East Prosperity Gate (Donghuamen)

East Prosperity Gate (Donghuamen) is the eastern gate of the Forbidden City, which was built in the 18th year of the Ming dynasty in 1420. It faces east, symmetrical to the West Prosperity Gate (Xihuamen). There is dismount stone outside the Donghuamen, which means that no matter what the government official’s rank is, he has to dismount and walk into the gate. Under the gate, there are three openings for entrance and exit. Unlike other palace gates which have nine-nine rows of door nails, Donghuamen has eight-nine rows. The “Donghuamen” plaque under the eaves originally had three kinds of copper characters: Manchu, Mongolian and Chinese. Later, it was reduced to Manchu and Chinese. After the revolution of 1911, only Chinese characters were left. Now, Donghuamen is one of the exits for tourists to get out of the Forbidden City.

What was East Prosperity Gate used for?

The gate tower in Donghuamen was used to put the cotton armor worn by soldiers during military parades since the 23rd year of the reign of emperor Qianlong. They would be hung out every other year.

In march of the 28th year of reign of Qianlong in 1763, the emperor ordered to select 70 rooms by the moat outside Donghuamen to store the rice and grain that the eunuchs should receive each month, and gave these warehouses the name “En Feng Cang”, meaning “kind giving and bumper harvest”.

In the early Qing dynasty, only cabinet officials were allowed to enter and leave the Forbidden City via the gate. In the middle period of Qianlong's reign, senior officials with high status were allowed to use this gate.

Besides, East Prosperity Gate is also a gate for the crown prince to enter and leave the Forbidden City because it is close to the prince's palace.

The coffins of the emperors, empresses and empress dowager of the Qing dynasty were all sent out of the Forbidden City via Donghuamen, so it was also called “Ghost Gate”.

“Ghost Gate”

On March 19 of 17 years of reign of Chongzhen in 1644, the uprising army of Li Zicheng invaded the Beijing city. On that day Li Zicheng broke through the Forbidden City, Chongzhen emperor wanted to make the last effort, so he got out the Forbidden City from Donghuamen with dozens of eunuchs. But the rebels had closed all the city gates and they could not get out of the city. Finally in despair, the Chongzhen emperor went to Jingshan to the north of the Forbidden City and hanged himself on a tree. After Chongzhen died, Li Zicheng ordered his soldiers to put his body on display outside the Donghuamen. Since then, there is a saying that Donghuamen is “Ghost Gate”.

In the successive Qing dynasty, when the emperor, empress and empress dowager died, their coffins were all taken out of the Forbidden City through the Donghuamen, so the term “ghost gate” became more popular.

Why the number of door nails different from other gates? – 4 Guesses

9 is the biggest single digit. So people in ancient China often used the number “9” to highlight the nobility and sanctity of the imperial position. For example, there are 9,999.5 rooms in the Forbidden City; the main hall is nine-room wide; the Corner Towers (Jiaolou) has nine beams and eighteen columns (multiple of nine), seventy-two ridges (multiple of nine)... Among the four gates of the Forbidden City, Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwumen), West Prosperity Gate (Xihuamen) and Meridian Gate (Wumen) all have 81 nails in nine-nine rows, while the East Prosperity Gate (Donghuamen) has 72 nails in nine-eight rows. Why?

Guess 1:

It is said there were 81 nails on Donghuamen at the beginning, but in the late Ming dynasty, the emperor Chongzhen left Forbidden City through the gate and committed suicide when Li Zicheng invaded Beijing city. Later, his coffin was left outside Donghuamen for several days. The rulers of the Qing dynasty considered Donghuamen very unlucky. Therefore, the coffins were usually taken out through the gate. According to Chinese Yin-Yang theory, odd number is Yang, even number is Yin, the living belongs to Yang, and dead belongs to Yin. So the door nails were reduced to even number 72 and arranged in nine-eight rows. But this guess is not convincing enough. Because if the number of nails on the doors through which the coffin passed should be even, how come the number of nails in royal tombs such as the Ming Tombs is odd?

Guess 2:

When built the Forbidden City, the original plan was to use the large door nails on the larger Wumen and Shenwumen and smaller ones on the small Donghuamen and Xihuamen. But after Shenwumen was done, they found that they used the small door nails made for Donghuamen accidentally. So when made Donghuamen, they could not use up the large door nails for Shenwumen, but only reduced a row. This guess also doesn't sound true because there can be no mistake in building a palace for the emperor, and no overseer would make a joke of his own head.

Guess 3:

The four gates of the Forbidden City and the grandest hall, Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) form a Five-element map, one influencing the others greatly. The door nails of the Donghuamen was reduced to cope with the five-element theory to turn bad luck into good fortunes.

Guess 4:

East Prosperity Gate is the gate for crown prince’s daily entrance and exit. The crown prince is inferior to the emperor, so the number of door nails on Donghuamen is less than other doors.

Uprising Led by Tianlijiao

During the reign of emperor Jiaqing (1796 - 1820), many poor peasants took part in the armed struggle led by Tianlijiao to overthrow the Qing dynasty. In 1813, the peasant army was introduced into the Forbidden City by the eunuch Liu Decai through Donghuamen. But they disputed with the coal man in front of the gate and the hidden weapons were exposed in their panic, which was detected by the guards of East Prosperity Gate. The guards immediately closed the gate, resulting in only a few people rushing in. The uprising was declared a failure.
- Last updated on Jan. 19, 2023 by Brenda Lian -
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