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About the Forbidden City(Palace Museum)

Established in 1925, the Palace Museum was installed in the imperial palace of two consecutive dynasties - the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911). The magnificent architecture, also known as the Forbidden City, and the vast holding of the imperial collections of paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, and decorative objects make it one of the most prestigious museums in China and the world at large. In 1961 the imperial palace was designated by the State Council as one of China's foremost-protected cultural heritage sites, and in 1987 was made a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Hours

OPEN Tuesday - Sunday

CLOSED Monday (except for national holidays and July-August)

                                                         Hours               Last Entry        Last Tickets Sold At

April 1st – October 31st              8:30 to 17:00             16:10                      16:00

November 1st – March 31st        8:30 to 16:30            15:40                      15:30

*The Palace Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday all year round and on national holidays that fall on Mondays, as well as every day during the summer vacation period (1 July to 31 August).

*There may be temporary closures which cannot always be scheduled in advance, since they are frequently caused by unforeseen circumstances. The management of the Museum would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused.

Tickets

The Palace Museum is limiting the daily number of visitors to 80,000, and recommending both individual visitors and tourist groups book tickets in advance online (booking address: http://gugong.228.com.cn). For detailed information and instruction, please refer to the "ticketing notice". Foreign visitors are required to provide passport numbers during the online booking.

ADMISSION

April 1st – October 31st                60 yuan

November 1st – March 31st         40 yuan

*Free admission for children under 1.2 meters in height

*Free admission for disabled visitors.

*concessions for elementary, middle school, and undergraduate students on production of valid student I.D. or certified letter from the school administrator (excluding graduate and adult or continuing education students): 20 yuan

*50% discount on concessions for seniors 60 years old and older with valid certificate or proof of age (passport, etc.)

*Women’s Day (March 8): Half-price admission for female visitors.

*Children’s Day (June 1): Free admission for children 14 years old and younger; 50% discount on admission for one accompanying parent, legal guardian, or adult.

Location, Area, and Layout

Situated at the heart of Beijing, the Palace Museum is approached through the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tian'an men). Immediately to the north of the Palace Museum is Prospect Hill (also called Coal Hill), while on the east and west are Wangfujing and Zhongnanhai neighborhoods. The location was endowed with cosmic significance by ancient China's astronomers. They correlated the emperor's abode, which they considered the pivot of the terrestrial world, with the Pole Star (Ziwei yuan), which they believed to be at the center of the heavens. Because of its centrality as well as restricted access, the palace was called The Forbidden City. It was built from 1406 to 1420 by the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1420) who, upon usurping the throne, determined to move his capital northward from Nanjing to Beijing. The Ming dynasty fell to the Manchu Qing in 1644 and in 1911 the Qing dynasty was overthrown by the republican revolutionaries. The last emperor Puyi (ruled from 1909 to 1911 under the reign name Xuantong) continued to live in the palace after his abdication until he was expelled in 1924. During nearly six hundred years, twenty-four emperors lived and ruled from this palace.

The Forbidden City is surrounded by 10-metre-high walls and a 52-metre-wide moat. Measuring 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west, it covers an area of 1,110,000 square meters. Each of the four sides is pierced by a gate: the Meridian Gate (Wu men) on the south, the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men) on the north, the Eastern and Western Prosperity Gates (Donghua men and Xihua men). Once inside, visitors will see a succession of halls and palaces spreading out on either side of an invisible central axis. The buildings' glowing yellow roofs levitating above vermilion walls is a magnificent sight. The painted ridges and carved beams all contribute to the sumptuous effect.

Known as the Outer Court, the southern portion of the Forbidden City centers on three main halls – Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian), Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghe dian), and Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe dian) – with Belvedere of Embodying Benevolence (Tiren ge) and Belvedere of Spreading Righteousness (Hongyi ge) flanking them. It was here in the Ourter Court that the emperor held court and conducted grand audiences.

Mirroring this arrangement is the Inner Court comprising the northern portion of the Forbidden City. The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong), the Hall of Union (Jiaotai dian), and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning gong) straddle the central axis. On the east and west are residences called the Six Eastern Palaces and the Six Western Palaces. An Imperial Garden is laid out at the north end. Other major buildings in the Inner Court include the Hall for Abstinence (Zhai gong) and Hall of Sincere Solemnity (Chengsu dian) in the east, and the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian), the Belvedere of Raining Flowers (Yuhua ge), and the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining gong) in the west. The Inner Court is comprised of not only the residences of the emperor and his consorts but also venues for religious rituals and administrative activities.

In total, the buildings of the two courts account for an area of some 163,000 square meters. These were precisely designed in accordance with a code of architectural hierarchy, which designated specific features to reflect the paramount authority and status of the emperor. No ordinary mortal would have been allowed or would even have dared to come within close proximity to these buildings.

