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10.2a.2 Buildings inside the imperial palace compound in Beijing, China, showing stairways and marble terrace with dragons

This watercolor and graphite drawing shows buildings inside the Forbidden City. Ornate stairways and a marble terrace with decorative dragons are visible.
between 1860 and 1900
Library of Congress
Buildings inside the imperial palace compound in Beijing, China, showing stairways and marble terrace with dragons. Beijing China. [Between 1860 and 1900]. Photograph. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Yudin Collection.
The Forbidden City is a huge palace complex in Beijing, China. Thousands of workers built it between 1406 and 1420, following the orders of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty. There are many buildings, gardens, and courtyards in the complex. The outer buildings and courtyards, called courts, housed government offices and homes for the emperor’s relatives. This drawing shows the Palace of Heavenly Purity, at the center of the huge complex. It was the building in which the emperor himself held audiences, large meetings with members of the public. Only very privileged people were allowed into the inner courts and even fewer were allowed to have an audience with the emperor. During the Qing dynasty, people prostrated themselves (that is, knelt down and knocked their heads against the floor) before the emperor as they approached the throne. What would it be like for an ordinary person to walk through this court, and the courts that followed it, to see the emperor on his throne from a far distance?
The huge palace complex of the Forbidden City emphasized the power, wealth, and splendor of the Chinese emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Entry to the palace was restricted, and then entry to each successive courtyard and building was even more restricted. In some parts of the complex, no one could enter except the emperor, his close family, his wives and concubines, and eunuch servants. The Chinese emperors, along with other kings from this period, used grand, extensive palace complexes to increase their distance from ordinary people, and therefore also their majesty. To emphasize the grandeur and vast size of this complex, you may wish to show students tourist photographs, particularly of the Palace of Heavenly Purity. Similarly, you may wish to search for photos of Topkapi Palace (Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, now Turkey), which has similar characteristics.