After the Meridian Gate, 5 bridges cross the Inner Golden River and lead to a square beyond. This square is occupied by Tàihémén (太和门), the Gate of Supreme Harmony. It is the second major gate after the Meridian Gate in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Flanked by Zhaode Gate to the west and Zhendu Gate to the East, the Gate of Supreme Harmony and the Meridian Gate form the northern and southern borders respectively of the massive plaza that the Inner Golden River snakes through. It is an entrance gate, separating the first court of state affairs from the emperor’s court at the Palace of Supreme Harmony.
Upon passing through the gate, one will enter Harmony Square, leading to the grand hall of Supreme Harmony, the center of ceremonial activities in the Forbidden City.
The gate was built during the Ming Dynasty, and it was called Fengtianmen (奉天門). It was burned down in 1886 by a guard carelessly tipping a fire lantern, so it was rebuilt and completed in 1894.
During the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held morning court sessions at the Gate of Supreme Harmony in which he would meet his ministers to discuss matters of state. Although most of the meetings during the Ming Dynasty were purely ceremonial, they served the purpose of demonstrating the Emperors diligence and dedication, as well as the important status of his first minister.
The West Corner Gate was reserved for meetings with government heads during periods of mourning, or special days dedicated to the mourning of ancestors- usually on the anniversaries of their deaths. The reasoning for having a special place to conduct business during mourning periods was to keep a distance between death and life. The palaces and structures usually used for affairs of state would thus not be tainted by thoughts of death or loss. Dead ancestors could be honored and mourned on the appropriate dates at the appropriate places. After those periods of mourning, the Emperor could go about his normal business without being reminded of inevitable mortality. During the Ming Dynasty, the West Corner Gate was renamed Gate of Proclaiming Governance (Xuanzhi Men).
The East Corner Gate was the location of the offices of the Grand Secretariat Nèigé (内阁). Established by Emperor Hongwu in 1382, the Grand Secretariat’s job was to handle administrative details and schedule appointments for the emperor. The office consisted of 6 scholarly secretaries who would preview incoming documents and decide what was to be viewed personally by the emperor. They also drafted many of the documents that came out of the office of the emperor.
It was emperor Yongle who moved the Grand Secretariat offices to the East Corner Gate in the Ming Dynasty. Additionally, during the Ming Dynasty, the East Corner Gate was renamed Hongzheng Men (The Gate of General Administration).
Although the emperor met with ministers and heads of departments himself in order to prevent the concentration of power outside of his hands, the Grand Secretariat was able to control the flow of information to and from the emperor. Thus, despite the secretaries not having direct power, they managed to get themselves appointed to head various departments and ministries.
During the Qing Dynasty, the use of the Gate of Supreme Harmony for civil and administrative purposes declined. The emperors of the Qing Dynasty attended court far more frequently, so the main offices of the emperor were moved to the Gate of Heavenly Purity, which is much closer to the emperor’s quarters.
The Qing Dynasty also renamed the East and West Corner Gates: the West Corner Gate was renamed to the Gate of Correct Conduct, or Zhēndù Mén (贞度门); the East Corner Gate was renamed to the Gate of Manifest Virtue or Zhāodé Mén (昭德门).
During both dynasties, the rooms on either side of the gate were used for storing valuable items like silver, porcelain, clothes, and furs.
After the Fall of the Dynasties
The gate was the cite of celebrations at the end of World War I (the 18th of November, 1918). President Xu Shichang welcomed back soldiers who had served in the war.
The Gate of Supreme Harmony takes up 1371.4 square meters and is flanked by a gate on the east and west side (Zhaode Men and Zhendu respectively). The building is imposing and ornate, lifted up on an almost 2 meter high marble foundation and composed of finely carved wood.
The foundation was built with 7 layers lengthwise and 8 layers crosswise- specially designed to prevent assassins from tunneling underneath and into the palace. The bricks on the ground’s surface were even carved in a certain way as to make a pleasant sound when they were walked on.
In front of the main door are 2 lions. The male lion holds a globe, representing imperial power and conquests. The female lion holds a lion cub under its front paw, representing a flourishing imperial family.
After the large central door was a staircase lined with incense burners, only the emperor was allowed to use this staircase.
In-depth Forbidden City Tour with China Travel
Take your time to enjoy the One-Day In-Depth Forbidden City Tour with China Travel:
- Our English-speaking expert guide will lead you to explore this largest imperial palace in the world and give you comprehensive explanations with pictures.
- You will see all highlights and discover the hidden history of Chinese imperial life.
- This in-depth Forbidden City tour takes about 5 hours while common Forbidden City tour only lasts about 2 hours.
- In the afternoon, you’ll visit Jingshan Park to have a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City and watch sunset.
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