Beijing's Museum of Ancient Architecture, located at No. 21 Dongjing Road, Xuanwu District, was formally opened in September 1991. It is the only museum in China displaying China's architectural-cultural tradition in a comprehensive, systematic way. The museum is housed inside Xiannong Temple - aka, the Altar of the God of Agriculture - which was the Imperial Palace's official offerings site during the Ming (CE 1368-1644 ) and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties. Xiannong Temple is dedicated to the cult of Shennong, a legendary ruler reputed to have invented the plough, and who, it is also claimed, discovered the healing properties of plants.
With its 500-year-long history, Beijing's Museum of Ancient Architecture consists of the primary hall, the Altar to the Year God, as well as several secondary halls such as the Platform for Observing the Harvest, the Temple of Loyalty and the Emperor's Dressing Room, whose purpose will be briefly described below. In addition to these - but not described below - the museum includes the following secondary halls: the Divine Granary (for storing the five grains used in the offerings ceremonies) and the Palace of Celebrating Completion, where the pre-offerings fast was carried out during the Ming Dynasty period. Beijing's Museum of Ancient Architecture is a treasure-trove of ancient architectural styles and traditions.
The purpose of the primary hall, the Altar to the Year God, is for carrying out offerings to the plant Jupiter, while the secondary halls on either side of the primary hall are for carrying out offerings to the Deities of the 12 Lunar Months. The Platform for Observing the Harvest is where the Emperor, on the occasion of the Spring Equinox, would observe the princes and ministers engaged in a bit of hands-on farming, but only after the emperor himself had led the way by plowing several furrows of land. Far from being a mockery of the toils of lowly agricultural laborers, this annual ceremony was a symbolic gesture designed to bestow dignity upon the agricultural laborer, and thus to demonstrate the vital importance of agriculture to the country.
The Temple of Loyalty was built in memory of the 72 martyrs who died in an uprising at Huanghuagang in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.* The Emperor's Dressing Room is where the Emperor changed into ceremonial robes prior to the offerings ceremonies.
In additon, Beijing's Museum of Ancient Architecture has a number of exhibits devoted to drawings, photos, and other illustrations that trace and highlight the development of architecture in China down through the ages.
* The Huanghuagang Uprising, aka the "3.29" Guangzhou Uprising, or March 29th Guangzhou Uprising (the date according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar was April 27, 1911, corresponding to 3.29.1911 in the Gregorian Calendar), was the beginning of the end, one might say, of Imperial, or Dynastic, China. A flock of Chinese revolutionaries, under the leadership of one Huang Xing, staged an uprising, which was the last such uprising that the Qing Dynasty was able to put down. In it, the revolutionaries fought pitched battles in the streets of Guangzhou against a much larger and much more organized Qing Army, which thoroughly routed the revolutionaries.
Initially, it was believed that 72 revolutionaries perished in the uprising, but later more bodies were recovered, bring the total number of revolutionaries killed in the Huanghuagang Uprising to 86. The number 72 had in the meantime bitten itself fast in imagination of the people, therefore the dead revolutionaries from the Huanghuagang Uprising are referred to as the "72 Martyrs of Huanghuagang".
The Huanghuagang Uprising so inflamed the revolutionaries that in the fall of that same year, a final and successful uprising, the Wuchang Uprising, began in the month of October in Wuchang, but quickly transitioned into revolutionary outbreaks all across the country. This mounting revolutionary movement was later termed the Xinhai Revolution, so named because 1911 was a Xinhai Year (Year of the Pig) in the Chinese 12-year Zodiac cycle. By the end of that same year, the Xinhai Revolution had finally brought the Qing Dynasty to its knees. On February 12, 1912, the last Chinese emperor, Emperor Puyi, abdicated.
There was, however, a somewhat bizarre sequel to Puyi's life as an emperor - he was briefly installed as emperor in 1917 by a warlord, but only 12 days later was again deposed on the strength of an opposing warlord, who had correctly measured the will of the Chinese people. Puyi remained in peace in the Forbidden City until 1924, when he was definitively expelled by yet another warlord. It was an uneasy period in Chinese history. In 1986, a Chinese filmmaker by the name of Li Han Hsiang made a film about "The Last Emperor", as Puyi came to be known by historians, entitled Huo Long ("Fire Dragon"), and only a year later, in 1987, the epic film by Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor (it won 9 Oscars, including Best Picture), made its appearance. Given China's rising influence on the world stage, this will surely not be the last film to be made about The Last Emperor.