The Forbidden City

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

Chapter 8: The Banquet of History

A poster advertising the song-and-dance extravaganza 'The Splendours of the Kang[xi]-Qian[long] Age' at the New Garden of Perfect Brightness, Zhuhai, Guangdong. [Photo: GRB]

pages 170-71 Work on the rebuilding of the gate began on 15 December 1969 and was completed on 7 April 1970. Other design features that turned Tiananmen into an equivalent of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City included the increased size of the 'dragon kisses' on the roof of the structure. While the sunflowers on the tile-ends were retained up until the 2000 refurbishment, the other palace-like features on the eves of the gate were removed in 1984 as part of a remodelling of Tiananmen for the thirty-fifth anniversary of the People's Republic (see below). For these details, see Shu Jun, Tiananmen Guangchang lishi dang'an (Beijing: Zhonggong Zhongyang Dangxiao Chubanshe, 1998), p.63. The rebuilt Tiananmen Gate ended up 0.78 metres higher than the original, which had subsided. See the entry for 'Tiananmen' in Tan Yixiao, ed., Beijing wenwu shengji daquan: Dongchengqu juan (Beijing: Beijing Yanshan Chubanshe, 1991), p.39; and, 'Xin Zhongguo chenglihou Tiananmende xiushan yu chongjian', a Xinhua News Agency report of 8 February 2003 at:

An advertising pamphlet for the Emulating the Imperial Table Restaurant at North Sea. The calligraphy of the name of the restaurant is in the hand of Pujie, brother to Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor.

In other ways, the 1969-70 rebuilding of Tiananmen did not enjoy particular longevity. Shoddy construction required another rebuilding in 1984 (this time to vouchsafe the safety of Deng Xiaoping when he reviewed the 1 October 1984 mass parade in Tiananmen Square). See 'Tiananmen dingliangzhu zhiliang fenxi' in Huanan Ligong Daxue, ed., Tumu gongcheng cailiao xue (Beijing: Gaodeng Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 2001, CD); and, Jiang Hui, 'Gei Tiananmen Guangchang meirong', Dadi 86 (February 1999). An altogether more laudatory account of the 1969-70 reconstruction of Tiananmen Gate can be found in Zhao Shujing, Wu Qi and Chen Jian, Chongjian Tiananmen damuzuo—Sun Yonglin (Kunming: Yunnan Renmin Chubanshe, 2004), pp.18-31.

page 171 For Mao and the other leaders on Tiananmen Gate on 1 May 1971, see Renmin huabao, 1971:6.

page 171 Tiananmen Gate was opened to the public on 1 January 1988, the first day of China's inaugural Year of Tourism. The opening had resulted from a letter the Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang received in September 1984 which contained an appeal for the podium on the gate to be opened to the public, just as the Lake Palaces had been made accessible (short-lived though that proved to be). With the agreement of various Party leaders (Hu, Wan Li and Hu Qili) the Tiananmen Management Office was instructed to establish a Tiananmen Tourism Service Department in May 1985 and, in October 1987, final preparations were made for the gate to welcome the public.

The Pavillion of Delightful Sounds, an opera theatre in the Qianlong retirement palace of the Forbidden City. [Photo: GRB]

Seventy-five year-old Gao Xiwu, a retired accountant from Dongsi People's Market, waited in line from 6 am to buy the first 10 Renminbi ticket and, shortly after 9 am that day, he became the first paying visitor to ascend the gate under the People's Republic. On that day, 1 January 1988, 2000 tourists visited the gate. For these details, see Shujun, ed., Tiananmen Guangchang lishi dang'an (Beijing: Zhonggong Zhongyang Dangxiao Chubanshe, 1998), pp.69-70.

pages 171-72 The Great Qing Gate was previously called Great Ming Gate (Da Ming Men). During the Republican era it was renamed China Gate (Zhonghua Men). See illustration 3 facing page 1 of the book. The plaque for China Gate was recovered following the Cultural Revolution and eventually put on display at the Capital Museum (Shoudu Bowuguan) in Beijing.

