Code: FC06

Forbidden City along the Western Route

It is believed that every corner of the Forbidden City claims the attention of the tourist. If you feel that a visit to sites along the Central Axis is not enough, you can further explore the palaces along the Western Route for one more hour. The following itinerary leads you to experience the flavor of royal life that the emperors, empresses and concubines of the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) dynasties once led, as well as learn some anecdotes about them.

forbidden city

From the Qiongyuan West Gate at the southwest corner of the Imperial Garden, head towards West Street, which leads you to the six western palaces. After walking southward along West Street for a while, enter the first gate on your right side, you will find the Palace for Gathering Elegance (Chuxiu Gong), where the emperors'concubines lived. The palace is well-known because Empress Dowager Cixi resided here for quite a long time, and items furnished during her 50th birthday are still on display. In front of the Palace for Gathering Elegance stand a pair of bronze dragons and a pair of bronze deer, all of which symbolize harmony and affluence. Since dragons were only allowed to be placed where the emperors lived, these ornaments also showed that Empress Dowager Cixi thirsted for power. The Poem to Longevity made by some courtiers fawning on Cixi was inscribed on the wall of the corridors to celebrate her 50th birthday. The main hall is the place where Empress Dowager Cixi met the courtiers; the east hall was for her to worship the Buddha while the west hall was her bedroom. From the luxurious decoration and ornements, you can easily imagine the lavish court life she had. There are also two exhibition halls open for you to have a deeper understanding of imperial life. One is the Lijingxuan, rear hall of the Palace for Gathering Elegance, where you can see exhibitions about the Last Emperor Puyi in China. The other one is the Suifu Hall, which was the earliest Royal Telephone Office set up by Emperor Puyi in 1910.

The Hall of Gathering Excellence (Tihe Dian) once served as the dining hall for Empress Dowager Cixi, lies to the south of the Palace for Gathering Elegance. It was said that the cost of each of her meals could almost feed ten thousand rural families for one day. Furthermore, the table wares were made of gold, silver, exquisite porcelains and even precious jade. Here is also the place where Empress Dowager Cixi forced Emperor Guangxu against his will to choose her niece as empress and two other ladies as concubines instead of the lady he loved.

forbidden city

forbidden city

To the east of the Hall of Gathering Excellence, is the Palace of Universal Happiness (Xianfu Gong). Since the emperors occasionally resided in this palace, its construction is of higher grade in comparison with the rest palaces of the six western palaces. As we know that Empress Dowager Cixi was a woman who indulged in power, and she played a pivotal role in the modern history of China. After Emperor Xianfeng's death in 1861, she gradually took over the reign with the support of her allies. However, she could not rule the country openly as a woman, so she ruled through her son - Emperor Tongzhi and her nephew - Emperor Guangxu successively. Documents are  now exhibited here to tell you about the 48 years that Empress Dowager Cixi attended to state affairs 'behind a curtain' in the late Qing Dynasty.

After that, you can take the same way back to the Hall of Gathering Excellence to continue your visit. The architecture further south is the Palace of the Queen Consort (Yikun Gong), which was also the living quarter of the emperors' favorite concubines. In the late Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi received worships from these concubines on festival days. If you look attentively, you can see there are two pairs of rusty iron hoops on the beam outside this palace. What they were used for? Empress Wanrong, wife of the Last Emperor Puyi in the Qing Dynasty, was said to be an outgoing and lively lady who was fond of playing on a swing. Thus, Puyi gave orders to make iron hoops for hanging a swing for her.

forbidden city

Treasure Gallery in Forbidden City

Heading westward from the south gate of the Palace of the Queen Consort and crossing the Second Western Street, you will get to the Palace of Eternal Spring (Changchun Gong). If you have a good look at the walls of the corridors, you will find there are mural paintings of the scenes from the 'Dream in Red Mansions', one of the four classic novels in China. Since this book reflects the corruption of the declining aristocracy, it was banned by the Qing government. However, Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu's two beloved concubines enjoyed reading the book, so they commissioned skillful craftsmen to paint these stereoscopic mural paintings. The last owner of this palace was Wenxiu, the concubine of Emperor Puyi, who stayed here for three years from the age of 13 after marrying Puyi. Although Wenxiu was quiet and introverted as her name in Chinese indicated, she had long been yearning for freedom in her mind. Under the inspiring of the new law in the year 1931, she made a firm decision to divorce Puyi, which quite a controversial at that time.

