. The width of the foundation must be the same as the width of the base of the wall. For every 7.5 chi length of wall, apply two permanent anchor posts and two crossbeams; reinforced with additional woods and straw bundles.[6]

During the Song Dynasty, Bianjing city had three enclosures, the outer city wall, the inner city wall, and the palace at center. The inner city was rectangular, with three doors on each side.[7]

The Palace enclosure was also rectagular with four watchtowers, one on each corner. There were four main gates, Xihua Gate at the west, Donghua Gate at the east, Gongchen Gate at the north, and Xuade Gate, also known as Duan Gate or Xuandelou at the south. Xuande Gate had five panel of doors, painted in red color and decorated with gold tacks; its walls were majestically decorated with dragon, phoenix and floating cloud patterns to match the carved beams, painted rafters and glazed tile roof.[8] Two glazed dragons heads(called “chi wei”) each biting one end of the top ridge, and tail pointing towards the sky. The symbolic function of the “chi wei” was explained in Yingzao Fashi,

There is a dragon in the East Sea, with tail(wei) similar to sparrow hawk(chi), it stirs up waves and caused rainfall, hence people put its likeness on the rooftop to prevent fire, however, they misnamed it as sparrow hawk tail (chi wei).[9]

An image of the Xuande Gate and its dragon heads was captured vividly by Emperor Huizong of Song. One evening of 1112, Emperor Huizong saw red clouds surrounded the Xuande Gate, a flock of white cranes circling in the sky above it, and two cranes perched each on top of a rooftop dragon head, he considered that an auspicious sign, and resulted in the painting.

The boulevard south from the Xuande Gate was the Imperial Boulevard, about two hundred steps wide, with Imperial Corridor on either side; before 1112, merchants were allowed to open shops in the corridors, later banned. Two rows of black fence were placed at the center of boulevard to blocked off pedestrians and carriages. Along the inner sides of the fence, there were two rows of brick lined Imperial Water Furrow, filled with lotus.[10] About 400 meter south from Xuande Gate, Bian River intercepted the Imperial Boulevard, a balustraded flatbed stone bridge called Zhou Bridge crossed the river. During spring and summer, mingled peach trees, plum trees, pear trees and apricot trees adorned the river banks with variety of flowers, as beautiful as brocade.[11] This boulevard with stone bridge crossing river design was later imitated in the Forbidden City.


The Zhaozhou Bridge of 605 AD, a segmental arch bridge that would inspire later bridge-works in China, such as the similar Yongtong Bridge built during the Song period.

Bridges over waterways had been known in China since the ancient Zhou Dynasty, and even floating pontoon bridges were mentioned from the Zhou period (Song era pontoon bridges include the Dongjin Bridge, 400 meters long, which is still seen today). Bridges of the Zhou Dynasty were often built entirely of wood, while some featured stone piers. The first bridge in China to be built entirely of stone was an arch bridge of 135 AD, spanning a transport canal in the Eastern Han capital of Luoyang.[29] With brilliant engineers such as Li Chun of the Sui period, grand bridge-works like the Zhaozhou Bridge of 605 AD were built. In terms of global history, this bridge is famous for being the world’s first fully stone open-spandrel stone segmental arch bridge (in Europe, the bridge of Roman Emperor Trajan over the Danube featured wooden-built open-spandrel segmental arches on stone piers (Trajan’s Bridge), while the first purely-stone segmental arch bridges date from the 1st century BC such as the Ponte San Lorenzo or, later, the Pont des Marchands.[30] The Zhaozhou Bridge would continue to influence later Chinese bridges, such as the similar Yongtong Bridge near Zhaoxian in Hebei. The Yongtong Bridge is a 26 m (85 ft) long stone segmental-arch bridge built in 1130 by the Song structural engineer Pou Qianer.[31]

