‘Tiger Caves’: Secret Passages in the Forbidden City
What were the ‘Tiger Caves’ used for?
1. A passage for the Palace Maids and Eunuchs
The ‘Tiger Cave’ was originally built mainly for the convenience of palace maids and eunuchs. In ancient China, there was a rigid hierarchy in the Forbidden City. The royal road on the ground can only be used by the emperor and people with status. The palace maids and eunuchs were generally not allowed to walk on the royal road, while it was too far to bypass the square in front of the Palace of Heavenly Purity, so these ‘tiger caves’ were built for them to reach the other side quickly.
2. Transport Construction Materials
At the same time, workers can also send some construction materials through this passage, saving the trouble of bypassing the royal road.
3. Shelter from Fire
The ‘Tiger Caves’ is also a temporary shelter. If there is a big fire and people cannot get out temporarily, they can take shelter in it.
4. Maintain the Stability of the Palace Foundation
From the architectural function point of view, the ‘Tiger Cave’ can also play a role in maintaining the stability of the palace foundation. Qianqinggong is on a high foundation, and in the middle of the square in front of the palace, is the Danbi Bridge above the ground. If the water is stored when it rains heavily, two large pools will form on either side of the Danbi Bridge. If the water level on both sides is not the same high, then the pressure on the foundation is not equal, and the foundation may have problems. At this time, the ‘tiger caves’ becomes a culvert to transfer water, so the water level on both sides keep at the same level, which plays a protective role on the palace foundation. Meanwhile, the Danbi Bridge is not filled with water for the emperor to walk on.
Used by Ming Emperor Tianqi to Play Hide-and-Seek
The emperor Tianqi of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was very young when he became emperor. In the evenings with bright moonlight, he often played hide-and-seek with the palace eunuchs. He liked to hide in ‘tiger caves’ best, but he was always caught. This was because he had a sachet in his sleeve, in this way the eunuchs could find him following the scent.
Go on visisting on the central axis, see the Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (Jiaotaidian) and then the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunninggong) to the north.
How to visit the Forbidden City