The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, by Geremie R. Barmé, London: Profile Books/Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Visiting the Imperial Properties


From the early years of Qing rule in Beijing, there was constant movement of the emperor and his retinue, as well as the imperial princes out of Beijing. As we have seen in Chapter 3, the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors spent considerable time each year at their garden palaces to the northwest of Beijing.

Debates over the need to rebuild the Garden of Perfect Brightness have raged on an off since the 1870s. In 1997-98, a New Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming Xinyuan) was built and opened in the Special Economic Zone of Zhuhai, next to Macau. In early 2008, permission was granted for the construction of a full, to-scale replica of the vast garden palace at Hengdian in Zhejiang province, close to the site of the Forbidden City constructed for Zhang Yimou's 2006 film Curse of the Golden Flower.

A corner tower (Jiao Lou)
A corner tower (Jiao Lou) behind the crenellations of the palace wall of the Forbidden City as seen from the road along the moat near the East Flourishing Gate. [Photo: GRB]


Apart from the frequent trips the imperial retinue would make to the garden palaces, or to the Imperial Hunting Lodge up until 1860, rulers would also often visit the imperial tombs to offer sacrifice to the ancestors. The imperial princes would also often be sent to keep watch at the tombs and make offerings on behalf of their father.

The Empress Dowager's tomb was famously robbed by looters in 1928. In 2006-2007, a genre of Chinese fiction called 'tomb robbing novels' (daomu xiaoshuo) became popular among young male readers. These works blended details of tomb robberies and the supernatural, and the best known of its type is titled Gui chui deng (The Ghost-blown Lamp). There were over twenty titles in this genre on the market by late 2007. The novels were criticised for encouraging public sympathy for tomb robbers.