The Forbidden City

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

Chapter 1: A Palace of Blood and Tears

Further details related to various unrealized plans for Beijing and the Forbidden City mooted from the 1960s will appear in 'Beijing, the Invisible City', Issue 14 (June 2008) of China Heritage Quarterly, link


page 3 On the size of Tiananmen Square, Tao Zongzhen, one of those in the original design group, said that the 440,000 square metre Tiananmen would be eight times larger than Red Square. This figure was based on the size of the Soviet square in the 1920s. As Red Square was later expanded, Tiananmen was, in the event, only five times bigger than the space in the heart of the fraternal socialist capital. See Tao Zongzhen, 'Tiananmen Guangchang he Renmin Dahui Tang shejifang'an shi zenyang danshengde', Lishi xuejia chaozuo (Jinan: Shandong Renmin Chubanshe), No.5 (March 2006), pp.68-80.

The Hall of Martial Valour. [Photo: GRB]

page 3 The quotation from Rae Yang is from interview material used in the documentary film Morning Sun directed by Carma Hinton, Geremie R. Barmé and Richard Gordon (Boston: Long Bow Group, 2003). See

page 3, bottom of the page The use of the imperial-era acclamation was common from the earliest days of the revolutionary era—one that began with the Xinhai Revolution of 10 October 1911. The mass celebration of the founding of the Republic of China on 15 February 1912 ended with a collective chant of 'Long live the Republic of China, long live the Republic, long live the President!' (Zhonghua minguo wansui, gonghe wansui, dazongtong wansui).

page 4 For details of the unofficial anthem, 'The East is Red', and its history, see the website for the film Morning Sun at:

page 5, illustration 4 The commemorative arch that appears under Mao's arm called 'Protect Peace Arch' (Baowei Heping Fang) was originally the Ketteler-Denkmal built in 1901 to commemorate the murder on 20 June 1900 of the German Plenipotentiary Baron Clemens (Klemens) August Freiherr von Ketteler (see page 110 of The Forbidden City) by Imperial Guards. Renamed Victory of Justice (Gongli Zhansheng), it was removed to Zhongshan Park (established in 1914) in 1919 following the First World War. When the Peace and Friendship Congress of the Asia Pacific Region was held in Beijing in 1952 the memorial archway was renamed once more. The words 'Protect Peace Arch' are in the calligraphic hand of Guo Moruo (see page 144 of The Forbidden City).

page 6 My colleague Endymion Wilkinson kindly read the text of the book carefully and points out that here Kangxi's reign period is given as 1661-1722, while on page 237 it says that he reigned 1662-1722. The reigns of Ming and Qing emperors are given according to 'rounded-out' Western calendrical convention and by equating for convenience the period that an emperor actually reigned (was on the throne) and the reign title (nianhao, or era name). For example, throughout the text the reign period of Qianlong is given as 1736-1795. As Endymion points out, Qianlong's father, the Yongzheng Emperor, died on 8 October 1735 and Hongli ascended the throne on 18 October 1735 and he reigned from that point until the eve of new year day, 1796. Hongli’s era name was adopted on new year’s day 1736. So his era name lasted 1736-1796, but he reigned (i.e., was on the throne, from 1735-1796). In this book, the 'r' used inside brackets with the years of an imperial reign indicate the 'reign title' or the era of that particular name, not the exact dates when an emperor actually ruled (which often predated the actual start of a new reign era).

pages 6-8 In March 1950, the Preparatory Committee for the Central Revolutionary Museum relocated from the Round City (Tuan Cheng) at North Lake to the Hall of Martial Valour inside the West Flourishing Gate (they would stay there until 1959). The first exhibition was held here on 15 March. For details, see the exhibition booklet edited by Zhongyang Geming bowuguan choubeichu, Meidi Jiangfei Chongqing jizhongying zuixing tulu (Beijing, 1950, no publihser), p.1. For further details on exhibitions in the various halls of the Forbidden City at this time, see reports in the 1951 and 1952 issues of People's Daily.

After toured the country, from that inaugural post-1949 exhibit at the Hall of Martial Valour,select items including bloodied clothing, were thought of as being hard to conserve as museum objects. Rather than being discarded, after the exhibition came to an end in April 1954, they were placed in a large earthenware vessel and interred near the Hall of Martial Valour.

