The Forbidden City is not only a must-see attraction firmly standing in the heart of Beijing, but is also a vivid Chinese historic textbook from which you can discover lots of cultural facts and interesting stories. We have listed 10 interesting facts, which you may not have heard before.
Fact 1. Why Was It Called the Forbidden City?
The nighttime view of the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is also known as "Zijincheng" in Chinese:
- "Zi" in Chinese means purple, and it referred to the "Ziwei star" (Polaris). According to ancient Chinese astronomy, the Ziwei star was located in the center of 28 stars, which meant it was the heart of the sky. Chinese emperors believed that their power was given by God, so they were the powerful heart of this country.
- "Jin" in Chinese means forbidden. The imperial palace was a solemn place where the emperor and other royalty lived; other people were forbidden to enter without permission. If people didn't toe the line, they risked being executed by the emperor.
- "Cheng" in Chinese means city. The Forbidden City can be called a "city" because of its magnificent palace complex.
Fact 2. Yellow — the Holy Color Was Reserved for Chinese Emperors
Yellow walls and roofs of the Forbidden City
There is data showing that 90 percent of roofs in the Forbidden City are painted yellow. Do you know why Chinese emperors preferred this color? Yellow was a holy and official color in Chinese architectural history, which was influenced by traditional Chinese culture. The holy status of yellow was derived from the Chinese nation's origin of civilization — the Yellow River Basin. Its boundless Loess Plateau and running Yellow River made yellow become a significant color in Chinese people's minds. In the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD), Emperor Liu Che made yellow a symbol of an emperor's supreme power. Since then, yellow was regarded as an honorable color and was reserved for Chinese emperors.
Fact 3. There Was Still 40 Percent of the Forbidden City That Remained Unopened in 2017
Restoring these ancient palaces is a complex project that takes a long time. In 2017, 60% of the Forbidden City’s rooms were open to tourists but 40% of the rooms were still forbidden to be visited. The good news is that, reputedly, over 80% of the rooms will be opened to the public in 2018.
The big-scale imperial palace complex
Fact 4: It Was a Huge Construction Project, Which Lasted for 15 Years
The Forbidden City's history can be dated back over 600 years ago. Emperor Yongle started to build the Forbidden City in 1406 and this project continued for 15 years. To construct this imperial palace, the emperor employed 100,000 outstanding craftsmen and one million laborers in total. Although it was expanded or rebuilt many times since then, the basic layout was formed when it was first constructed.
Fact 5: There Are 9,999 Rooms in the Forbidden City
Why were 9,999 rooms built in the Forbidden City? A legend states that there were 10,000 houses in the Jade Emperor’s heaven. The emperor's rooms couldn't equal the number belonging to the Jade Emperor, even though he was the ruler on the ground. In order to prove his supreme status, the emperor decided to build 9,999 rooms as his palace.
Fact 6: it Is the Largest Collection of Well-Preserved Structures in the World
The Forbidden City is also famous for its large scale. It’s 720,000 square meters in size, which is twice the size of the Vatican and three times the size of the Moscow Kremlin. Therefore, UNESCO declared it to be the largest collection of well-preserved wooden structures in the world.
Fact 7: 24 Emperors Called the Forbidden City "Home"
From 1421 to 1911, 24 emperors lived in the Forbidden City, from Emperor Yongle to Emperor Puyi. During these 491 years, 14 emperors were from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and 10 emperors were from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). If you want to learn more about the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Forbidden City is the best place to get close to their history.
Fact 8: the Interesting Aspect of the Forbidden City
As soon as someone speaks about the Forbidden City, the rigid and solemn imperial palace may be the first image that appears in your mind. However, the Forbidden City is an interesting treasure house where you can discover lots of interesting facts. Its online shop on Taobao and its WeChat subscription offer a series of interesting souvenirs and creative objects, such as Gugong notebooks, restoring ancient furniture, and clothes in the style of the Qing Dynasty. Moreover, the 24 emperors of the Forbidden City are often drawn as humorous pictures. These are popular souvenirs because people have never seen such cute emperors in Chinese history.
Fact 9: Architectural Secret: the Use of the Number "Nine"
Red gate with nine doornails
"Nine" was a divine number in ancient China. Its pronunciation resembles jiu in Chinese, which means forever. The ancient Chinese people thought of "nine" as the largest number and the emperor was said to hold the largest amount of power in the world. Therefore, this number was reflected in a lot of architectural details. If you look around the Forbidden City carefully, you will find lots of places that have used this number, such as the 9,999 rooms and nine doornails on each gate.
Fact 10: the Story About the Nine-Dragon Wall
The Nine-Dragon Wall is a must-see highlight if you visit the Forbidden City. There is an interesting story about its complex construction. Madechun was the major craftsman of his team. To complete this mission, they spent 49 days making colorful glazed tiles. However, a careless worker accidently broke a piece of tile before the deadline. Madechun was afraid that if the emperor found out he would kill him. In order to complete this arduous project, he spent 2 days carving a dragon made of wood and painted it white. Luckily, the emperor praised him and didn't notice this detail. As hundreds of years passed by, the area made from wood faded and resumed its original look. People admired his wisdom and this area became a hot attraction that mustn't be missed.