china edition


Forbidden City - History

The site where the Forbidden City stands today was part of the imperial city during the Yuan dynasty. When the Ming Dynasty succeeded it, the first Hongwu Emperor moved the capital to Nanjing and ordered that the Mongol palaces be razed in 1369. His son, Zhu Di, was created Prince of Yan with seat in Beijing. A princely palace was built on the site. In 1402, Zhu Li usurped the throne and became the Yongle Emperor. He moved the capital back to Beijing.

The construction of the Forbidden City started in 1406 and took 14 years and an estimated 200,000 men. The principal axis of the new palace sits to the east of the Yuan Dynasty palace, a design intended to place the Yuan palace in the western or 'kill' position in fengshui. Soil excavated during construction of the moat was piled up to the north of the palace to create an artificial hill, the Jingshan hill.

From its 1420 completion to 1644, when a peasant revolt led by Li Zicheng invaded it, the Forbidden City served as the seat of the Ming Dynasty. The following Qing Dynasty also occupied the Forbidden City. In 1860, during the Second Anglo-Chinese Opium War, British forces managed to penetrate to the heart of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war, being the only foreign power to do so.

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 center of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. He was, however, allowed and, in fact, required to live within the walls of the Forbidden City, until a coup launched by a local general in 1924. Puyi was forced out, and the Palace Museum was established in the Forbidden City. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, the Forbidden City houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. These were gradually catalogued and put on public display. However, with the Japanese invasion of China, the safety of these national treasures were cast in doubt, and they were moved out of the Forbidden City. In 1947, after they had been moved from one location to another inside mainland China for many years, Chiang Kai-shek ordered many of the artifacts from the Forbidden City and the National Museum in Nanjing to be moved to Taiwan, where they formed the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This action has been extremely controversial, with some regarding it as looting while others regarding it as safekeeping, especially after the events of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland.