The Forbidden City

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

Chapter 2: The Hierarchy of Architecture

pages 25-26 The quotation is from a celebrated passage in The Travels of Marco Polo in which he describes the Palace of the Great Khan in Cambaluc (later Beijing), Cathay. For an accessible, web-based series of excerpts from Marco Polo, see .

The main sacrificial hall (Ling'en Dian) at Chang Ling, the imperial mausoleum for the Yongle Emperor, builder of the Forbidden City. Nine bays wide, this hall is on a scale with the main audience hall, the Huangji Dian (later enlarged and renamed the Hall of Supreme Harmony by the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing), of the Ming-era Forbidden City. [Photo: GRB]

page 26 The move of the Ming dynastic capital north was a gradual process, and Nanjing and Beijing remained complimentary centres of imperial administration until 1441. See Hok-Lam Chan, 'The Chien-wen, Yung-lo, Hung-hsi and Hsuan-te Reigns, 1399-1435', in Frederick W. Mote and Denis Twitchett, eds, The Cambridge History of China, vol.7, pt.1, The Ming Dynasty (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp.238-47. The move of the capital also entailed the massive build up of population under the Yongle Emperor, as well as the development of economic and agricultural practices that could help sustain Beijing far from the wealth of the south (although the Grand Canal mentioned in the text remained of paramount importance).

pages 26-27 For details, see Xue Hong, et al, ed., Zhongguo huangshi gongting cidian (Changchun: Jilin Wenshi Chubanshe), pp.14-23.

pages 28 The original of Qianlong's poem reads:



The character guo 馘 in the title of the poem means 'cut off the left ear [of an enemy used to calculate the number of dead]'. Western Lakes (Xi Hai) could be a more specifically refer to Issyl Kul, Sairam Lake, or even Kokonur. This was the third such triumph, the first two had been in 1755.

page 28 Ann Bridge was the pseudonym of the prolific novelist Mary Dolling Sanders O'Malley (1889-1974).

The Imperial Garden. [Photo: Lois Conner]

pages 32-33 For the details concerning the building of the palaces and the Yongle Emperor's relocation north, as well as the opponents to the move, see Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, Perpetual Happiness, The Ming Emperor Yongle (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2001), pp.127-28. The relocation of capitals was a major feature of many Chinese dynasties—both between and within dynasties. The reasons for the moves varied over time, military defence, politics, access to resources and control over populations being important considerations. It is frequently argued that due to the continued threat of the Mongols, and because his powerbase was in the north, the Yongle Emperor decided to remove the southern capital of his predecessors (see, for example, Wan Yi, 'Lun Zhu Di yingjian Beijing gongdian he qiandude dongji yu houguo', in Wei Wencao, ed., Zijin Cheng jianzhu yanjiu yu baohu—Gugong Bowuyuan jianyuan 70 zhounian huigu (Beijing: Zijin Cheng Chubanshe, 1995, pp.27-33). As is clear from Chapter Six of this book, 'Within and Without the Palace', throughout the twentieth century the issue of where the capital should be located would again be a vexatious one for contending political forces. From the 1980s, environmental concerns have lead commentators and critics to call for the capital to be moved away from the water-depleted environment of Beijing. For a recent example of such arguments see, for instance, Xinyu Mei's 27 December 2007 essay 'Why China should move the capital', at:

pages 38-39 Regarding the rise of the eunuchs, see Taisuke Mitamura, Chinese Eunuchs: The Structure of Intimate Politics, translated by Charles A. Pomeroy (Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1970), p.14ff.

Meridian Gate. [Photo: GRB]

page 40 A standard reference work on the Ming era, including the lives of the emperors, is L. Carrington Goodrich and Fang Zhaoying, eds, Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368-1644 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), 2 vols.

page 42 The Jiajing Emperor's cats were called in Chinese Shuangmei 霜眉 (Frost or Snow Brow) and Shimao 獅貓 (Lion, not Tiger as given in the text) respectively. Snow Brow was subsequently accorded the august title Qiulong 虯龍 or 'Dragon'. 'Frost Brow’ showed no interest in catching small creatures but was sensitive to his master’s every whim. When anyone looked at him he would hide, although he came running playfully upon hearing his name called. He followed the emperor constantly as though in attendance to his Lord. Even when the emperor took a nap, the cat would keep him company, waiting until the Presence awoke before drinking or relieving himself. The emperor was so moved by this unwavering affection that the cat was, as noted here, given the title Qiulong. One day, the cat approached the emperor appearing quite exhausted. He cried out, after which he went away, and curled up to die. The emperor had this favourite interred on the northern side of Wansui Shan and had a tombstone erected for which he wrote some lines in praise of his loyal pet. For these details, see the Ming magistrate Shen Bang's Miscellaneous Notes about my Office at Wanping (Wanshu zaji), juan 22, ‘Shu zi’ (Beijing: Beijing Guji Chubanshe, 1980), p.294.

page 42 Outside the palace and the continuing intrigues therein, the mid- to late-Ming era saw an extraordinary social, cultural and intellectual efflorescence. Some of the greatest works of Chinese prose, poetry, calligraphy and painting were produced by the intellectual elite at this time. For an overview of this rich period, see Frederick W. Mote, Imperial China: 900-1800 (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp.743-75. See also Craig Clunas, Empire of Great Brightness: visual and material cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007).