page 173 The phrase 'fascination for monumentality' comes from Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press 1999), pp.263–266. In this context, see also Harold L. Kahn, 'A Matter of Taste: The Monumental and Exotic in the Qianlong Reign', reproduced following the notes to Chapter 4 above.

page 173 Regarding the Qianlong-era literary inquisition, see L. Carrington Goodrich, The Literary Inquisition of Ch'ien Lung, second edition with addenda and corrigenda (New York: Paragon, 1966).

page 173 Wilt Idema gives the following description of a three-tiered stage:

The three stages in a three-tiered stage building are called, from top to bottom, the stage of Happiness (fu), the stage of Riches (lu) and the stage of Longevity (shou). In the case of the three-tiered stage building in the Yiheyuan [Summer Palace], the lowest stage (the stage of Longevity), has a height of 1.43 mtr. and a surface area of 17.18 by 14.85 mtrs. The two higher stages have an increasingly smaller surface area. Actually, the playing area on the highest stage is restricted to the front area only, because otherwise the actors cannot be observed from the throne of the Emperor. Moreover, there was a mezzanine stage at the backside of the lowest stage, called the Platform of the Immortals. Actors could move from one level to another by using staircases at the back of the stages. By removing the boards, openings (heaven-holes) could be made in the upper stages, whereupon actors might be lowered to lower floors using pulleys and 'cloud-trays.' Below the lowest stage floor there was an open space. By removing boards, five openings ('earth-holes' or 'pits') could be made, through which special stage props could be cranked up. The space below the lowest stage floor also hid a pumping device for special efforts. The stage building stood in an open courtyard, that was surrounded by buildings providing seating space for the spectators. The imperial pavilion was located right opposite the stage.

See Wilt Idema, 'Performances on a Three-tiered Stage Court Theatre During the Qing Era', in Lutz Bieg, Erling von Mende and Martina Siebert, eds., Ad Seres et Tungusos-Festschrift für Martin Gumm zu seinem 65 Geburtstag am 25 Mau 1995 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000), pp.201-219 at p.205.

pages 174-75 The quotations from the theatre piece Peace Reigns Over the Seas (Si Hai Sheng Ping) are taken from Ye Xiaoqing, 'Ascendant Peace in the Four Seas: Tributary Drama and the Macartney Mission of 1793', Late Imperial China, vol.26, no.2 (December 2005), pp.100-101.

North Lake with the titanium dome of the National Theatre of China visible in the distance. [Photo: GRB]

page 176, illustration 29 The carved marble Hua Biao were symbols of imperial power. They have stood at Tiananmen for over 500 years. Following the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Hua Biao, along with the Gate of Heavenly Peace itself, were incorporated into the new national emblem of the state.

The lion-like creature superimposed on top of the Hua Biao column is called a Hou. According to legend, it is a Heavenly Dog whose duty it is to maintain order in the cosmos. The Hou stands on a dew-collecting tray under which there is a stylized cloud that symbolizes the delineation between Heaven from Earth. The writhing dragon on the Hua Biao represents the imperial power of the Son of Heaven, or emperor. The eight-sided pedestal symbolizes the solid foundations of the earth. On the top of the railings there are a number of creatures called Suan Ni, or children of the dragon, a symbol of imperial good fortune.

The Hou on the Hua Biao outside the imperial palace is looking away from the palace. It is called 'Awaiting the Return' for it was placed there to remind the emperor when he travelled abroad for pleasure to remember the important tasks that awaited him at court.

There is another set of Hua Biao pillars to be found standing inside Tiananmen Gate. On them the Hou face towards the palace. They are called 'Hoping For Departure', meaning that the emperor should be mindful not to be lost in the pleasures of the palace, and that he should leave the Forbidden City to better appreciate the plight of the people.