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Founding of the Palace Museum

The Xinhai revolution in 1911 ended with the abdication of the last emperor Puyi. The provisional government allowed him to continue to live in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City. Meanwhile, all of the imperial treasures from palaces in Rehe (today's Chengde in Hebei province) and Mukden (today's Shenyang in Liaoning province) were moved to the Forbidden City for public display in the Outer Court in 1914. While confined to the Inner Court, Puyi continuously used such vestiges of influence as still remained to plot his own restoration. He also smuggled or pawned a huge number of art works under the pretext of granting them as rewards to his courtiers and minions or taking them out for repair.

In 1924, during a coup launched by the warlord Feng Yuxiang, Puyi was expelled from the Forbidden City. The management of the palace fell to a committee that was set up to deal with the concerns of the deposed imperial family. The committee also counted and audited the imperial collections. After a year of intense preparations, on 10 October 1925, the committee arranged a grand ceremony in front of the Palace of Heavenly Purity to mark the inception of the Palace Museum. News of the opening flashed across the nation, and such was the scramble of visitors on the first day that traffic jams around Beijing brought the city almost to a standstill.

According to an inventory of twenty-eight volumes published in 1925, the treasure trove left by the Qing numbered more than 1,170,000 items including sacrificial vessels and ancient jade artifacts from the earliest dynasties; paintings and calligraphy dating to as early as the seventh century; porcelain from the Song and Yuan; a variety of enamel and lacquer ware; gold and silver ornaments; antiques made of bamboo, wood, horn and gourds; religious statues in gold and bronze; as well as thousands of imperial robes and ornaments; textiles; and furniture. In addition, there were countless books, literary works, and historical documents. All these were divided into separate collections that were placed under teams of staff to sort and collate. Exhibition halls were opened to display some of the treasures, while writers and editors worked away at publishing in book or journal form all the new areas of research and academic inquiry that the establishment of the museum had ushered in. The Palace Museum was soon a hive of activity.

Collection Evacuation and the Ensuing Split

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese, having annexed territory in China's northeast, proceeded to march on Beijing. With this looming threat, the museum authorities decided to evacuate its collection rather than let it fall into enemy hands or risk destruction in battle. For four frantic months between February and May 1933, the most important pieces in the collection were packed into 13,427 crates and sixty-four bundles and sent to Shanghai in five batches. Another six thousand some crates were assembled from the Antiquities Exhibition Institute, the Summer Palace, and Imperial College. In 1936 they were dispatched to Nanjing where a depository had been built and a branch of the Palace Museum was to be established.

On 7 July 1937 shots fired at the Marco Polo Bridge west of Beijing heralded the eruption of the Sino-Japanese War. Within a year, the Japanese had penetrated to most of eastern China. Then the treasures stored in Nanjing had to be moved again, this time by three routes to Sichuan, where they were secreted in three locations, Baxian, Emei and Leshan. Only at the end of the war were they consolidated in Chongqing, whence they were returned to Nanjing in 1947. By then the Kuomintang were considerably weakened, and with the imminent takeover by the Communist armies of areas south of the Yangtze River, they began their retreat to Taiwan. Between the end of 1948 and the dawn of 1949, the Kuomintang selected 2,972 crates for shipping across the Strait to storage in Taichong. A rival Palace Museum was built in Taipei to display these antiquities, opening to the public in 1965. Most of crates left in Nanjing were gradually returned to Beijing, although to this day 2,221 crates remain in storage in Nanjing.

During this tumultuous decade of war and revolution, none of the treasures was lost or damaged even though the volume involved was enormous. This was largely due to the dedication of the Palace Museum staff, whose achievement in preserving these treasures was nothing short of heroic. But it was also as a result of this long period of upheaval that the treasures were dispersed. Yet the rationale for keeping the collection together, representative as it is of traditional culture, seems so incontestable that most people believe the treasures will be re-united one day.

In the early 1950s, shortly after the establishment of the People's Republic, the Palace Museum staff worked with a new will and enthusiasm to restore the Forbidden City to its former glory. Where previously the dirty and dilapidated halls and courts lay under weeds and piles of rubbish, some 250,000 cubic meters of accumulated debris were now cleared out, giving the palace a sparkling fresh look. A policy of comprehensive restoration was also launched, and in time the crumbling palace buildings, repaired, and redecorated, once again looked resplendent. All the tall buildings were equipped with lightning rods, while modern systems of fire protection and security were installed. It has been a priority of the government, particularly since the beginning of the reform era in the early 1980s, to keep the surrounding moat dredged and clean.

