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Palace of Longevity and Good Health (Shoukanggong)

Located to the west of the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility in the west of the Forbidden City, the Palace of Longevity and Good Health, also known as Shoukang Palace or Shoukanggong, is a typical palace building of ancient China. It is not the grandest one among all the magnificent buildings in the Forbidden City, but it is of great significance because of its complete structure and sound facilities. The palace looks like a rectangle, covering an area of 10,089 square yards (8,436 square meters).

 History
Commenced in the thirteenth year (1735) of the Yongzheng reign of the Qing Dynasty, the building of the palace was completed in the first year (1736) of the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty and restored in 1820 during the reign of Qing Emperor Jiaqing and again in 1890 during the reign of Qing Emperor Guangxu.

The Palace of Longevity and Good Health is the place where empress dowagers lived and spent their last years. Emperors came to greet them respectfully every two or three days.

Empress Dowager Chongqing was Emperor Qianlong's mother. Even after her death, Emperor Qianlong still came to the palace to pray to show his deep reverence for her. He also made a gold tower to contain a Buddha and his mother's hair that she lost when she was alive. The gold tower was decorated by jewels, treasures, and corals. It was placed in the hall for worshipping the Buddha in the east warm room of the palace.

Empress Dowager Cixi, Emperor Tongzhi's mother also lived here for a short period of time.

Empress Dowager Yu, Emperor Tongzhi's wife, is the last one to live in the Palace of Longevity and Good Health. On November 21st, 1924, the old Empress Dowager Yu left the Forbidden City and the palace was closed then.

 Structural Layout
The Palace of Longevity and Good Health comprises three courtyards.

In front of the palace is a small square which is surrounded by houses with yellow glazed tiles on the west and south. On the east of the square is the Huiyin Right Gate which connects the palace with the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility.

The Gate of Longevity and Good Health which is made of glaze stands to the north. Passing through the gate, tourists enter the first courtyard to admire the Hall of Longevity and Good Health, the main hall of the palace. The palace has five rooms. The one in the middle is called the Bright Room while the two next to it are called Subordinate Rooms. The last two rooms are called Side Rooms which were used as warm rooms. The east warm room was the hall for worshipping the Buddha, where the gold tower containing Empress Dowager Chongqing's hair was placed. The east and west subordinate halls sandwich the main hall, each of which has three rooms decorated with yellow glazed tiles.

The colorful paintings on the wall of the palace are mainly dragons and phoenixes which symbolize supreme power. These gilded patterns are complex and exquisite. As the supreme form of colorful painting, such paintings are exclusive to the main halls of imperial palaces and temples.

Behind these halls is the second courtyard. It was the sleeping hall of the empress dowagers with five rooms. The rear hall is connected with the main hall by a path.

Leaving the sleeping hall and walking along the hallway, one can arrive at the third courtyard where the maids lived.
 

 Next:
Go east to the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cininggong), and the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxindian). 

Go further east back to the Qianqingmen Square and continue the tour along 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