During the Song Dynasty, bridge construction reached an even greater height of sophistication and grand extent. There were large trestle-structure bridges built during the Song, like the one built by Zhang Zhongyan in 1158 AD.[32] There were also large bridges built entirely of stone, such as the Ba Zi Bridge of Shaoxing, built in 1256 AD, which still stands today.[33] Bridges with stylish Chinese pavilions crowning their central spans were often featured in painted artwork, like the landscape paintings of Xia Gui (1195–1224). There were also long roof-covered corridor bridges built, such as the 12th century Rainbow Bridge in Wuyuan, Jiangxi province, which has wide stone-base piers and a top-level wooden frame. While he was an administrator for Hangzhou, the famous Chinese poet, travel writer, and government official Su Shi (1037–1101) had a large pedestrian causeway built across the West Lake, which still bears his name: sudi (蘇堤). In 1221, the Daoist traveler Qiu Changchun once visited Genghis Khan in Samarkand, describing various Chinese bridges in his travels there through the Tian Shan Mountains, east of Kuldja. The historian Joseph Needham quotes him as saying:

The Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo Bridge), constructed from 1189 to 1192, although the current bridge was reconstructed in 1698.

[The road had] ‘no less than 48 timber bridges of such width that two carts can drive over them side by side’. It had been built by Chang Jung [Zhang Rong] and the other engineers of the Chagatai some years before. The wooden trestles of Chinese bridges from the -3rd century (BC) onwards were no doubt similar to those supposed to have been employed in Julius Caesar‘s bridge of -55 (BC) across the Rhine, or drawn by Leonardo, or found in use in Africa. But where in +13th century (AD) Europe could a two-lane highway like Chang Jung’s have been found?[34]

In medieval-era Fujian Province, there were enormous beam bridges built during the Song Dynasty. Some of these bridges were built at a length of 1219.2 m (4,000 ft), with the length of their individual spans of up to 22.33 m (70 ft) in length, and the construction of which necessitated the moving of massive stones that weighed 203200 kg (200 t).[33] Unfortunately, no names of the engineers of the Fujian bridges were recorded or featured on inscriptions of the bridges. The only names featured were merely the names of the Song-era local officials that sponsored them and gave oversight of their construction and repair.[33] However, the historian Joseph Needham points out that there might have been an engineering school of Fujian headed by a prominent engineer of the time known as Cai Xiang (1012–1067). Cai was a noted scholar, an author of books on lichi fruit and tea, and who had risen to the seat of a governmental prefect in Fujian. Near Quanzhou, Cai Xiang planned and supervised the construction of the large Wanan Bridge (once called the Luoyang Bridge, constructed from 1053–1059 AD), a stone bridge similar to other bridges found in Fujian.[33] The bridge still stands today, and features ship-like piers that reduce the amount of rapid river water friction.[citation needed] Its dimensions are 731 m (2,398 ft) in length, 5 m (16 ft) in width, and 7 m (22 ft) in height.

Tombs of the Northern Song emperors

Statues along an avenue of the tomb complex.

Frescoes and dougong bracket sets from the tomb of Song Silang, Northern Song Dynasty, located in Luoyang

Although rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty, the Beisi Pagoda,’s frame was designed between 1131 and 1162 during the Song Dynasty, and stands 76 m (243 ft) tall.

Located southwest of Gongyi city in Gongxian County in Henan province, the large tombs of the Northern Song Dynasty include a total of some 1,000 tombs, including individual tombs for Song emperors, empresses, princes, princesses, consorts, and extended family. The size of the complex has an area of approximately 7 km (4.3 miles) running east to west by 8 km (5 miles) running north to south.[35] Construction on the complex began in 963 AD, during the reign of the first Song ruler Emperor Taizu of Song, whose father is also buried at the site.[35] The only Northern Song emperors not buried there are Emperor Huizong of Song and Emperor Qinzong of Song, who died in captivity after the Jurchen invasion of northern China in 1127. Lining the avenues of the tomb complex are hundreds of Song Dynasty sculptures and statues of tigers, rams, lions, horse and groom, horned beasts and mythical creatures, government officials, military generals, foreign ambassadors, and others featured in an enormous display of Song era artwork.