In an interview with the oral historian Sang Ye, the architectural engineer Shi Jinfang remarked that:

By 1949, the Hua Biao had stood in the same place for over 500 years. A lot of people protested against their being moved. But the protests were quelled when it was pointed out that the Hua Biao represented imperial authority and they had to make room for the flag pole of the People's Republic. This was a matter of political principle. Who would dare oppose it? So the Hua Biao were moved back. Politics and principle were used to justify all the other demolitions that subsequently took place in Beijing: the destruction of the three other gates at Tiananmen, then of all the Commemorative Arches in the city, finally followed by the demolition of the walls of Beijing itself, not to mention all the other ancient buildings that were torn down... ...

In 1980, the well-known historian and essayist Li Ao who grew up in Beiping but was taken to Taiwan by his parents wrote:

Walking past the Gate of Heavenly Peace as a child, I would look up at the Hua Biao, which reached up into the clouds. At the time, I only thought how beautiful they were. I had no idea what they stood for. Now, after much reading and reflection, I understand: The Hua Biao are a debased symbol, tools of expression that have lost their function. They are the tears of China; the Hua Biao is China's cross.

page 178 Details regarding the 'China Harmony Clock' come from Zhongguo daoyou shiwange weishenme: Beijing, vol.1 (Beijing: Zhongguo Lüyou Chubanshe, 2005), p.15.

page 179 For details of the gestation and fate of Draft History of the Qing Dynasty, see Zhu Shizhe, Qing shi shu wen (Taipei: Letian Chubanshe, 1971); and, Meng Sen, Qingdai shi (Taipei: Jicheng Tushu Gongsi, 1960).

page 179 Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor took as its main source Puyi's memoirs, From Emperor to Citizen—The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi. Writing for the December 2007 issue of China Heritage Quarterly Bruce Doar reported that on the eve of the publication of a new and unexpurgated version of this autobiography, the Beijing-based Qunzhong (Masses) Publishing House, which is run by the Ministry of Public Security, filed a suit in September 2007 in the People's Court of Beijing's Xicheng District applying for intestate status on the copyright of the work. The move was intended, ostensibly, to resolve a longstanding dispute regarding ownership of the copyright. The court acknowledged the application and issued the following statement on 25 September 2007: 'The copyright will transfer to the state if no one claims ownership within a year, and profits from the book sales will be nationalised according to the law'.

The publishing house's move may well prove to be self-defeating, but is was possibly intended to thwart the claims of Aisin-Gioro Puyi's younger brother, 89-year-old Jin Youzhi (Puren), to the copyright. In December 2006, Jin lost a legal battle claiming ownership of the copyright on Puyi's image after the Palace Museum staged an exhibition on Puyi's life. The Beijing Number Two Intermediate People's Court ruled that Puyi was 'a public and historical figure', and that reproductions of his image did not infringe the family's rights.

'The Manchu-Han Complete Banquet'—a diner as 'emperor for a meal', from a pamphlet produced by Emulating the Imperial Table.

In 1957 (some sources say 1950), Puyi commenced work on his autobiography, ghost written by Li Wenda, reportedly with the involvement of the famed progressive Manchu novelist Lao She. The completed three-volume work was first published in 1964 in Hong Kong after extensive editing by many historians and experts. Nearly two million copies in 21 editions of the book have been sold subsequently on the mainland. Abridged English translations have also appeared, the best known being that by W.J.F. Jenner.

Puyi died in 1967, but his widow Li Shuxian held the copyright of the autobiography until her death in 1997. The couple died intestate and had no offspring to inherit copyright ownership. However, Puren was not the biological brother of Puyi, having been adopted as a stepson by the Guangxu Emperor in 1908. The publishing company is perhaps hoping that in the absence of an inheritor of the copyright the court will award them the copyright, given that they were the autobiography's first publisher.

pages 179-180 The details of the international exhibitions of the Palace Museum are from Susan Naquin, 'The Forbidden City Goes Abroad: Qing History and the Foreign Exhibitions of the Palace Museum, 1974-2004', T'oung Pao, vol.XC, 2004 (Fascicle 4-5), pp.341-397. My thanks to Claire Roberts for bringing this essay to my attention.