In 1964, as Mao Zedong was emphasizing the need to be ever mindful of class struggle in the build up to what would become the Cultural Revolution, Zhaci Dong Cave at Bai Gongguan, the main torture chamber at the Chongqing internment camp, became a major site for patriotic education and the raising of awareness of class struggle. The authorities there requested that the revolutionary artifacts that had been left in Beijing after the 1950-54 exhibition be returned to them. However, the workers involved with the burial of the earthenware vessel containing the bloody clothes had been reassigned. The Beijing Revolutionary Museum authorities said that it would be useless to disinter the artifacts as they would have long since rotted, therefore they suggested that copies be produced. The Palace Museum authorities refused to allow any excavations within the precincts of the Forbidden City. The Chongqing side, however, would not be denied mollified and, following lengthy negotiations with the State Cultural Relics Bureau, it was decided to treat the revolutionary relics as the subject of a full-scale archaeological dig.

The Ming City Wall Ruins Park. [Photo: GRB]

In September 1964, after digging four deep trenches outside the Hall of Martial Valour, workers eventually found the pot. Water had seeped into the container and the clothes had all but rotted away. The museum asked for the aid of Bai Wanyu of the Archaeology Department of the Academia Sinica. Bai (the one-time assistant of Sven Hedin) had only worked on excavations not on preservation. He had only recently been involved with the fiasco at Ding Ling, the tomb of the Ming Wanli Emperor (see below) in which the majority of unearthed object had been lost due to negligence and inexperience. However, the failure at Ding Ling had given Bai a measure of experience and he was able to help preserve the 'revolutionary relic' unearthed in the grounds of the Palace Museum. After the clothing was touched up with bloodstains it went on display in Chongqing, where it can be seen to this day.

Since then people have joked that although Wanli's robes from Ding Ling were lost during a botched excavation, specialists were able to save a revolutionary martyr's bloodied clothing from the 1940s. Or rather, in the Forbidden City 'the archaeologists unearthed a revolutionary martyr at the Hall of Martial Valour'. For details of this episode, see 'Hu Renzhao zishu' in Chongqing Wanbao, 27 November 2006.

pages 8-9 The quotation from Liang Qichao is from his Yinbingshi heji (Shanghai, 1926), juan 25, p.196, quoted in Jerome Ch'en, Yuan Shih-k'ai (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), p.106, with revision.

page 9 References to the need to transform Beijing from a city of consumers into one of production can be found in Mao Zedong xuanji (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1968), vol.4, p.365; Renmin Ribao, 17 March 1949; and, Zhonggong dangshi cankao ziliao (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe), vol.6, pp.491-2.

Site of the former Imperial City wall-a commemorative map on the East Imperial City Wall Park. [Photo: Lois Conner]

page 9 For Liang Sicheng's comments on Beijing, see Liang Sicheng, 'Beijing: dushi jihuade wubi jiezuo', in Liang Sicheng wenji (Beijing: Zhongguo Jianzhu Gongye Chubanshe, 1986), vol.4. See also Geremie R. Barmé, 'Beijing, a garden of violence', forthcoming.

page 9 The view that the Forbidden City was an obstacle to the creation of a new Beijing, and that Liang Sicheng was a in the way were expressed first by Hu Zuoxiu (at the time a minor functionary in the Science Office of the Party's Propaganda Department). See He Zuoxiu, 'Lun Liang Sicheng dui jianzhu wentide ruogan cuowu jianjie', Xuexi, 1955:10.

page 10 On the early plans for transforming the Forbidden City, see Wang Jun, 'Gugong gaijian jihua', Jiefang Ribao, 31 January 2006.

page 10 On the July 1953 planning meeting at which Peng Zhen claimed that the majority of the population favoured demolishing the old city walls, see Beijingshi Zhengfu Shizheng Jianshe Ju, 'Youguan Shizheng Jianshe Ju ji ge quwei dui Beijing zongti guihua caotu jia yi liangge fang'ande yijian' in Documents of the Beijing Municipal Construction Bureau (Zonghao: 1953-7/17) in the Beijing Municipal Archives.

page 10 Regarding plans to overshadow the Forbidden City, or daya Gugong, see 'Gaizao yu kuojian Beijingshi guihua cao'ande yaodian' in Jianguo yilaide Beijing chengshi jianshe ziliao, vol.1 (Restricted Circulation, 1987), pp.160-61; and, Dong Guangqi, Gudu Beijing wushinian yanbianlu (Dongnan Daxue Chubanshe, 2006), pp.138-39 and 140-54.

pages 10-11 Those who did not agree with the Party's decisions regarding the radical remaking of Beijing were excluded from the consultative process. For details, see Dong Guangqi, 'Chengshi jianshe zongti guihuade bianzhi guocheng', Beijing jianshe shishu bianji weiyuanhui, ed., Jianguo yilaide Beijing chengshi jianshe ziliao, vol.1 (Restricted Circulation, 1987), pp.120-24; and, Wang Jun, Cheng ji (Beijing: Sanlian Shudian, 2003), pp.112-22.

page 11 On 21 January 1958, Mao had remarked 'I can't stand the [old] buildings in Beijing and Kaifeng'. See Mao Zedong, 'Zai Zhonggong Zhongyang gongzuo huiyide jianghua (jilu gao)', in Mao Zedong sixiang wansui, edited by the Mao Zedong sixiang wansui bianweihui (Beijing, April 1968, no publisher), p.237, and Li Rui, Dayuejin qinli ji (Shanghai: Shanghai Yuandong Chubanshe, 1996), p.74.

page 11 Mao's remarks were made in his 'Speech at the Fourteenth Session of the Supreme Conference of the State Council' (Zai di shisi ci zuigao Guowu Yuan huiyide jianghua) on 28 January 1958 and published in the unofficial Red Guard-era selection of unauthorized Mao speeches, Mao Zedong sixiang wansui, edited by the Mao Zedong sixiang wansui bianweihui (Beijing, April 1968, no publisher), p.260, and quoted in Zhu Zheng, 1957 nian xiaji: Cong baijia zhengming dao liangjia zhengming (Zhengzhou: Henan Renmin Chubanshe, 1998), pp.201-202. Mao remarks on the 'good job' they had done of demolishing the walls of Nanjing and other provincial capitals. In fact, there had been outspoken opposition to this. In particular, Zhu Xie, the Deputy Bureau Chief of the Jiangsu Provincial Cultural Bureau, had organized a petition signed by People's Representatives in Nanjing against the destruction of the Ming-era walls of the former Ming capital. Inspired by this action, others in Jinan, Changsha and Hangzhou followed suit, all to no avail. Mao also mentions people who criticised him for 'being obsessed with grandiose plans', etc. He is referring to Zhang Xiruo one of those who bitterly opposed the demolition of the city walls and the destruction of the numerous commemorative archways on the streets of the old capital. Zhang had made his comments in May 1957. His friendship with the Chairman spared him from the Anti-Rightist purge that followed soon after, although he was dismissed as Minister of Education.

pages 11-12 For Zhou Enlai's report on Mao's directive that Beijing was to undergo a complete transformation, see 'Ying chedi gaibian Beijingde dushi mianmao—zhi Zhonggong Zhongyang', a letter collected in Zhou Enlai, Zhou Enlai shuxin xuanji (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Chubanshe, 1988), p.497.

The forecourt of Ding Ling, the imperial tomb of the Wanli Emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was here that the corpses of Wanli and his empresses were 'struggled' in August 1966. [Photo: GRB.]

page 12 For the quotation from Peng Zhen, 'The Forbidden City was built for old emperors...', see Wang Jun's 1993 interview with Zhou Yongyuan (the deputy bureau chief of the Beijing Municipal Planning Bureau at the time) material from which is contained in his Cheng ji, p.264. For the Zhao Pengfei quotation, see Wang Jun's 1993 interview with Tao Zongzhen in his Cheng ji, p.264.

page 14 For the quotation from anonymous workers who derided the Forbidden City, see 'Shoudu gejie renmin canguan Shi Da Jianzhuhoude yijian' in Qingkuang jianbao (Restricted Material), 18 November 1959.