The layout and style of the Song tombs resemble those found in the contemporary Tangut kingdom of the Western Xia, which also had an auxiliary burial site associated with each tomb.[35] At the center of each burial site in the complex is a truncated pyramidal tomb, each tomb once guarded by a four-walled enclosure with four centered gates and four corner towers.[36] About 100 km from Gongxian is the well-excavated Baisha Tomb, a grand example of Song era subterranean tomb architecture, with “elaborate facsimiles in brick of Chinese timber frame construction, from door lintels to pillars and pedestals to bracket sets, that adorn interior walls.”[36] The Baisha Tomb had two large separated chambers with cone-shaped ceilings, and leading down to the entrance doors of the subterranean tomb is a large stair case.[37]

[edit] Literature

During the Song Dynasty, previous works on architecture were brought to more sophisticated levels of description, such as the Yili Shigong, written by Li Ruogui in 1193 AD.[38] One of the most definitive works, however, was the earlier Mu Jing (‘Timberwork Manual’), ascribed to the Master-Carpenter (Du Liao Jiang) known as Yu Hao, written sometime between 965 to 995. Yu Hao was responsible for the construction of an elegant wooden pagoda tower in Kaifeng, one that unfortunately was burnt down by lightning and replaced by the brick Iron Pagoda soon after. In his time, books on architecture were still considered a lowly scholarly achievement since it was associated with a middle-class craft, therefore it was not even recorded in the official court bibliography.[39] Although the Timberwork Manual was lost to history, the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo wrote of his work extensively in his Dream Pool Essays of 1088, praising the Timberwork Manual as a work of architectural genius, and that no one in his own time could reproduce such a work.[4

However, several years later, there was such a man, known as Li Jie (李誡; 1065–1110), who wrote the Yingzao Fashi (‘Treatise on Architectural Methods’ or ‘State Building Standards’).[40][41] Although others existed before, such as the Yingshan Ling (National Building Law) of the early Tang Dynasty (618–907),[42] Li’s book is the oldest existent technical manual on Chinese architecture to have survived in full.[41]

[edit] Treatise of Li Jie Yingzao Fashi

In his youth, Li Jie was well educated, since his father had been the Minister of Revenue at the Song court.[43] Besides his later work on architecture, Li Jie also published books on geography, history, and philology, and was also a painter.[43] When Shen Kuo was in office, Li Jie was an up-and-coming official in the Bureau of Imperial Sacrifices, and by 1092 he had been moved to the Directorate of Buildings and Construction, where he showed much promise as an architect.[40] He revised many older treatises on architecture from 1097 until 1100. His written work was complete in 1100, and he presented his work to Emperor Zhezong of Song in his last year of reign.[40][43] His successor Emperor Huizong of Song had Li’s book officially published three years later in 1103, so that it could benefit foremen, architects, and literate craftsmen.[40][43] His book was aimed not only at providing standard regulations for the engineering agencies of the central government, but also the many workshops and artisan families throughout China who could benefit from using a well-written government manual on building practices.[44] With his book becoming a noted success, Li Jie was promoted by Huizong as the Director of Palace Buildings.[45] Thereafter Li became well-known for the oversight in construction of administrative offices, palace apartments, gates and gate-towers, the ancestral temple of the Song Dynasty, along with numerous Buddhist temples.[40] In 1145 a second edition of Li’s book was published by Wang Huan.[4