Collections

The collections of the Palace Museum are based on the Qing imperial collection – ceramics, paintings and calligraphy, bronze ware, timepieces, jade, palace paraphernalia, ancient books and historical documents. During the 1950s and 1960s, a systematic inventory was completed redressing the legacy of inaccurate cataloguing. After the founding of the Museum in 1925, particularly after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the collection was moreover augmented, for example by the salvage of a number of precious artifacts from a jumble of apparently worthless objects. After more than a decade of painstaking efforts, some 710,000 objects from the Qing palace were retrieved. At the same time, through national allocations, requisitions and private donations, more than 220,000 additional pieces of cultural significance were added, making up for such omissions from the original Qing collections as colored earthenware from the Stone Age, bronzes and jades from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, pottery tomb figurines from the Han dynasty, stone sculpture from the Northern and Southern Dynasties, and tri-color pottery from the Tang dynasty. The ancient paintings, scrolls and calligraphy added to the collections were particularly spectacular. These included, from the Jin dynasty, Lu Ji's A Consoling Letter (Pingfu tie) in cursive script, Wang Xun's Letter to Boyuan (Boyuan tie) and Gu Kaizhi's Nymph of the Luo River (Luoshenfu tu); from the Sui dynasty, Zhan Ziqian's landscape handscroll Spring Excursion (Youchun tu); from the Tang dynasty, Han Huang's Five Oxen (Wuniu tu), Du Mu's running-cursive script handscroll Courtesan Zhang Haohao (Zhang haohao shi); from the Five Dynasties, Gu Hongzhong's The Night Revels of Han Xizai (Han Xizai yeyan tu) "; from the Song dynasty, Li Gonglin's Imperial Horses at Pasture after Wei Yan (Lin Wei Yan mufang tu), Guo Xi's Dry Tree and Rock, Level Distance Landscape (Keshi pingyuan tu), and Zhang Zeduan's Life along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival (Qingming shanghe tu) - all masterpieces without exception. So far, the total number of objects in the museum's collection has exceeded 1.8 million.

Unremitting though this attempt at recovery has been, however, there have been further exertions to acquire such works as Zhang Xian's Illustrating Ten Poems (Shiyong tu) (Song dynasty), Nai Xian's calligraphy Poems Reflecting on the Past in the Southern City (Chengnan yonggu shi) (Yuan dynasty), Shen Zhou's landscape handscroll After Huang Gongwang's Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Fang Huang Gongwang fuchun shanju tu) (Ming dynasty), Shi Tao's ink bamboo Loudly Calling Yuke (Gaohu Yuke tu) (Qing dynasty). The first two were spirited out of the palace by Puyi on the excuse of bestowing them on his brother Pujie; they fell into the hands of others and it was not until the 1990s were they returned to their rightful place in the Palace Museum collections.

Development and Efforts at Accessibility

From the 1950s onwards, the museum's existing storehouses were completely overhauled to provide a damp-proof and insect-proof environment for the treasures. In the 1990s a new storehouse with a capacity of over 600,000 items was built, equipped with controls for maintaining constant temperature and humidity, as well as safeguards against fire and theft. A workshop was established in the 1950s and expanded in the 1980s into the conservation department. These not only continued traditions of craftsmanship, but also drew upon scientific discoveries to facilitate the restoration of damaged artworks. In the past few decades the conservation department has treated as many as 110,000 objects from the Palace Museum and other public collections. Besides its continuous refurbishment of the main courts and halls, the museum has opened galleries to display bronzes, porcelain, crafts, paintings and calligraphy, jewelry, and clocks to expand the scope of its exhibitions. A number of thematic shows have been held in galleries devoted to temporary exhibitions. Traveling exhibitions have also graced various museums home and abroad. Since the beginning of the economic-reform era, an increasing number of exhibitions have been mounted in Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Oceania. All of them have aroused great interest and admiration and played a key part in the promotion of international understanding and cultural exchange.

General interest has been further stimulated by the Palace Museum's range of publications touching on both the architecture of its buildings and its vast cultural holdings. Published works include Famous Historical Paintings in the Palace Museum Collection, Selected Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, National Treasures, Palaces of the Forbidden City, Daily Life in the Forbidden City, A Collection of National Treasures, and The Complete Palace Museum Collection (in 60 volumes). There are also two periodicals: Palace Museum Journal and The Forbidden City.

Although the Forbidden City used to be unapproachable, now having been converted into a public museum, it is increasingly more accessible by means of digital technologies. The website of the Palace Museum, established in 2001, is dedicated to presenting a digital Palace Museum by which the cultural messages of the Forbidden City can be effectively disseminated world wide.

With its rich collections that represent the broad spectrum of the 5000-year Chinese civilization and 600-year history of the Forbidden City, since 1925 the Palace Museum has gone through many developments and is now at a crucial point for carrying on the past and opening a way for the future. The Palace Museum is committed to the preservation of the national patrimony and the goal of becoming a world-class museum.

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