Travelogues

Forbidden City – Life of the Empress

The Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty was a very filial son. And his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing of Niohuru clan 崇庆皇太后 钮祜禄氏, (posthumously conferred Empress XiaoShengXian 孝圣宪皇后 at her death), lived to a ripe old age of 85, which is really rare in the past.

The Yongzheng Emperor died on 8 October 1735 and was succeeded by Hongli, who was enthroned as the Qianlong Emperor. As the birth mother of the reigning emperor, Lady Niohuru was honoured as (the) “Divine Mother Empress Dowager Chongqing”.

Empress Dowager Chongqing 崇慶皇太后
Empress Dowager Chongqing 崇慶皇太后 (12 January 1692 – 2 March 1777)

The Qianlong Emperor held his mother in high regard and often consulted her for advice. The Qianlong Emperor often visited his mother. Lady Niohuru also always accompanied her son on his excursions to Shenyang and the Yangtze River Delta. In her old age, when Lady Niohuru was no longer fit to travel, the Qianlong Emperor stopped all his trips and only resumed them after her death.

Picture depicting the 60th birthday celebration of Empress Dowager Chongqing
Picture depicting the 60th birthday celebration of Empress Dowager Chongqing

Lady Niohuru’s 60th birthday was lavishly celebrated. The Qianlong Emperor ordered the roads decorated from Beijing to the Summer Palace, Chinese poems were read in her honour and sacrifices were made to the gods by the emperor and the entire imperial court. In her honour, the emperor also ordered the dredging of a lake at the Garden of Clear Ripples, which he named Kunming Lake, as well as renovated buildings on the lake shore.

Post humous conference of the title Empress Xiaosheng Cixuan Kanghui Dunhe Chenghui Renmu Jingtian Guangsheng Xian (孝聖慈宣康惠敦和誠徽仁穆敬天光聖憲皇后)
Empress Xiaosheng Cixuan Kanghui Dunhe Chenghui Renmu Jingtian Guangsheng Xian (孝聖慈宣康惠敦和誠徽仁穆敬天光聖憲皇后)

Lady Niohuru died on 2 March 1777. She was interred in a separate tomb in the Tai Mausoleum of the Western Qing tombs.

Palace of Compassion and Tranquility 慈寧宮

The Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining gong), first built in 1536 in the west of the Forbidden City, was the palatial residence especially built for Empress Dowager Jiang at the order of the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1522-1566).  In 1769 (the thirty-fourth year of Qianlong reign, Qing dynasty), the main hall of Palace of Compassion and Tranquility was rebuilt with multiple-eaves, and the rear hall was moved further north, in a layout as seen today. The courtyard, bounded by the east and the west covered corridors, which connect the Gate of Compassion and Tranquility to the south and the wing houses of the rear hall to the north, forms an independent architectural complex.

The main hall, with front and rear verandas, a gable and hip roof with double eaves and in yellow glazed tiles, is seven-bay wide and five-bay deep. In front of the main hall is a moon terrace, where the major ceremonies for the empress dowager took place. Especially on the Empress Dowager’s birthdays, it was where the emperor held celebrations. The rear hall was where the Empress Dowager worshiped the Buddha, and was furnished with all sorts of statues of Buddha and ritual instruments, thus it was also named the “great Buddha hall”.

Palace of Longevity and Health 壽康宮

Construction of the Palace of Longevity and Health 壽康宮 took place from December 1735 (the thirteenth year of the Yongzheng reign) to October 1736 (the first year of the Qianlong reign). It was Qianlong Emperor who ordered this palace built for his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing. Since then it became the palace exclusively reserved for empress dowagers. After multiple renovations during the reigns of Jiaqing (r. 1796-1820), Daoguang (r. 1821-1850), Xianfeng (r. 1851-1861) and Guangxu (r. 1875-1908), it had a layout basically unchanged. The imperial dowager consorts lived in the Western Palace of Longevity (Shou xi gong), Middle Palace of Longevity (Shou zhong gong), and the First Abode (tousuo)  among other living quarters which were nearby the Palace of Longevity and Health. The East Side Hall was a throne room reserved exclusively for the Emperor when he visited the Empress Dowager’s residence.

 

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