page 14 On the ten-year plan for the remaking of Beijing, see 'Beijingshi chengshi zhongxin diqu shinian gaizao juti guihuade shuoming' in Beijing jianshe shishu bianji weiyuanhui, ed., Jianguo yilaide Beijing chengshi jianshe ziliao, vol.1, p.204; and, Dong Guangqi, Gudu Beijing wushinian yanbianlu, pp.35-36 and 38-39, 41.

pages 14-15 On Mao and productive planting, see my 'Beijing, a garden of violence', forthcoming.

page 15 The Fishing Terrace was frequently used as a detached palace and imperial way station during the reigns of the Qianlong and Jiaqing emperors. Both rulers spent much of the year at the Garden of Perfect Brightness northwest of Beijing and, when they were obliged to perform ritual duties at the Altar of Heaven or at the Altar of the First Farmer in the Outer City, the imperial retinue would often stop at the Fishing Terrace for refreshments without first entering the Forbidden City. In the Jin dynasty, the Fishing Terrace was the site of the Garden of Shared Delight (Tongle Yuan, also called Yucao Chi), although the whole area is best known by its Yuan-dynasty name, Lake of the Jade Source (Yuyuan Tan). The abdicated emperor Puyi is said to have given the Fishing Terrace, which was reportedly still in good repair, to his tutor Chen Baochen for his personal use. After Puyi's expulsion from the Forbidden City in 1924, the area became a tourist spot and visitors would see the sites on donkey. In 1926, the writer Lu Xun recorded visiting the area with his mother (see Deng Xunxiang, Lu Xun yu Beijing fengtu, Beijing: Wenshi Ziliao Chubanshe, 1982, pp.144-47). During the People's Republic, large scale construction work was undertaken in the grounds of the former detached palace on the eve of the tenth anniversary of socialist China so that suitable accommodation could be provided for visiting dignitaries in 1959. As a result, the Fishing Terrace saw the building of a number of large residences and meeting halls, of which there are seventeen (there is no building numbered thirteen). See While famous for the numerous international leaders and diplomats who have stayed in Building Number 18, crucial events in the Communist Party's own history have also unfolded in the sequestered villas of the state guesthouse. The Cultural Revolution Leading Group that oversaw the early phases of the Cultural Revolution had its offices at the Fishing Terrace. While many other leaders would move out over the years, Jiang Qing remained in residence.

page 16 On the revolutionary make-over of the Forbidden City, see Wang Jun, 'Gugong gaijian jihua', Jiefang Ribao, 31 January 2006. These activities were based on Jiu Gugong zhenggai jihua. See also Zheng Xinmiao, Gugong Bowuyuan bashi nian (Beijing: Publisher, 2005) and Liu Beisi, Gugong cangsang (Beijing: Zijin Cheng Chubanshe, 2004), pp.182-83.

The early Cultural Revolution witnessed a bizarre episode involving the fate of a former resident of the Forbidden City, the Wanli Emperor (Zhu Yijun, r. 1573-1620). When the imperial mausoleum, Ding Ling, the tomb of the Wanli Emperor, had been excavated in 1958 the remains of Wanli and his two empresses were handed over for 'restoration' to the Ancient Vertebrate and Homo Sapiens Research Institute of Academia Sinica. The skeletons were reassembled using steel wires, following which they remained in the institute for safekeeping. To avoid any untoward association with these 'feudal remnants', however, in the early days of the Cultural Revolution the institute returned the corpses to Ding Ling, now a tourist site, where they were put in storage.

On 24 August 1966, shortly after Mao Zedong reviewed the first mass Red Guard rally in Tiananmen Square, the 'Brigade Fighting for Truth' (Zhenli zhandoudui) of revolutionary rebels organized what they called a Mass Meeting to Put on Trial the Ancestor of the Landlord Class Wanli (Shenpan dizhujiejide zongtouzi Wanli dahui). The strung-together corpses of Emperor Wanli and his two empresses were arranged in the square in front of the main entrance to the mausoleum along with portraits of the Ming imperial family. Wanli was placed in the centre, with the empresses flanking him. Portraits and photographs of the cultural relics unearthed during the exhumation of the imperial tomb were also put on display. The corpses were then struggled and denounced (pi dou), that is speeches were made, slogans were chanted and everyone present was stirred up into a mood of revolutionary outrage.