Li’s Yingzao Fashi included building codes and regulations, accounting information, materials used in construction, and classification of different crafts.[46] Written in 34 chapters, the book outlined units of measurement,[41] the construction of moats and fortifications,[47] stonework,[47] greater woodwork,[47] lesser woodwork,[47] including specifications (and illustration) for making bracketing units with inclined arms and joints for columns and beams,[48] wood carving,[47] turning and drilling,[47] sawing,[47] bamboo work,[47] tiling,[47] wall building,[47] painting and decoration,[47] recipes for decorative paints, glazes, and coatings,[41] mixture proportions for mortars in masonry,[45] brickwork,[47] glazed tile making,[47] and provided drawn illustrations of all these practices and standards.[41] His book outlined structural carpentry in great detail, providing standard dimensional measurements for all components used.[44] In this he developed a standard 8-grade system of different size timber elements known as the cai-fen system of units, which could be universally applied in buildings.[49] About 8% of Li Jie’s book took material from preexisting written material on architecture, while the majority of the book documented the inherited traditions of craftsmen and architects.[43] Li’s book provided a full glossary of technical terms that included mathematical formulae, building proportions and construction, and incorporated topography in estimations on how to build on different sites.[45] He also estimated the monetary costs of hiring laborers of different skill levels and crafts, on the basis of a day’s work, the materials needed, and the seasons employed in.[45]

In 1919, Zhu Qiqian was so intrigued by reading an 1145 AD Ding’s handcopy of the Yingzao Fashi at the Nanjing Provincial Library, a photolithographic edition in the same year was published by the Commercial Press (known as Ding edition); and he established the Chinese Architecture Institute(Zhongguo Yingzao Xueshe).[50] Soon after, half page fragment of a Song Dynasty edition were discovered in Qing Dynasty court documents; Tao Xian then cross checked the Ding edition with a Wenyuan Chamber edition and a Jiang Library edition, redrawn nearly 100 original line drawings into color plates based on Li’s notes, compiled according to the style of Song fragment and published a deluxe edition in 1925 (later referred to as Tao edition). The Chinese Architecture Institute began studying the book in greater detail.[51] The 1925 publication spurred worldwide interest in Chinese architecture, with French author Paul Demièville, British scholar W. Perceval Yetts, and Japanese scholar Takuichi Takeshima.[52] In 1932 another Song Dynasty handcopy edition of Yingzao Fashi was discovered in the Forbidden City (referred to as Forbidden City edition). Liang Sicheng and Liu Dunzhen of the Institute double-checked the Tao edition against the Forbidden City edition, recovered important omissions of the Tao edition and was printed 1932. Since 1925, Liang Sicheng has spent nearly forty years in the research of Yingzao Fashi, as the result of his work, Annotated Yingzao Fashi complete with modern engineering diagrams was published posthumously by Qinghua University in 1980, later included as vol 7 of Liang’s collected works.[53]

Deluxe facmile edition of 1925 Tao edition Yingzao Fashi was reprinted in 1989,[54] and in 1995; the same edition was reprinted as paperback in 2006[55]

In his Dream Pool Essays of 1088, the Song scientist and statesman Shen Kuo was one to praise the architectural and structural written work of Yu Hao, who once had a marvellous wooden Chinese pagoda built at the Song capital of Kaifeng. Below is a passage from one of Shen’s books outlining the basics contained in Yu’s 10th century work on early Song-era architecture:

In the first quote, Shen Kuo describes a scene were Yu Hao gives advice to another artisan architect about slanting struts for diagonal wind bracing:

When Mr. Qian (Weiyan) was Governor of the two Zhejiang provinces, he authorized the building of a wooden pagoda at the Fantian Si (Brahma-Heaven Temple) in Hangzhou with a design of twice three stories. While it was under construction General Qian went up to the top and was worried because it swayed a little. But the Master Builder explained that as the tiles had not yet been put on, the upper part was still rather light, hence the effect. So then they put on all the tiles, but the sway continued as before. Being at a loss what to do, he privately sent his wife to see the wife of Yu Hao with a present of golden hair pins, and enquire about the cause of the motion. (Yu) Hao laughed and said: ‘That’s easy, just fit in struts to settle the work, fixed with (iron) nails, and it will not move any more.’ The Master Builder followed his advice, and the tower stood quite firm. This is because the nailed struts filled in and bound together (all the members) up and down so that the six planes (above and below, front and back, left and right) were mutually linked like the cage of the thorax. Although people might walk on the struts, the six planes grasped and supported each other, so naturally there could be no more motion. Everybody acknowledged the expertise thus shown.[56]

