Cycling in the Forbidden City - Recreation of the Last Emperor Puyi

Puyi, the last emperor of the Forbidden City, is also the first to ride a bicycle there. The bicycle was a wedding gift from his cousin. He even had more than 30 thresholds cut off to make it convenient to ride among different palaces.

A Bicycle was Presented to Puyi as a Wedding Gift

Puyi got his first bicycle when he got married from his cousin Pujia as a wedding gift in 1922. In some films and TV programs, it was Puyi's foreign teacher, Zhuang Shidun gave him the bicycle, which is not right. It was simply because Zhuang Shidun often gave Puyi some new gadgets, people took it for granted that it was a gift from him.

Puyi Liked Cycling in the Forbidden City for Recreation

He liked the bicycle so much and started to learn to ride the bicycle in spite of the obsession of the ministers and the concubines of previous emperors, who worried that he might get injured. He quickly acquired the cycling skill just in a few days and rode the bicycle all day among the different palaces, and according to the recalling of the eunuchs, he even murmured in the night dream to ride a bicycle.

Puyi became addicted to cycling and ordered people to spend a lot of money to buy a variety of bicycles for him, including British double-gun brand, hat brand, German blue brand, French goose brand and other different types of bicycle. There were more than 20 bicycles he usually rode. He even taught his empress Wanrong to ride the bicycle.

Over 30 Thresholds were Sawed for Convenient Cycling in the Forbidden City

For the convenience of cycling, Puyi did a rebelling thing in the eyes of the ministers and concubines of the previous emperors.

At that time, each palace had high wooden thresholds, so he had to get off the bike every time to pass through the gate, which made Puyi very unhappy. So he ordered to cut off many thresholds inside the Forbidden City, though opposed by many. Because in Chinese Feng Shui, the threshold can block out exterior unfavorable factors and prevent the leakage of wealth and fortune, and sawing off the threshold would damage Feng Shui.

Skillfully, the workers did not remove the thresholds completely. They made a tenon on both ends of the removed threshold and a small hole in the door frame. So when Puyi did not ride a bike, the thresholds could be put back, and the palace door could be closed perfectly in the night.  

According to a 1993 survey by Xiao Zhengwen, deputy director of the Palace Museum, more than 30 thresholds of the palaces were removed at that time. However, the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yanxindian), Palace of Gathered Elegance (Chuxiugong), Palace of Eternal Spring (Changchungong) and other six western palaces’ thresholds have not been sawed.

More Thresholds were Sawed after the Establishment of the Palace Museum

After the establishment of the Palace Museum, the gates of the main passages were transformed into movable thresholds. In this way, it is convenient for the vehicle to run while do not change the original design of the Forbidden City very much. It is interesting that such a clever design was actually due to the waywardness and naughtiness of the last emperor, Puyi.

Cycling and Driving are Not Allowed in the Forbidden City now

Today, visitors can only visit the Forbidden City on foot since the stone or brick paved ground are also precious cultural relics, which cannot withstand the crushing of all kinds of vehicles.

 Further Reading:
8 Fun Facts about the Forbidden City
Forbidden City History

- Last updated on May. 25, 2021 -
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