Are there toilets in the Forbidden City?

When built in 1420, the Forbidden City had no toilets. People living inside, including emperor and concubines, used a mobile toilet. The eunuchs or maids then poured excreta into a cart and transported it out of the palace through a special road. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711 - 1799), he built three toilets for his mother in the Palace of Longevity and Health, which were the only original toilets in the Forbidden City. After the Forbidden City opened to tourists, many toilets, or specifically, 14 washing rooms were built for visitors.
Location Map of 3 Original Toilets in the Forbidden City
Location Map of 3 Original Toilets
Location Map of Toilets in the Forbidden City
Location of Toilets in Forbidden City

Why was there no toilet in the Forbidden City when built?

To bring convenience to the great number of people living in the Forbidden City, a great number of toilets would have needed to be built at that time. If that had been the case, the waste and peculiar smell of the toilets would have affected the majesty and image of the royal family because of the lack of sewage facilities. So no toilet was built in the Forbidden City.

Where did people living in the Forbidden City answer nature’s call?

The emperors and royal families used closestools. These were mobile toilets kept by special eunuchs or maids in the clean room behind the accessory rooms of each palace. When needed, the eunuch or maid would carry it for the emperor or the royal family. After being used, the eunuch or maid would spray a layer of perfume or plant ash to cover the unpleasant smell, and deposit it in a special cart, which would transport these things out of the Forbidden City.

For eunuchs or maids, they used closestools in a special small room, in which there were also plant ashes and perfume to cover the bad smell. After use, they would immediately pour it into the cart. 

The Only 3 Original Toilets in the Forbidden City

They were built by Emperor Qianlong, the 6th emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) for his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing, in her Palace of Longevity and Health (Shoukanggong)

The first one is behind the back hall of the Palace of Longevity and Health, where the Empress Dowager Chongqing lived. In the eastern part of the back hall there is a hidden path behind the screen wall with four windows. The hidden path is roofed and walled, connecting the back hall with an independent room outside the east wall. The small room is an independent toilet. When the Empress Dowager Chongqing wanted to go to the toilet, she could go there through the hidden path without being cold in winter and being wet in the rain. At that time, it was a very convenient and comfortable thing.

The second is attached to the northernmost hall of the Palace of Longevity and Health. This hall is where Empress Dowager Chongqing enjoyed operas, another place where she would remain for extended periods of time. So the Emperor especially built a toilet for his mother there, too.

The third one is behind the east side hall. This side hall was specially prepared by Qianlong for himself with a throne in the middle room, and a bedroom and a study on two sides. The Emperor visited his mother almost every day. But sometimes it was not appropriate for the Empress Dowager Chongqing to see him. For example, she was dressing, chanting sutras, or chatting with other imperial concubines. At this time, he would wait for her in the east side hall. So this toilet was built for his own use.

Are there toilets in the Forbidden City for tourists nowadays?

Yes. The Forbidden City has built 14 modern clean and sanitary washing rooms for both males, females and the disabled to use.

1 & 2. To east and west sides inner the Gate of Correct Deportment
3 & 4. To east and west sides inner the Meridian Gate
5.To the southeast of the Hall of Martial Valor
6 & 7. To the east and west sides of the Hall of Persevering Harmony
8 & 9. To east and west sides inner the Gate of Heavenly Purity
10 & 11. In the east and west sides of the Imperial Garden
12.To the southeast of the Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds
13.To the north of the Six Western Palaces and south of the Studio of Cleansing Fragrance
14.To the east side inner the Gate of Divine Prowess

 Read more about Imperial Icehouse currently used as a restaurant.

 Further Reading:
Three Chimneys in the Forbidden City
Imperial Icehouse in the Forbidden City
- Last modified on Sep. 07, 2020 -
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