In this next quote, Shen Kuo describes the dimensions and types of architecture outlined in Yu Hao’s book:

Methods of building construction are described in the Timberwork Manual, which, some say, was written by Yu Hao. (According to that book), buildings have three basic units of proportion, what is above the cross-beams follows the Upperwork Unit, what is above the ground floor follows the Middlework Unit, and everything below that (platforms, foundations, paving, etc.) follows the Lowerwork Unit. The length of the cross-beams will naturally govern the lengths of the uppermost cross-beams as well as the rafters, etc. Thus for a (main) cross-beam of (8 ft) length, an uppermost cross-beam of (3.5 ft) length will be needed. (The proportions are maintained) in larger and smaller halls. This (2/28) is the Upperwork Unit. Similarly, the dimensions of the foundations must match the dimensions of the columns to be used, as also those of the (side-) rafters, etc. For example, a column (11 ft) high will need a platform (4.5 ft) high. So also for all the other components, corbelled brackets, projecting rafters, other rafters, all have their fixed proportions. All these follow the Middlework Unit (2/24). Now below of ramps (and steps) there are three kinds, steep, easy-going, and intermediate. In places these gradients are based upon a unit derived from the imperial litters. Steep ramps are ramps for ascending which the leading and trailing bearers have to extend their arms fully down and up respectively (ratio 3/35). Easy-going ramps are those for which the leaders use elbow length and the trailers shoulder height (ratio 1/38); intermediate ones are negotiated by the leaders with down-stretched arms and trailers at shoulder height (ratio 2/18). These are the Lowerwork Units. The book (of Yu Hao) had three chapters. But builders in recent years have become much more precise and skillful than formerly. Thus for some time past the old Timberwork Manual has fallen out of use. But (unfortunately) there is hardly anybody capable of writing a new one. To do that would be a masterpiece in itself![57]

[edit] Architecture in song artwork

Detail on a mountain temple in a vertical hanging scroll landscape painting by Li Cheng (c. 919–967)

Games in the Jinming Pool, a painting by Zhang Zerui depicting Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital.

A Kaifeng palace rooftop visited by cranes, by Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100–1126)

Expecting Guests, by Ma Lin, c. 1250.

Hydraulic Mill for Grain

Clock Tower


Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda

Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda

Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda

Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda
Coordinates 22°26′56.01″N 114°0′22.16″E / 22.4488917°N 114.0061556°E / 22.4488917; 114.0061556
Alternate names 魁星塔, 文昌閣, (local)文塔
Type Pagoda
Location Ping Shan, Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong
Owner Tang clan
Completed 1486
Height 13 metres
Floor count 3 (formerly 7)
Website [1]

The Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda (traditional Chinese: 聚星樓; Cantonese Yale: zeoi6 sing1 lau4, lit. The Pagoda of Gathering Stars) is the only surviving ancient pagoda in Hong Kong. It is an important monument of the Ping Shan Heritage Trail as well as a declared monument.[1] [2]

Tsui Sing Lau was, according to the Tang clan, originally located at a mouth of Deep Bay. It was built by the seventh-generation ancestor, Tang Yin-tung, to avoid evil spirits from the north, prevent floods and help the Tangs win a title in the imperial examination. Numerous Tangs have been granted titles. [2] It was declared a monument on 14 December, 2001. [1]

According to Tang legend, in 1382, Tang Yin-tung dreamt that a group of stars all gathered together and dropped onto the place where the pagoda now stands. Tang was reminded of the words of a Fung Shui master who had complimented the good fung shui of Ping Shan, but who also gave two comments on its geographical weaknesses. The Tangs had not fully comprehended the second comment, so Tang Yin-tung immediately consulted a Fung Shui master. The master advised him to build a Buddhist pagoda on that spot in order to gather the ‘scholarship’ for the clan, hence the name. After the building of the pagoda, the Tang clan produced numerous scholars and officials in the Ming and Qing dynasties. [2]

