china edition



The Zhongnanhai is a complex of buildings in Beijing, China which serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the government of the People's Republic of China.


The term Zhongnanhai is synonymous with the leadership and government administration of the People's Republic of China (just as Downing Street, for instance, refers to the British Prime Minister). Chinese Presidents, including Hu Jintao, and other top PRC leadership figures often meet international dignitaries inside the complex. China Central Television frequently shows footage of meetings inside the compound, but limits it largely to views inside buildings.

The name of the Zhongnanhai complex, located west of the Forbidden City, means "central and southern seas" or"lakes", referring to 2 lakes (the "Central Sea" and "Southern Sea") located within the compound; it is sometimes translated as 'Sea Palaces'. These 2 lakes are part of a series of irrigation projects carried out during the construction of the nearby Forbidden City. Also part of the same system is the "Northern Sea", or "Beihai", now a public park.

These 3 lakes (Southern, Central, and Northern Seas) were originally an imperial leisure garden, with parklands on the shores of each lake, enclosed by a wall. Most of the pavilions, shrines, and temples survive from this period. Whereas the Northern lake had a religious focus, the shores of Central and Southern lakes were dotted with a number of palaces.

During the Jin Dynasty, the northern section of Zhongnanhai was the Taiye Lake (literally "Lake of Grand Liquid"), with an attached palace called the Daning Gong (literally "Palace of Great Peace"). During the Yuan Dynasty, Taiye Lake was included in the Imperial City. It was also expanded, covering approximately the area occupied by the Northern and Central Seas today. 3 palaces were built around the lake.

After the Ming Dynasty moved its capital to Beijing, construction on the existing Imperial Palace began in 1406. The Ming palace was to the south of the Yuan palace. As a result, a new Southern Sea was dug to the south of the old lake. The excavated soil, together with those from construction of the moat, was piled up to form Jingshan, a hill to the north of the Forbidden City. At this time, the 3 lakes were connected and were collectively called the Taiye Lake. The 3 lakes were divided by bridges. The lakes were part of an extensive royal park to the west of the Imperial Palace.

After the Qing Dynasty established its capital in Beijing, the government reduced the size of the royal park to within a small walled area around the 3 lakes. Several successive emperors built pavilions and houses along the lake shores, where they would carry out government duties in the summer. During the reign of the Empress Dowager Cixi, the Empress Dowager and the Emperor would often live in the Zhongnanhai compound, travelling to the Forbidden City only for ceremonial duties.

During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the Russian army occupied Zhongnanhai. Almost all artifacts and decorations in the compound were looted. Later, the Eight-Nation Alliance commander also lived in Zhongnanhai. When Puyi was crowned Emperor, his father as the Prince Regent lived for a short time in the compound.

Zhongnanhai attained political significance during the Republic of China era, when the Beiyang Government under Yuan Shikai placed its headquarters in the Zhongnanhai compound from 1911. This decision was made because the regime wished to house its government very close to the historical centre of power, the Forbidden City , but could not use the Forbidden City itself because the abdicated Emperor Puyi still lived there.

When the Republic of China government moved its capital to Nanjing, the Zhongnanhai compound was opened to the public as a park.

Zhongnanhai served as a government centre again since the early days of the People's Republic of China, founded in 1949, which built many of the structures in the compound. The compound housed the Communist Party of China Central Committee, as well as the State Council . Early leaders, such as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping lived in the compound. Chinese maps of Beijing show Zhongnanhai as an insignificant green area with a water body; in contrast, the municipal government, however, is shown significantly with a red star.

Since Zhongnanhai became the central government compound, it has been mostly inaccessible to the general public in the same way the Forbidden City was during the imperial era. The exception to this was during the years of relative freedom following the end of the Cultural Revolution, from 1977 to 1985, when the compound was open to members of the public, who could obtain tickets to visit the compound from relevant government authorities. Following the political turmoil that culminated in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, this access has now been closed.

The most important entrance to the compound is the southern one at Xinhuamen (Xinhua Gate, or "Gate of New China"), surrounded by 2 slogans: "long live the great Communist Party of China" and "long live the invincible Mao Zedong Thought". The view behind the entrance is shielded by a traditional screen wall with the slogan "Serve the People", written in the handwriting of Zhou Enlai. The Xinhuamen entrance lies on the north side of West Chang'an Avenue.

On April 18, 1989, several pro-democracy students began a sit-in outside the Zhongnanhai compound. They were highly visible to passers-by on Chang'an Avenue. The students held signs reading "Down with Dictatorship" and "Long Live Democracy". Many of the students would later be involved in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. On April 20, Zhongnanhai guards attacked the protesting students with belts and clubs. The attack brought renewed determination to the student protesters and as news of the beating spread, pro-democracy students in tertiary campuses across China rallied to "Support Beijing", eventually escalating into the Tiananmen Square protests.

Zhongnanhai was also the site of demonstrations by the Falun Gong in 1999.