Studio of Cleansing Fragrance (Shufangzhai)

Studio of Cleansing Fragrance (Shufangzhai) is located west to the Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan) and at the very north of the Forbidden City. Constructed in 1420, Shufangzhai had been the residence for maids during Ming Dynasty (1420-1644) and the residence for princes during early Qing Dynasty (1644-1736). However, its function changed when Qianlong Emperor, the 6th emperor in Qing Dynasty, came into power in 1736. In order to celebrate his enthronement, Qianlong’s previous residence, along with its surrounding palaces were all redesigned. And Shufangzhai was also included. Thus, according to Qianlong’s instruction, Shufangzhai was added with two opera pavillions. Since then, Shufangzhan had become a place for royal members to watch operas and hold banquets.
 Notice: Since 1925, Shufangzhai has been used for receiving national leaders and foreign guests, thus not open to the public.

Front Hall and Back Hall in “工” Layout

The front hall and back hall of Shufangzhai is linked through a corridor in the middle, thus its overall layout resembles “工”.
The front hall of Shufangzhai has several accessory buildings, including three west side halls, three east side halls and one south room. These bulidings are connected by the veranda. The front hall has five rooms and its saddle roof is paved with yellow glazed tiles. Among these five rooms, only the largest one has a door, and the others are installed with hollowed-out wooden windows. Besides, the largest and two middle-sized rooms are separated by an openwork wooden screen, which extends from the ground to the beam. What’s more, the east middle-sized room was the study room for Qianlong Emperor during his boyhood. It is also worth mentioning that the exit in the east side hall directly leads to the Imperial Garden.
The back hall of Shufangzhai is made up of five rooms, one adjacent room and three west side rooms. Its largest room is linked with the front hall through a hallway, and four other rooms have no door but only wooden windows.

Two Opera Pavillions in Shufangzhai

Shufangzhai has two opera pavillions, the larger one in the front yard and the smaller one in the back yard. Both were built after Qianlong Emperor was enthroned in 1736.

1. Opera Pavillion of Chonghuagong and Shufangzhai

The Palace of Many Splendors (Chonghuagong) was Qianlong’s residence when he was still a prince. And this opera pavillion is named as such because Chonghuagong and Shufangzhai are next to each other. This opera pavilion is located right opposite the front hall of Shufangzhai. Its pyramidal roof with four tilting corners is paved with yellow glazed tiles. It occupies an area of 90 sq.m (108 sq.yd), being the largest single-layer opera stage in the Forbidden City. This pavillion also has a small attic and is equipped with a hauling winch. In Qing Dynasty, most of the operas in the Forbidden City were performed here.

2. Feng Ya Cun Opera Pavillion

This small opera pavillion is just inside the west room of the back hall in Shufangzhai. And “Feng Ya Cun” literally means the lingering charm. The most characteristic decoration here can be the two wooden boards engraved with couplets, whose shape resembles an ancient Chinese instrument. Emperors used to watch short plays here while having meals, thus this opera pavillion is relatively smaller.

Royal Entertainments in Shufangzhai

During Qianlong Period in Qing Dynasty (1736-1795), Shufangzhai had been where the emperor took a break, watched operas and held banquets. Tea Banquet, for example, was regularly held here. During the banquet, the emperor and his ministers would compose poems impromptu. Given a theme, they would think up a poem, offering a sentence each. It was required that all the sentences would finally form a poem which would make sense.
In addition, Shufangzhai was also for the royal family to celebrate important festivals. Every January 1st of the lunar calendar, Qianlong Emperor would come to Shufangzhai and write many Fu characters (福), which stands for happiness. These characters would be given away to ministers, so as to wish them good luck in the new year. Other festivals celebrated in Shufangzhai include Ghost Festival (July 15th of lunar calendar), new year’s eve (December 30th of lunar calendar), and so on. Grand banquets were also held here on certain days like emperor’s birthday, empress dowager’s birthday and empress’s birthday.

During Daoguang Period (1821-1850), Xianfeng Period (1851-1861) and Tongzhi Period (1862-1874) in Qing Dynasty, Shufangzhai was still the banquet place for empress dowager, empress and other noble concubines. When the Empress Dowager Cixi was in power (1861-1908), Shufangzhai could be the most thriving palace in the entire Forbidden City. Because Cixi was really fond of watching operas she frequently asked the folk troupes to perform in Shufangzhai. In 1922, Puyi, the last emperor in Qing Dynasty, got married. As celebration, the master of Peking Opera Mei Lanfang was invited to perform in Shufangzhai for three days. In 1931, the last performance in Shufangzhai was played by Shang Xiaoyun, another famous actor of Peking Opera.

 Go south to see the Six Western Palaces (Xiliugong)
 Go east to see the Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan), the Hall of Imperial Peace (Qin'andian)

​ Note: On the west side is the Palace of Many Splendors (Chonghuagong), which is not open to tourists yet.

 Further Reading:

How to visit the Forbidden City

- Last updated on Nov. 05, 2020 -
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