The World’s Largest Huanghuali Wood Wardrobe in Forbidden City

The world’s largest Huanghuali Wood Wardrobe is kept in the west of the Palace of Longevity and Health in the Forbidden City. It was dedicated by an official to the Empress Dowager Chongqing, the mother of Emperor Qianlong and the first owner of the Palace of Longevity and Health.
The wood wardrobe is so large that it occupies the northern part of the room. Set against the wall, the wood wardrobe is 2.9 meters (3.2 yards) high and 3.52 meters (3.85 yards) wide. It is divided into left and right groups, and each group is divided into upper and lower layers. There are double doors with delicate and vigorous dragon patterns carved on them.
Above the wardrobe is the second floor, which is called Xianlou in ancient Chinese architecture. It is not a space for keeping something but truly a floor. There is a secret door behind the wardrobe. From the door, you can see a narrow passage. At the end of the passage is a staircase leading to the upper floor. However, the space on the second floor is small, and adults can only bend upon on it.

A Wardrobe Used to Hide Treasures

A secret cabinet with a copper lock is hidden in the wardrobe and is where the empress dowager Chongqing and the royal concubines, who later lived here, hid the most precious treasures. It is said that the empress dowager carried the key of the secret cabinet with her all the time.
After the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, the last emperor Puyi was still allowed to live in the Forbidden City. In 1924, Feng Yuxiang, the warlord, launched a coup in Beijing to expel Puyi from the Forbidden City and repealed the letter of preferential treatment for the royal family of the Qing Dynasty. But an imperial concubine of a deceased emperor, the last one living in the Palace of Longevity and Health, didn't leave the palace immediately and she sent many treasures and cultural relics away from the palace by hiding them in the secret cabinet of the huanghuali wood wardrobe to dodge searches, including the Boyuantie and Zhongqiutie, two treasured scrolls of calligraphy.
When the staff sorted out the cultural relics in the Forbidden City after the foundation of the Palace Museum, they found the dusty Huanghuali wood wardrobe and still cleared more than 100 pieces of treasure from the secret cabinet. We can see some of these treasures in the neighboring exhibition room such as Ruyi, a talisman implicating power and good fortune and Tourmaline Court Beads.

What is Huanghuali Wood?

Huanghuali wood is the main material of hardwood furniture in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911) with yellow color, fine texture, and refreshing fragrance. With the passage of time, the furniture made from Huanghuali wood turns darker and darker, from yellow to red and even dark red; and a protective layer can naturally form on the surface. However, Huanghuali grows slowly and a hundred-year-old tree can be surrounded easily by an adult’s two hands. Due to the predatory felling of the rulers of Ming and Qing Dynasties, the raw materials are increasingly scarce now. The Huanghuali furniture from that time are outstanding, unique and impeccable, and can be called the treasure in the world of furniture art.
  Further Reading:
Traditional Chinese Furniture
- Last modified on Jul. 07, 2020 -
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