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Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshougong)

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Palace of Tranquil Longevity Area
Map of Palace of
Tranquil Longevity Area
In the northeast of the Forbidden City, there stands a cluster of buildings forming their own composite. This is the Palace of Tranquil Longevity, also known as the Outer Eastern Palace. Covering an area of 46,000 sq m, the whole area is surrounded by lofty, red perimeter walls.

This complex can be divided into three parts: the eastern, the central and the western parts. The central part includes the Hall of Imperial Supremacy (Huangjidian), the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshougong), the three exhibition halls of Treasure Gallery: Hall of Spiritual Cultivation (Yangxingdian), Hall of Joyful Longevity (Leshoutang), Belvedere of Well-nourished Harmony (Yihexuan), and Jingqi Chamber. The eastern part includes the Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds (Changyinge), the Hall for Viewing Opera (Yueshilou), and the Palace of Scenery and Happiness (Jingfugong). The western part is the Qianlong Garden (Ningshougong Garden), including buildings such as the Pavilion of Ancient Flower (Guhuaxuan), the Hall of Wish Fulfillment (Suichutang), the Pavilion of Expecting Good Omen (Fuwangge) and the Well of Concubine Zhen (Zhenfeijing).

Building Story of this Complex

The idea of building the Palace of the Tranquil Longevity Complex was brought up by Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795). He planned to move to this area to meditate and pray after resignation and began to build it in 1772, the 37th year of his reign. After being emperor for 60 years, he resigned from the throne to show his respect for his grandfather Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) who ruled for 61 years by ruling one year less. However, he still attended to state affairs under the pretext of "giving family instruction" in his own throne in the Hall of Mental Cultivation (yangxindian) of the Forbidden City. Actually Emperor Qianlong never lived in this area for his retirement; he just went for a visit or two in his spare time.
 

Palace of Tranquil Longevity & Hall of Imperial Supremacy

Palace of Tranquil Longevtiy
Palace of Tranquil Longevtiy
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They stand on the north-south axis of the front central part of the complex. To get to these two buildings, one has to pass through two gates on the same line with them, firstly the Gate of Imperial Supremacy (Huangjimen) and then the Gate of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshoumen). The Palace of Tranquil Longevity is a seven-bay-wide and three-bay-deep structure with single-eaved roof. The preparation of the sacrificial rites was done in the rooms at its western end. To the south of it is the Hall of Imperial Supremacy, a nine-bay-wide building with double-eaved roof. It is the place where the Imperial Regent, the father of the emperor, received ministers and officials. Today, the Palace of Tranquil Longevity and the Hall of Imperial Supremacy have been turned into the Exhibition Hall of Fine Arts of the Palace Museum, housing more than 100,000 paintings dating from the Jin Dynasty (265-420) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Every year, selected paintings from the collection are exhibited. Among those exhibited ones are some masterpieces such as Spring Outing (Youchuntu), The Imperial Carriage (Buniantu) and Riverside Scene at the Tomb-Sweeping Day (Qingmingshanghetu).


Nine Dragon Screen (Jiulongbi)

Nine Dragon Screen
The Nine Dragon Screen
To the south of the Gate of Imperial Supremacy, there stands a high glazed screen wall named the Nine Dragon Screen, which is the largest and best of the three famous Nine Dragon Screens in China. Facing north, it is 29.4 m long and 3.5 m high. Built in 1772 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the whole scene on the wall depicts nine writhing dragons playing with pearls against a background of the sea and clouds. Figured in high relief, the dragons were painted yellow, blue, white and purple. Yet the one in the center is in yellow and purple, and yellow was a royal color. The Chinese dragon, represented yang, the principle of heaven, activity and maleness in the yin-yang of Chinese cosmology and from ancient times was the emblem of the imperial family. The illustration therefore can be interpreted as representing the emperor as the Son of Heaven.

The wall is composed of 270 glazed tiles. The number 270 can be divided by both nine and five. Nine is the largest odd number, while five is right in the middle of the odd numbers. In ancient China nine and five symbolized the supremacy of the emperor. It is said that the center of the third white dragon was broke when fired in the kiln, which meant a death penalty for the people responsible. In the risk of death, a carpenter volunteered to replace the original with wood and did the carving and painting overnight. At last it passed and saved those involved. One may still find the traces of repair on the third dragon from the left.
 



 Next:
Go west to see the Hall for Ancestry Worship (Fengxiandian);

Or walk further west back to the Qianqingmen Square on the central axis. Enter through the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen) to see the three major halls of the Inner Court.

 Further Reading: Virtual Guide of Forbidden City