Palace of Great Brilliance (Jingyanggong)

The Palace of Great Brilliance (Jingyanggong) is situated at the northeast inner court of the Forbidden City, north of the Palace of Eternal Harmony (Yonghegong) and east of the Palace of Accumulated Purity (Zhongcuigong). Built in 1420, the 18th year of Yongle Period in Ming Dynasty (1420-1644), it was first named Changyanggong. In 1535, it was renamed as Jingyanggong, which means pursuing the brilliance. During the Ming Dynasty, this place was where the concubines lived. The famous Concubine Wang (1565-1611), the concubine of the 13th emperor, Wanli Emperor (1563-1620), was tragically confined here for 30 years. So Jingyanggong always reminds people of the “Cold Palace”. In Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Jingyanggong was used as an imperial library. Now, tourists can feast their eyes on the royal goldwares and silverwares here.

Front Hall

The front hall of Jingyanggong is made up of three rooms capped with a hip roof, and the roof is supported by the corbel arches. Neatly arrayed along the edge of the hip roof are five ceramic animals, and the roof beam is embellished with the colorful pattern of dragons. Two vivid cranes are painted on the ceiling of the front hall, and the interior beam has the swirling pattern of flowers. The floor is paved with square bricks. Apart from a balcony at the front side, the front hall is also equipped with three side rooms on the east and three on the west.

Back Hall

The back hall of Jingyanggong has five rooms, all covered by the saddle roof with yellow glazed tiles. Four rooms, except the central room, are equipped with hollow-out wooden windows. The layout of the side hall is the same as that of the front hall. Also, a small pavillion is built at the southwest corner of the yard. In the Qing Dynasty, the back hall was designed into an imperial study room. Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795) used to store the paintings, books and calligraphies from previous generations at this hall. Thus, he wrote back hall a plaque and inscribed ‘Xue Shi Tang’ on it, which literally means a place to learn ancient poems.

Exhibition of Goldwares and Silverwares

The Palace of Great Brilliance now mainly displays royal goldwares and silverwares of the Qing Dynasty. Many exhibits reflect the ritual, religious and Manchurian culture at that time. The famous ones include Gilded Silver Ewer; Gold Cup and Tray with Pictures in Enamel; Gold Statue of Buddha; Ruby and Sapphire Inlaid Gold Ring; and Pearl and Gem Inlaid Gold Filigree Sachet.

Why Jingyanggong is considered “Cold Palace”?

First of all, there is no building in Forbidden City named as “Cold Palace”. It actually refers to some remote palaces, and only the concubines who made certain mistakes and deeply offended the emperor or empress were forced to live there. Once sent to “Cold Palace”, the concubines were subject to confinement and were not allowed to leave until their death. Life in the Cold Palace was even worse than that of an ordinary person.
Jingyanggong is considered as “Cold Palace” for two reasons. The first reason is its location. During the Ming Dynasty, emperors usually lived in the Palace of Celestial Purity (Qianqinggong), the center of inner court, while Jingyanggong is at the very northeast inner court. Thus, only those who fell into emperor’s displeasure would be arranged to move into this remote palace. The second reason is the story of Concubine Wang in Ming Dynasty, who spent 30 years here, lonely and helpless. Her story is so tragic that Jingyanggong always reminds people of Cold Palace.

30 Years’ Confinement of Concubine Wang in Jingyanggong

Wang Yaoyin (1565-1611) was the concubine of Wanli Emperor (1563-1620), the 13th emperor in Ming Dynasty. Wanli Emperor didn’t love Wang at all, but he had to marry her because she was pregnant. Wang moved into Jingyanggong as soon as she was conferred the title of concubine in 1582. A few months later, Wang gave birth to a boy named Zhu Changluo, the first son of Wanli. Despite this, Wanli Emperor still showed indifference towards her and her child. Meanwhile, Concubine Zheng, Wanli’s favorite concubine at that time, was considerably provoked by Zhu Changluo’s birth, so Zheng didn’t allow anyone to meet or talk with Wang and her son. Since then, Concubine Wang and her son began to live a pretty lonely life in Jingyanggong.
After Concubine Zheng also gave birth to a boy, it was time for Wanli Emperor to decide who should be the crown prince. The ministers suggested Wanli follow convention and choose the first son Zhu Changluo. However, Wanli despised Wang’s humble origin as a maid so much that he insisted on choosing Concubine Zheng’s son. Such stalemate lasted for 15 years. After hearing this, Wanli’s mother, Empress Dowager Li, scolded him for his prejudice, and Wanli finally compromised and agreed to choose Concubine Wang’s son as the crown prince. It is this decision that made Wang’s life even more miserable.
Such an unwilling decision somewhat embarrassed Wanli. He made Zhu Changluo move out of Jingyanggong and then forbade any connection between Zhu and his mother Concubine Wang. Wang missed her son so much and cried every day. Before long, Wang went blind. She had to endure the darkness and loneliness in Jingyanggong for another decade. In 1611, Wang was terminally ill and Zhu Changluo finally gained the approval from Emperor Wanli to meet his mom. Though Wang couldn’t see her son, she kept gently touching Zhu and couldn’t stop crying. She said to Zhu, ‘Since now you’ve well grown up, I don’t need to worry about you any more.’ Even the surrounding attendants cried and felt sympathetic to such scene. A few hours later, Concubine Wang passed away at the age of 47. This tragic confinement of 30 years in Jingyanggong finally ended.

See more Six Eastern Palaces

- Last modified on Jul. 06, 2020 -
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