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Forbidden City breaks down another barrier



The world will soon get to see more of the intriguing Forbidden City, home to generations of Chinese emperors spanning five centuries - at no extra cost.

With the opening of the secluded residence of empresses and imperial concubines, which lies to the west of Longzong Gate, visitors will enter into some of the crucial quarters of the Inner Court - once prohibited and punishable by death.

The decision to open up parts of the Inner Court to tourists is part of efforts by the world's largest palace complex to cater to the interests of the increasing number of visitors, curator Shan Jixiang said on Thursday.

The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. It has been known as the Palace Museum since 1925, soon after Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was evicted from the Inner Court.

"We received 14 million guests last year and expect to have 1 million more than that figure this year," Shan, former chief of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

"We plan to expand the visiting zones from nearly half to two-thirds (of the Forbidden City) in the near future."

Located near the halfway point of the central north-south axis, Longzong Gate was the main entrance to the Palace of Benevolent Peace (Cining Gong) as well as the Palace of Longevity and Good Health (Shoukang Gong), on the western side of the museum.

The two palaces were formerly the residence and venues for entertainment and rituals for empresses and concubines in the Qing Dynasty.

What's in store has aroused as much curiosity as historical evidence of two arrow heads stuck on the gate since 1813 when rebellious farmers attacked the Forbidden City.

Reparation and restoration of the two palaces have been completed and workers are putting final touches to the adjoining Garden of Benevolent Peace. The palaces will open to the public along with the garden after renovation of the garden is completed at the end of this year, Shan said.

"The Palace of Longevity and Good Health will be presented as it would have appeared in dynastic times, while the Palace of Benevolent Peace will showcase a rich collection of sculptures," he added.

After being the home of 24 emperors - 14 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and 10 during the Qing Dynasty, the site that is now the Palace Museum is laden with legends and anecdotes, said Lin Shu, a researcher with the museum's department of palatial life and imperial rituals.

A one-story building in the Garden of Benevolent Peace, for instance, will tell the filial story of Emperor Qianlong, who left his residence to stay there through the night to wait on his ailing mother. According to Lin, the emperor apparently made frequent visits for a month until his mother recovered. At a time, it was very rare for an emperor to leave his official residence.