Forbidden City
Exhibition Halls

The Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The Exhibition Halls

Some of the buildings in the forbidden city with more minor original functions have been internally converted to hold permanent, but sometimes changing, exhibitions of artefacts of various types - including clocks, ceramics, paintings and bronzes. But first, a little background.


The Imperial Studios

The emperors of China retained artists and craftsmen to manufacture works of the highest quality both to please their senses and add weight to their claim of legitimacy. Under the Qing dynasty, imperial porcelain makers from JingDeZhen introduced new glazes, shapes and techniques. The imperial studios produced paintings with traditional themes such as portraiture, landscapes, birds and flowers, and religious subjects, as well as detailed representations of political ceremonies, military conquests, and imperial processions.

Unlike earlier dynasties, the Qing court also employed Jesuit artists from Europe, whose introduction of western painting techniques and aesthetics stamped the academy as a whole with a unique visual flavor.


Religious Art

The Qing emperors retained their sacred Manchurian traditions, performing shamanistic rituals within the seclusion of the Forbidden City. In addition, they became ardent supporters of tantric Buddhism, imported from Tibet and Mongolia. Tibetan monks, stationed at the Hall of Uprightness, were employed as artists to produce religious objects for the emperor.

One example of their fine handiwork is the gilded alms bowl laced with eight dragons and Buddhist symbols. In contrast to its inherent symbolism, the bowl is opulently lined with silk and threaded with gold brocade.

Another example is the gold figure of Maitreya-the Buddha of the future who waits patiently in heaven, bestowing his limitless compassion on human beings until he is reborn on earth in 548 million years. Composed of solid gold and encrusted with pearls, the figure stands nearly twenty inches in height and weighs more than forty-two pounds.



Textiles and Apparel

Throughout their long reign, the Manchu leaders of the Qing dynasty strove to retain their own culture while adopting that of their subjects as well. This balance between cultural assimilation and isolationism is evident in the decrees issued for imperial apparel within the Forbidden City.

Reflecting the nomadic heritage of the rulers, robes were close-fitting on top and slit on the sides to allow comfort in the saddle. Sleeves were tight around the arms to keep out the wind, and the 'horse-hoof' shaped cuffs flared out to protect the hands. However, although the cut and style of the robes depicted Manchu style, the color and symbolism of court apparel followed the traditional Chinese pattern. Bright yellow was reserved for the emperor, empress and empress dowager. Likewise, the dragon, long a symbol of the emperor in China, was a principal motif not only for stately court robes but also for the emperor's accoutrements.



As Manchu women rejected the traditional Chinese practice of footbinding, their feet appeared large in the eyes of their Chinese subjects. To make their feet look less inelegant, they adopted a style of shoe with a high platform, which forced them to take the small steps characteristic of Chinese women whose feet had been bound.


The Hall of Clocks and Watches

Entance to the Hall of Clocks and Watches.

From the courtyard between the Inner and Outer Courts, turn to the east and you will see a gallery behind the Palace of Earthly Tranquility to the north-east. It is located in the east of the Inner Court through the Gate of Respect Movement (Jing Yun Men).

The Hall for Ancestral Worship (FengXianDian) was built in 1656 during the Qing dynasty. It has a front hall and a rear hall, which are connected by a lobby. Its main function was to offer sacrifices to imperial ancestors. Grand sacrifice ceremonies would be held in its front hall on important occasions. On the days of their ancestors' birth, death and traditional festivals, ceremonies would be held in the rear hall. Shrines and statues in the hall were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

The lobby has been expanded and now the hall looks almost square inside. This hall is now open to the public as the Clock and Watch Exhibition Hall.



This exhibition hall houses about 200 clocks and watches from the imperial collection. These watches and clocks are mostly made in Switzerland, England, France, the U.S and Japan, gifts presented to the emperor by envoys. Some Chinese made timepieces are also on display.


There are two clocks that deserve the greatest attention. You can easily see them when you enter the Hall. The one on the left is a Chime Clock, it was made during the Qing Dynasty, around 1797, by the royal clockmakers. This clock can still run up to 72 hours after it is well wound and it can also strike hours and quarters. It is 5.85 metres high and stands on a 2.6 metre high square base.

Symmetrically standing on the right hand side is a huge water clock made in 1799. The clock is 6 metres high and is the largest water clock in China. The clock is made up of four bronze pots, these bronze pots, identical in size, are arranged vertically. The water in the upper pot drops into the second one through a small hole and, in turn, drops into the third and finally into the bottom. There is a float in the bottom pot with markers for the time that the water level indicates.



The Treasure Hall

The Treasure Hall consists of three imperial palaces : namely, Character Cultivation Palace, Happiness Longevity Hall and Combined Harmony Porch. The private apartments of Emperor QianLong and Empress Dowager Ci'Xi were here.

The Character Cultivation Palace must have reminded the old Emperor QianLong of the Hall of Mental Cultivation where he had lived for a long time. Happiness Longevity Hall used to be Emperor QianLong's library, and the Empress Dowager Ci'Xi also celebrated her 61th birthday here. The Combined Harmony Porch was the repose of Emperor QianLong.

