Bower of the Ancient Catalpa (Guhuaxuan)

Bower of the Ancient Catalpa (Guhuaxuan) is the main building in the first courtyard of Ningshougong Garden, also called Qianlong Garden in the northeast of the Forbidden City. It was so named because there is a lush ancient catalpa in front of it. It is an open square bower facing south, with a corridor attached to it, and a wooden plaque of “Guhuaxuan” inscribed by emperor Qianlong. The roof is paved with yellow glazed tiles; but along the edge, it is the green tiles. Inside, the ceiling full of applique wood carvings is not painted colorful like that of other architecture inside the Forbidden City, plain but elegant.

Unique Ceiling Full of Applique Wood Carvings

The decoration of Bower of the Ancient Catalpa is simple but elegant, especially the ceiling inside. The designer rejected the usual decorative methods of color painting, and used applique wood carving with flower and grass pattern instead. Each piece of the carving is square, with a round peony in the center and surrounded by grass patterns; in the four corners of the carving, are four smaller flowers with grass patterns, too. All the peonies in the center look different from another, some to bloom, some in full bloom, some with big petals, and some with smaller ones. So although in the original wood color, they are delicate as well with stronger stereo beauty than the flat colorful ceiling.

What to See from the Bower of the Ancient Catalpa (Guhuaxuan)

The scenery of Guhuaxuan is different in four seasons, and April-May is the most beautiful period when the ancient catalpa tree bloom. The columns and cloisters are like picture frames, and each of the frame shows a different view. There are peculiar rockeries and meandering cloisters in east and west sides. To the south, the distant view is tranquil stone path, while the close view is the flowers and trees. To the north are the small gates and quaint walls leading to the second courtyard of Qianlong Garden.

Legendry History about the Ancient Catalpa

The ancient catalpa was planted in the Jiajing period of Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), more than 400 years ago.

Catalpa trees are native to the Yellow River basin and are rare in Beijing. The royal family liked this tree very much and thought it a lucky symbol. The root of the catalpa tree is very developed, like the reproduction of imperial heirs. In the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1912), the soil was transported from the Yellow River basin every year to be placed under the root of the catalpa tree, symbolizing the solid foundation of the emperor’s rule. By the time of reign of Qianlong, the fourth emperor of Qing Dynasty lived in the Forbidden City, this catalpa tree was also in its fourth generation. Therefore, when he built the Qianlong Garden in 1772, the main building of the first yard was moved north to its original designed location, to commemorate this tree and pray for his descendants, rather than cut it down.

In order to show his love for the ancient tree, Emperor Qianlong named the bower behind the tree “Guhuaxuan”, in which “hua” has the same sound as “flower” in Chinese, referring to the lush ancient catalpa.

See more about Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshougong) Area/Complex
Go a little farther west, to visit Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen), the Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (Jiaotaidian) and then the Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan) to the north on the central axis.

 Further Reading:
How to visit the Forbidden City
Gutters on the Wall of Palace of Tranquil Longevity

- Last updated on May. 24, 2021 -
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