South of the Palace of Eternal Spring is the Hall of All-Encompassing Universe (Tiyuan Dian). The articles in the hall are displayed in their original forms to help visitors know more about the imperial life in the Qing Dynasty. The three Annex Rooms behind the hall formed a stage to perform Operas for the female members of the imperial family on festivals.

Forbidden City, Beijing

Imperial Garden in Forbidden City, Beijing

As you continue your tour south, you will get to the Hall of the Supreme Pole (Taiji Dian). Here you can enjoy yourself by appreciating the architecture that are well-preserved with painted beams and carved girders. The last Empress Dowager of Qing Dynasty, Longyu, had stayed in the palace for three years. Incompetent and indecisive as she was, she signed a treaty on behalf of Emperor Puyi with Yuan Shikai, a warlord at that time, and handed over political power to him in 1912. From then on, she fell into both physical and psychological decline and finally died of illness in the Hall of the Supreme Pole just one year later.

Next we will guide you to the Palace of Eternal Longevity (Yongshou Gong), which is to the east of the Hall of the Supreme Pole. It was the abode for several concubines in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Nowadays it is open to visitors with life exhibitions of the concubines in the Qing Dynasty, beginning from the Zhou Dynasty and ending with the destruction of the Qing Dynasty, the imperial concubine system of ancient China lasted more than 3,000 years. The Empress, legal wife of the emperor, ranked the highest in the system. In addition to the empress, the emperor usually had other wives with different titles. In the Qing Dynasty, almost each emperor had one imperial Guifei, two Guifei, four Fei, six Pin and numerous Guiren, Changzai and Daying. For hundreds of years, there were countless concubines stayed in the imperial palace whose lives had been concealed from ordinary people, while the exhibitions today unveil the mysteries to you.

Treasure Gallery in Forbidden City

Trasure Gallery in Forbidden City

The following stop is the Hall of Manifesting Obedience (Tishun Tang). It is a comparatively smaller courtyard used to be a temporary residence for concubines. Interestingly, in the Qing Dynasty, the names of concubines were written on bamboo boards for the emperor to choose everyday. The chosen concubine would have the opportunity to be carried to the east room of this hall and waited until night to serve the emperor in his palace. Being placed in the middle of the yard, the crystal stone is rated as the largest one in the Forbidden City. It implied that each emperor wished his empress and concubines were as pure as the crystal and were loyal to him.

The Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin Dian), a grand building to the southwest, is in front of you after exiting the Hall of Manifesting Obedience. The front hall was the place where the emperor dealt with administrative activities, and the rear hall contained the bedrooms for the last eight emperors of the Qing Dynasty. It was at the East Chamber of the front Hall that Empress Dowager in late Qing Dynasty gave audience behind a curtain for several decades. At that time, the puppet emperors (namely Tongzhi and later Guangxu) were sitting on the throne in front to attend state affairs, while all the decisions were made by the Empress Dowager Cixi behind them. The bigger room in the West Chamber was privately used for the emperor to meet his military missions. To keep the affairs secret, three layers of wooden walls were set up outside the room. Going out of the south gate of this hall, you will see a wall decorated with an exquisite disc-shape jade. It was not only a sign of the emperor's authority, but also something to ward off bad luck.

Yangxindian in Forbidden City

Forbidden City, Beijing

Let's continue walking to the south end of the West Street. Here you will find the Office of the Privy Council (Junjichu), a string of houses on your right hand side. In 1729, the imperial court of Qing Dynasty was busily engaged in military affairs due to rebellion in the Southwest China. Emperor Yongzheng specifically set up this military institution near to his residence in order to be aware of any immediate military situation and to avoid any delaying military plans.

At this point, your extended Forbidden City visit along the West Route has come to the end. Walking along West Street to its north end through the Qiongyuan West Gate, you will easily find the way out of the Imperial Palace, the Gate of Divine Prowess.

 More Routes: 
Forbidden City along the Central Axis 
Forbidden City along the Eastern Route
Forbidden City along the Outer Eastern Route 

 Memorable Itinerary with Forbidden City: 
Best Beijing: 4 Days to Forbidden City, Badaling Great Wall, Summer Palace...

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