Now, these three palaces have been turned into three exhibition halls where some of the imperial treasures are displayed.



Many of the exhibits are tea sets or dinner sets made of materials like gold, silver and jade.

The dinner sets were mostly made of silver as it could indicate whether or not the food was poisonous; the silver container would turn black when it contained poisonous food.

Other exhibits are old chimes, imperial seals, milk containers, Ruyi (a lucky sceptre), small incense burners and other religious vessels and bowls. The jade jar and mountain carries the good wishes of the emperor. It comes from a Chinese couplet wishing the Emperor happiness as boundless as the water in the East Sea, and his life as long as the old pine tree on the South Mountain.

There are also many pavilions, pagodas and towers made of gold or jade. These were gifts for the emperor's concubines. Also noteworthy is the gold stupa used to collect the fallen hair of Emperor QianLong's mother. It weighs more than 100 kg and is made of gold.

The treasured ivory mat deserves special attention. It is 216 cm long and 139cm wide and made of delicate ivory strips. It is said that the mat was woven about 250 years ago. Altogether, 5 mats were produced and kept in the Museum at that time. Where are these valuable treasures now? You may wonder. Well, in 1960, when the relics of the Palace Museum were catalogued, only one was found, the other four had simply disappeared. A few years later, the Shangdong Provincial Museum in East China collected one from a local peasant. The peasant said that the ivory mat was brought there by a local pearl broker and in turn, he sent it to a nearby noble at the beginning of the century. The peasent had received the mat as part of the distribution during the Land Reform of the 1950s.

So how did this treasure fall into the hands of a pearl broker? Specialists believe that the mat was stolen by the Anglo-French force that invaded China in the 1900s, and later sold to the pearl broker. Another possibility is that it was stolen and sold by a court eunuch. Regardless of the reason, it is fortunate that this Chinese artifact was recovered. Later, when the Palace Museum was sorting out Taiwanese bamboo mats, surprisingly, another ivory mat was found hidden among them. This ivory mat was treated by a special process, and even today, it can be easily rolled up. It is a pity that the technique has been lost!

Not only can ivory be made into mats, but feathers have also been woven into beautiful garments. In 1983, two feather dresses of the Miao Nationality were discovered in a peasant's home. Made from the feathers of more than 100 birds, each coat has three distinctive parts, each part able to serve as a child's coat by itself. Though more than 300 years old, the feather coat has remained bright and colorful. It is said that it was left by a king's concubine of the Miao Nationality.

Unlike feather coats, jade clothing was made for the deceased. During the Han Dynasty about 2,000 years ago, it was fashionable to dress deceased emperors or nobles with this attire. Three styles existed : using gold, silver or copper thread to sew the jade slip together. The emperor wore the garment sewn in gold, kings and princesses wore ones sewn in silver, while other officials and nobles had ones sewn in copper thread. The jade slips somewhat resemble shining fish scales.

Each was made of more than 2,000 jade pieces. The gold threads used in the garment weigh about 1,800 grams. Most of the jade pieces are rectangular or square in shape, some are also triangular or other shaped. It is clear when examining the garment that each jade piece has been polished and every hole carefully drilled. At least ten different procedures were involved, including material selection, drilling and polishing. Specialists say that even with today's technology, it would take a jade carver ten years to complete one of these outfits.








不像羽绒大衣,玉衣是为死者做的。在2000年以前的汉朝很流行给已故的皇帝和王公大臣穿上这种 衣服。有三个风格仍然存在:用金、银、铜丝线把玉片缝在一起。皇帝穿用金线缝在而成的衣服;君主和王子们穿用银缝制的衣服;王公大臣们穿铜线缝制的。玉片有点像闪耀的鱼鳞。


The exhibits we have discussed are only a small portion of the treasures of the Forbidden City. And the items on display are only a part of the total collection. So it is difficult to imagine how many treasures there were originally in the Forbidden City. When the KuoMingTang government of Chiang Kai Shek fled the mainland for Taiwan, they packed almost everything movable. Altogether, 2,972 cases of treasures were shipped to Taiwan. Nonetheless, what you can see today provides a good taste of the treasures of the Forbidden City.


The Hall of Paintings

Qing Emperor QianLong.

Qing Emperor QianLong's calligraphy.

Next : The Nine Dragon Screen

Forbidden City

Forbidden City
: Introduction
Forbidden City : History
Forbidden City : Layout
Forbidden City : Map
Getting there

The Meridian Gate (outside)
The Meridian Gate (inside)
The First Courtyard
The Gate of Supreme Harmony

The Second Courtyard
The Hall of Supreme Harmony (part 1)
The Hall of Supreme Harmony (part 2)
The Hall of Complete Harmony
The Hall of Preserving Harmony

The Large Stone Carving

The Gate of Celestial Purity
The Hall of Celestial Purity
The Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union
The Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility
The Imperial Garden
The Imperial Garden (part 2)

The Exhibition Halls
The 9 Dragon Screen
Other Places of Interest

Doorways (part 2)
Decorative Tiles
Beams and Ceilings
Windows and Doors
Walls & Screens

Sunset at the Forbidden City

Beijing Guide

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