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Palace of Heavenly Purity

The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong in pinyin, or 乾清宫, in Chinese) is the largest of the 3 halls in the inner court of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The palace, like the rest of the inner court, is located in the north end of the forbidden city. During the Ming Dynasty, it was the emperor’s residence, and during the Qing Dynasty, it was used as the emperor’s audience hall, where he met with the Grand Council.

History

Palace of Heavenly Purity

Palace of Heavenly Purity

Like much of the Forbidden City, the Palace of Heavenly Purity was built in 1420, by emperor Yongle during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the Ming Dynasty, the palace served as living quarters for the Emperor, the large building was comprised of 9 rooms on 2 levels, with 27 beds total. The emperor would randomly select one of the beds to sleep on each night in order to obfuscate potential assassins. The practice of sleeping on a random bed continued through the first 2  emperors of the  Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

The Ming emperors would also convene daily civic business there. Business conducted there included interviewing envoys and officials, and doing paperwork (reading and signing documents). Rarely banquets and ceremonies would take place there, such as the Banquet of a Thousand seniors (once in 1722 and again in 1785) in which the Qianlong Emperor invited men over 60 from many different countries to attend- and he gave them presents.

 The Yongzheng emperor changed the living quarters of the emperor, as he did not wish to live in the same place his father had lived in for over 60 years. He and subsequent emperors lived in the smaller Hall of Mental Cultivation, west of the palace.

The Qing Dynasty also followed the tradition of placing the emperors coffin in the palace’s pavilion for several days after death for commemorative ceremonies, regardless of the location of his death. After the ceremonies, the body would be moved to the Hall of Observing Morality (Guandedian) at Jinshan Hill, and then buried in the Imperial Mausoleum.

One of the interesting artifacts of the Palace of Heavenly Purity is the raised dais that the throne sits on. This dais contained a document written by the emperor that named his successor. During the Qing Dynasty, the imperial succession was hotly contested by the sons of the emperors, so the sitting emperor would choose his successor in secret. He would write this in his will, which would then be copied and hidden in 2 locations- 1 was within the dais beneath the throne, and the other was kept on the emperor’s person at all times. Only if both documents corroborated each other would the successor be crowned.

The palace was reconstructed several times during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the current palace dates from 1798.

Qing Dynasty (268 Years)

Towards the end of the Qing dynasty (from 1900 to 1912), various foreign countries tried to open China’s gates by force of arms. Gugong, the Ancient Palace, suffered pillaging from forces home and abroad.

An Eight-Nation Alliance (Britain, the US, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy and Austria-Hungary) invaded and ransacked the Forbidden City, forcing the emperor to flee from Beijing. After that, many Chinese treasures from the palace found their way to Europe.

Architecture

The Palace of Heavenly Purity is the largest palace in the Inner Court because it was the most important building there when it was built. A raised walkway connects the palace to the gate of the same name. The throne in the palace rests on a large dais and is encircled by incense burners, long red candles, and large mirrors, which were believed to ward off evil spirits.

A plaque above the throne, written by the Qing Shunzhi Emperor, reads: “ 正大光明”(zheng da guang ming), the meaning of which is “let the righteous shine,” or “justice and brightness” This is a  Chinese idiom, and colloquially means “be decent, honest, and magnanimous,” or “have no secret, and do nothing shameful.”  Couplets written by former emperors also decorated the throne room, engraved on columns on either side of the throne.

 To the right and left of the palace are 2 smaller, simpler pavilions. The left is named Hongdedian, and was used the Ming dynasty as a waiting lounge for those who were to meet the emperor and during the Qing Dynasty as an imperial office. The right pavilion was used a library/book storage for the Emperor.

On either side of the terrace in front of the palace contains a bronze turtle and bronze crane sculpture. The two animal sculptures together represent dynastic longevity: that the dynasty will be passed down for thousands of generations.

A sundial is on the outside of the palace to the east and a Jialiang (an ancient device for measurement). These two indicate that the emperor was fair to all his people, and that he was no servant of time, but stood outside of it, as a son of heaven.

History 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 important sites 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.