Built on a low foundation, the hexagonal pagoda is believed to have an initial total of 7 floors, but this was reduced to 3 due to erosion. It is made of mud bricks and granite.[2] Fui Shing is worshipped on the top floor, where the words Over the Milky Way was inscribed. Fui Shing was a god who determined which scholars were to pass examinations and receive titles. The words The Pagoda of Gathering Stars and Light Shines Straight Onto the Dippers and the Enclosures were inscribed on the second and ground floors respectively. [1]

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Small Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, China

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, sometimes Little Wild Goose Pagoda (Chinese: 小雁塔; pinyin: Xiǎoyàn Tǎ), is one of two significant pagodas in the city of Xi’an, China, the site of the old Han and Tang capital Chang’an. The other notable pagoda is the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, originally built in 652 and restored in 704. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda was built between 707709, during the Tang Dynasty under Emperor Zhongzong of Tang (r 705–710). The pagoda stood 45 m (147 ft) until the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake. The earthquake shook the pagoda and damaged it so that it now stands at a height of 43 m (141 ft) with fifteen levels of tiers.[1] The pagoda has a brick frame built around a hollow interior, and its square base and shape reflect the building style of other pagodas from the era.[1]

During the Tang Dynasty, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda stood across a street from its mother temple, the Dajianfu Temple. Pilgrims brought sacred Buddhist writings to the temple and pagoda from India, as the temple was one of the main centers in Chang’an for translating Buddhist texts.[1] The temple was older than the pagoda, since it was founded in 684, exactly 100 days after the death of Emperor Gaozong of Tang (r. 649–683).[1] Emperor Zhongzong had donated his residence to the building of a new temple here, maintaining the temple for 200 monks in honor of his deceased father Gaozong.[1] The temple was originally called the Daxianfusi or Great Monastery of Offered Blessings by Zhongzong, until it was renamed Dajianfusi by Empress Wu Zetian in 690.[1]

Porcelain Tower Of Nanjing

Porcelain Tower of Nanjing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Porcelain Pagoda, as illustrated in Fischer von Erlach‘s Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (1721)

The Porcelain Tower (or Porcelain Pagoda) of Nanjing (Chinese: 南京陶塔; pinyin: Nánjīng Táotǎ), also known as Bao’ensi (meaning “Temple of Gratitude”; Chinese: 大报恩寺, Da Bao’en Si), is a historical site located on the south bank of the Yangtze in Nanjing, China. It was a pagoda constructed in the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty, but was mostly destroyed in the 19th century during the course of the Taiping Rebellion. The tower is now under reconstruction[citation needed].

[edit] Description

The original blocks of the Nanjing Tower’s arched door, now pieced back together and on display at the Nanjing Museum

The tower was octagonal with a base of about 97 feet (30 m) in diameter. When it was built, the tower was one of the largest buildings in China, rising up to a height of 260 feet (79 m) with nine stories and a staircase in the middle of the pagoda, which spiraled upwards for 184 steps. The top of the roof was marked by a golden pineapple. There were originally plans to add more stories, according to an American missionary who in 1852 visited Nanjing. There are only a few Chinese pagodas that surpass its height, such as the still existent 275-foot-tall (84 m) 11th-century Liaodi Pagoda in Hebei or the no longer existent 330-foot-tall (100 m) 7th-century wooden pagoda of Chang’an.

The tower was built with white porcelain bricks that were said to reflect the sun’s rays during the day, and at night as many as 140 lamps were hung from the building to illuminate the tower. Glazes and stoneware were worked into the porcelain and created a mixture of green, yellow, brown and white designs on the sides of the tower, including animals, flowers and landscapes. The tower was also decorated with numerous Buddhist images.

