The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Gate, and the Temple of Heaven

The Forbidden City in Beijing, where the twenty-four emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties lived, held court, and ruled the country, is impressively defended--surrounded by a perimeter wall thirty-three feet high and three kilometers in length, and encircled by a moat fifty-two meters wide and 3,800 meters long, named Outer Golden Water River. There is also an inner moat, named, appropriately enough, Inner Golden Water River, which winds around through the inside of the Forbidden City. With a watchtower crowning each of the four corners of the palace enclosure, the palace looks like a carefully defended castle.

This magnificent, palatial architectural complex covers an area of over 2,350,000 square feet and contains 9,999 rooms. The layout of the Forbidden City is based on a Chinese cosmic diagram of the universe that clearly defines the north-south and east-west axes. The buildings represent the largest and best-preserved examples of Chinese traditional architecture found today. The overall layout is centered on the three primary Halls of State: The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), The Hall of Middle Harmony (Zhonghedian) and The Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). State ceremonies were held in the Outer Court (Wai Chao) of the Forbidden City. Here the emperors governed from their thrones, holding court sessions with their ministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating military expeditions. The Outer Court was also the site for important ceremonies: the accession of a new emperor to the throne, birthdays and weddings. The Inner Court (Nei Ting) was the residential area of the emperor and the imperial household, as well as the place where the emperor dealt with routine state affairs.

Tianamen Square is the largest public square in the world, and can hold as many as one million people. Traditional town planning in China did not allow for places where the masses could gather, so the square is a relatively recent addition to Beijing's landscape. It was created for when imperial offices along the royal path between the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven were demonished.

In the center of the Square is the Monument to the People's Heroes. To the west is the Great Hall of the People, and to the east are the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. At the southern end of the square is the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao Zedong. And to the north is the oldest structure on the square--Tiananmen Gate, the front entrance to the Imperial Palace, known as the Forbidden City.

Tiananmen Gate (The Gate of Heavenly Peace) was constructed in 1417, during the reign of the Ming emperor Yongle. It stands 33.7 meters high, and covers an erea of over 20,000 square meters. There are five passageways through the gate, with the central passageway reserved for the emperor. Today, Tiananmen Gate is an important icon in China: its image appears everywhere. In October of 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic from the same tower that Ming and Qing emperors used when issuing edicts. Mao's protrait still hangs over the central passageway, and the entrance is flanked by two slogans: "Long Live the People's Republic of China," and "Long Live the Great Union between the Peoples of the World.

The Temple of Heaven is not a single building, but a park, covering 273 hectares of land in Chongwen District in southeast Beijing, more than twice the size of the Forbiden City. Built in 1420, under emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty, it was originally located just outside the city, and became a part of Beijing when the Qing Dynasty rulers extended the city walls.

The Temple of Heaven was designed as a place for emperors to hold prayer ceremonies. They prayed for a good harvest in the spring and for rain in the summer. On the Winter Solstice, the emperor would lead a silent parade of elephant- and horse-drawn chariots. lancers, and noblemen to the Temple of Heaven, and would make sacrifial offerings in ceremonies of Heaven worship at the Circular Mound Altar. The emperor was regarded as a son of Heaven, who ruled by divine right. Bad harvests and natural dissasters were seen as signs that the emperor had lost favor with the gods and was being punished. For this reason, prayer ceremonies and sacrifices were a very important aspect of the emperor's job.

The park in divided into sections, running from north to south. The two most significant structures are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the north and the Circular Mound Altar in the south. The two ends of the park are connected by a central causeway 360 meters long, calledthe Sacred Way.

Other well-known structures and scenic spots in the Temple of Heaven--most of which are clustered at the northern and southern ends of the park, around the two major structures--include the Fasting Palace, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Hall of Abstinence, the Office of Sacred Music, Triple Sound Stones, Seven-Star Stone, Echo Wall, the Nine-Dragon Cypress, the Western Heavenly Gate, and the East Gate.