The rally was attended by various groups in the area—workers at the tomb, others from Chang Ling (the tomb of the Yongle Emperor), peasants from the Chang Ling Commune, the local tree plantation, Chang Ling school, students and a motley crowd of Red Guards visiting Beijing to experience the revolution (and enjoy a bit of tourism on the side). The meeting was orchestrated by Wang Shuhua, a guide working at the tomb. She would later claim that there were no plans to destroy the bodies, but when she called out for the 'revolutionary action to begin' a worker, Shi Feng (now a retired electrician), attacked the corpses with a stone. Wang then called for the bodies and displayed material to be burnt in a bonfire.

Wang Shuhua said that as the masses had already risen up in a mood of irrepressible revolutionary ire it was impossible to contain their anger. But at the time people were rewarded for extremism, verbal as well as physical. Whatever the truth of the events of that day, Wang's own revolutionary ardour saw her promoted to become the head of the Ding Ling Tomb Revolutionary Committee. After the fall of Lin Biao and with the end of radical extremism around 1971, Wang was cashiered from her job and transferred. For these details, see Yang Shi, Ding Ling fengxue (Yuenan: Xinshijie Chubanshe, 1997), pp.339-44 (in Yang's account Wang Shuhua is represented by the roman letter 'W'). See also Yue Nan and Yang Shi, The Dead Suffered Too: The Excavation of a Ming Tomb, translated by Zhang Tingquan and edited by Bertha Sneck (Beijing: Panda Books, 1996), pp.253-58.

page 18 On the first Red Guard onslaught on the Forbidden City through the Gate of Divine Prowess on 9 August 1966 and their subsequent attempts to destroy the palace, see Liu Beisi's rather dramatic reconstruction of the events in his Gugong cangsang, pp.178-182.

page 19 For details of The Rent Collection Courtyard, see See also the article 'Mao Zhuxi guanghui wenyi sixiang xin tixian, Wuchanjieji Wenhua Dageming xin chengguo' in Renmin ribao, 3 December 1966, and the pamphlet Shouzuyuan jieji jiaoyu zhanlan guan, ed., Buwang jieji ku, laoji xielei chou (Beijing, 1966, no publisher). Details relating to the major architectural alterations to the Hall for Worshipping Ancestors are based on a 1996 oral history interview by Sang Ye with Yu Feng, who was responsible for the exhibition. In March 1967, permission was given by the State Council for a replica of The Rent Collection Courtyard sculptures to be made in the Hall of Literary Flourishing (Wenhua Dian) which would then be used for international touring exhibitions. The exhibition was formally removed from the Palace Museum in August 1971, but it was decided that the destructive renovations to the Hall for Worshipping Ancestors should not be reversed.

'Lotus clock' in the Imperial Clock Exhibit at the Hall for Worshipping Ancestors where Shan Shiyuan endured the early days of the Cultural Revolution. [Photo: GRB]

Regarding the abuse of Shan Shiyuan, see 'Naxie jiehou xinshengde Gugong zhibao in Xinjing Bao, 8 October 2005. Shan carried the scars of his beating but published reports tend to avoid giving any details. Shan wrote at length about the fate of the Forbidden City from 1966 in his memoirs, but this material was censored in the published version. Publishers at the Palace Museum resiled from producing his memoirs, but they eventually appeared with the help of Qigong (a member of the former imperial clan of the Aisin Gioro). See Shan Shiyuan, Wo zai Gugong qishi nian (Beijing: Beijing Shifan Daxue Chubanshe, 1997).

page 21 For the exchanges regarding the statues of the Temple of the City God, see 'Wenwu chubanshe keluoban chejian quanti gongrende dazibao', 15 July 1966, a print version is kept in the Beijing Archives and it has been published in Dangde wenxian, 2006, no.5. The response to this poster from the Palace Museum authorities—'Gugong bowuyuan dui Wenwu chubanshe gongren suoxiede dazibaode huifu', 2 August 1966—is also kept in the Beijing Archives and was also carried in Dangde wenxian, 2006, no.5.

page 22 On Zhou Enlai's role, see Zhou Enlai nianpu 1949-1976 (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1997), vol.2, p.50.

page 23 For the quotation from Henry Kissinger, see Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston, 1979), p.270, quoted in Margaret MacMillan, Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World (New York: Random House, 2007), p.75.