[edit] History

The original blocks of the Nanjing Tower’s arched door, now pieced back together and on display at the Nanjing Museum

The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing was designed during reign of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402-1424) shortly before its construction, in the early 15th century. It was first discovered by the Western world when European travelers like Johan Nieuhof visited it,[1] sometimes listing it as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After this exposure to the outside world, the tower was seen as a national treasure to both locals and other cultures around the world.[2]

In 1801, the tower was struck by lightning and the top three stories were knocked off, but it was soon restored. The 1843 book The Closing Events of the Campaign in China by Granville Gower Loch contains a detailed description of the tower as it existed in the early 1840s. In the 1850s, the area surrounding the tower erupted in civil war as the Taiping Rebellion reached Nanjing and the Taiping Rebels took over the city. They smashed the Buddhist images and destroyed the inner staircase to deny the Qing enemy an observation platform. American sailors reached the city in May 1854 and visited the hollowed tower. In 1856, the Taiping destroyed the tower in order to prevent a hostile faction from using it to observe and shell the city.[3] After this point, the tower’s remnants were forgotten and it lay dormant until a recent surge to try and rebuild the landmark.

Pizhi Pagoda – China

Pizhi Pagoda

Pizhi Pagoda, 54 m (177 ft) in height, built by 1063.

The Pizhi Pagoda (Chinese: ; pinyin: zhī ) is an 11th century Chinese pagoda located at Lingyan Temple, Changqing, near Jinan, Shandong province, China. Although originally built in 753 during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (r. 712–756), the present pagoda is a Song Dynasty reconstruction from 1056 until 1063, during the last reigning years of Emperor Renzong of Song (r. 1022–1063). This octagonal-based, nine-story tall, brick-and-stone pagoda stands at a height of 54 m (177 ft).[1]


The Chinese word “pizhi” is a translation of the Sanskrit word pratyeka. The pratyeka is a type of buddha, a loner personality and one who has attained enlightenment after the death of the Sakyamuni Buddha. This is achieved by self-study and self-cultivation without the aid of Buddhist teachers or guides. Thus, the Pizhi Pagoda was built by the Song Chinese of the 11th century in dedication of these pratyeka, which is a rarity among pagodas in China.[1]


From a cliffside of nearby Mount Tai, a view onto Lingyan Temple and Pizhi Pagoda.

The basic structure of the pagoda is built of brick, although the exterior facade has carved stone elements. At the base of the pagoda is a stone pedestal carved on four sides with scenes of the Buddhist afterlife and torture scenes in Hell. The first, second, and third stories feature balconies supported by typical Chinese dougong brackets. From the fourth story until the ninth, there are only pent roofs and no balconies. The iron steeple crowning the top of the pagoda is composed of an inverted bowl, discs, a sun, a crescent, and a bead. Iron chains are used to keep the steeple firmly into place on the rooftop. Small iron statues of celestial guards were positioned on the corner ridges by each of the chains, which was believed to keep the chains firmly into place. A large brick pillar and brick stairway lead all the way up to the fifth floor, but only the winding staircase outside the pagoda allows one to traverse all the way to the top where the steeple is located. This arrangement is often seen in stone pagodas, but rarely in brick ones.[1]

Pra Pathom Chedi – Thailand

Phra Pathom Chedi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Phra Pathom Chedi

Phra Pathom Chedi (Thai: พระปฐมเจดีย์) is the tallest stupa in the world with the height of 127 metres (417 ft). It is located in the town of Nakhon Pathom, Thailand.

The name Phra Pathom Chedi means Holy chedi (stupa) of the beginning. The stupa at the location is first mentioned in Buddhist scriptures of the year 675, however archaeological findings date back to the 4th century. In the 11th century it was overbuilt with a Khmer (Ancient Cambodia) style prang, which was later overgrown by the jungle. The ruin was visited several times by the later King Mongkut during his time as a monk, and after his coronation he ordered the building of a new and more magnificent chedi at the site. After 17 years of construction it was finished in 1870, and the population of nearby Nakhon Chai Si was ordered to move to the newly created town around the chedi.