Travelogues

Forbidden City 5/5 Leisure in the Palace 宫廷娱乐

So what does an Emperor do for leisure? In Imperial China, the emperor is a God-like figure that the commoner would not have the opportunity to meet unless granted an audience. The Ming and Qing emperors pretty much spent most of their lives behind the walls of the Forbidden City – people are forbidden to go in, he is forbidden to go out.

So for leisure, they can do one of three “W”s : 1/ Watch an opera – there is the main “opera house” called the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies 畅音阁, and many others built around the palaces of his mother, wives and favoured concubines; 2/ Walk in the garden – there’s the main back garden called the Imperial Garden 御花园 for the emperor and his family, and there’s one for built for his mother, the Empress Dowager; 3/ Worship – there are temples and shrines in the palace for big and small festivals and ceremonies, and there’s always an excuse to launch an elaborate worship service. Let’s cover the three “W”s one by one.

1/3 Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies 畅音阁

Also known as Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, this pavilion inside the Palace of Tranquility and Longevity includes a 21-meter high 3-storey wooden opera house that is the Forbidden City’s largest performance stage.

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Built in 1776, it includes many interesting features, such as trap doors that allowed actors to make dramatic entrances to the stage. In recent years, performances have been held here for important international guests.

Hall for Viewing Opera 閱是楼

Construction finished in 1776, the forty-first year of the Qianlong reign (1736-1795), the Hall for Viewing Opera (閱是楼) is located north of the Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds, in the central section of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (宁寿宫) compound. In Qing dynasty (1644-1911), it was the place where traditional Chinese operas were performed.

On special occasions such as the Spring Festival or the emperor’s birthday, emperor, empress, imperial princes and court ministers would gather here in the two-storey hall to enjoy opera performances. Court ministers would sit in the winding corridors on the two flanks. Among Qing dynasty emperors and empresses, the Qianlong Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi had a special indulgence in operas.

2/3 Imperial Garden 御花园

Exiting and going further north, travellers will find the Imperial Garden (御花园). The garden offers an aesthetic change — from the crimson and gray building complex to a colorful and luxuriant atmosphere.

Gate of Heaven’s Primacy 天一门

The gate is located inside the Imperial Garden as the south gate of the Hall of Imperial Peace (钦安殿). During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Jiajing Emperor (1522-1566) added walls to form a courtyard of the hall, and named the door of the courtyard “Gate of Heaven’s Primacy”. “Heaven’s primacy” indicates the northern stars and is associated with water. This gate is built up with clay bricks that is rarely seen in the Forbidden City, for they are refractory and agree with the green and quiet surroundings.

Pavilion of One Thousand Autumns 千秋亭

Constructed in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), this pavilion is essentially square with a round roof and verandas on four sides. It has carved overhanging eaves and multiple angles with the same cross shape and structure as Pavilion of Ten-thousand Springs (万春亭) on the garden’s east side. Buddhist statues were enshrined here, as well as the spirit tablet of the Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862-1874). This pavilion is located on the west, the direction that in Chinese philosophy correlates with autumn.

御花园位于故宫最北端,最初名为“宫后苑”,清代才改名为“御花园”,是紫禁城内面积最大的皇家园林。御花园以钦安殿为中心,园内有亭阁轩榭等建筑二十余座,现存古树百余棵。清代选秀女的仪式就是在御花园内举行。

Gate of Divine Prowess 神武门

走出御花园的北门顺贞门,就已来到故宫紫禁城的北出口——神武门

On the gate to the far Northern end exit of the Forbidden City is the plaque that was written by the first Director of the Palace Museum. Legend has it that the army of the warlord was coming to take over the palace from the disposed emperor. In order to prevent looting, he wrote the five big characters and hung it on the gate to represent that the Nationalist Government has assumed authority of the premise. The plaque and name have been used since.

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3/3 Hall of Understanding and Bringing Peace 咸若馆

The hall is located in the northern part of the Garden of Compassion and Tranquility (慈宁宫花园); the main hall has a hip-and-gable roof in yellow glazed tiles and the enclosed porch has a round-ridge hip-and-gable roof, of which the six wing corners are embellished with a bronze bell each. Here was originally a place to enshrine the statues of Buddha and to store the Buddhist scriptures.

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Hall of Understanding and Bringing Peace 咸若馆

咸若馆位于慈宁宫花园北部中央,是园中主体建筑,为清代太后、太妃礼佛之所。明代初建时称咸若亭,万历十一年(1583年)更名曰咸若馆。清乾隆年间先后大修、改建,即今所见形制。馆坐北朝南,正殿5间,前出抱厦3间,四周出围廊。正殿为黄琉璃瓦歇山式顶,抱厦为黄琉璃瓦卷棚式顶。馆内装饰考究别致:梁檩上的龙凤和玺彩画灿然生辉,顶部的海墁花卉天花清丽淡雅。室内明间柱子的装饰颇具藏式佛殿之意味;贯通东、北、西三面墙壁的通连式金漆毗庐帽梯级大佛龛,给人以庄严神秘、佛法无边之感。馆内悬清乾隆皇帝御书“寿国香台”匾、“证最胜因金界庄严欢喜地,赞无量寿宝轮拥护吉祥云”联,并陈设龛、案、佛像、法器、供物等。

The Pavilion of Benevolent Sanctuary is located to the north of the Hall of Understanding and Bringing Peace, which is flanked by Pavilion of the Benevolent Sanctuary (慈荫楼) and the Building of Auspicious Clouds (吉云楼) to the east and the west.

Date Visited : Apr 2014 and 2019

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