pages 180, 182 Eight performances of Giacomo Puccini's Turandot were performed at the Ancestral Temple from 5-13 
September 1998. For details and quotations, see:

page 182 The quotation about the show being 'long on style short on substance' comes from the review 'A Spectacle, but Not Spectacular', in ChinaBuzz at:

page 182 The quotation from Guido Levi appears in 'An Italian China Meets a Chinese China', A.O. Scott's review of the PBS 2001 documentary The Turandot Project in The New York Times, 10 August 2001.

page 182 Zhang Yimou's imperial pretensions would be realised when he made the film Curse of the Golden Flower (Mancheng jin gua huangjin jia) (2006). Zhang had a to-scale Forbidden City built at the Hengdian World Studios (also known as 'Chinawood') at Dongyang, Zhejiang province, as a set for the film. As the promoters of Hengdian point out, whereas the real Forbidden City in Beijing took 14 years to build, the Zhejiang version was completed in just 14 months. After extended negotiations and deliberations, on 1 January 2008 the Hengdian Group announced that work on a full-scale version of the Garden of Perfect Brightness, mentioned in The Forbidden City, would commence in February 2008.

The reconstructed Yongding Men Gate in south Beijing. [Photo: Lois Conner]

pages 182-83 On the Republican-era history of the Ancestral Temple, its opening for 1 May 1950 Labour Day, and the exhibition of Romanian photographs, see Beijingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong gongkuang bianxiezu, ed., Beijingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong (Beijing: Bejingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong, 2004, CD).

page 183 On the death of and mourning for Ren Bishi, see 'Zhonggong Zhongyang fugao: Ren Bishi tongzhi shishi', Renmin Ribao, 28 October 1950; on the display of his remains, see 'Ren Bishi tongzhi yiti zuori rulian Mao zhuxi qinshi hanlian yiling zhi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong', Renmin Ribao, 29 October 1950; and, for Ren's memorial service, see 'Ren Bishi tongzhi zhuidaohui jinri juxing', Renmin Ribao, 30 October 1950.

page 183 Other party-state funerals held at the Ancestral Temple were for: Lin Boqu (1960); Luo Ronghuan (1963); Ke Qingshi (1965); Dong Biwu (1975); Kang Sheng (1975); Zhou Enlai (1976); and, Zhu De (1976). For details (except for Kang Sheng), see the accounts in the relevant years, 'Beijingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong dashi', in Beijingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong gongkuang bianxiezu, ed., Beijingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong (Beijing: Bejingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhua Gong, 2004, CD). A report on the memorial for Kang Sheng, a figure involved in Party security from the 1930s and a key leader during the Cultural Revolution, can be found in 'Zhongguo renminde weidade wuchanjiejie geming jia Guangrongde fanxiu zhanshi Kang Sheng tongzhi zhuidao dahui zai Beijing longzhong juxing', Renmin Ribao, 21 December 1975.

Tiananmen Gate. [Photo: Richard Gordon]

page 183 Feng Xiaogang's 2001 film The Player (Da Wan'r) is also known in English as Big Shot's Funeral.

page 184 For this quotation from Liu Yiran's short story 'Rocking Tiananmen' (Yaogun qingnian), translated by Jonathan Hutt, see Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices (New York: Times Books, 1992), pp.14-15 and 19.

page 185 For details of the performance of the Three Tenors, see 'Shijie san da nangaoyin Zijin Cheng guangchang yinyuehui zai Wumen qian zhengshi juxing', Beijing Ribao, 24 June 2001.

page 185 On the exchange between Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin and Luciano Pavarotti, see the report 'Jiang Zemin huijian shijie san da nangaoyin gechangjia', Renmin Ribao, 25 June 2001; and, 'Pawaluoti: Jiang Zemin shi yiwei mirende zhuxi', Wenhui Bao, 26 June 2001.

page 189 For Sun Jingxuan's, 'A Spectre Prowls Our Land', see Geremie Barmé and John Minford, eds, Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience (New York: Hill & Wang, 1988, second edition), pp.122, 128.

pages 190-91 Leung Ping-kwan, 'Cauldron' (Ding), 1996, translated by John Minford and Chan Oi-sum (np).