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The Gate of Heavenly Purity

Qianqingmen, The Gate of Heavenly Purity, or the Gate of Celestial Purity, is the main gate to the inner court of the The Forbidden City.

Flanked by 2 gilded lions, the Gate of Heavenly Purity was once the main entrance not just to the Forbidden City’s inner court, but also to the residential quarters. It was past this gate where the emperors, princes, and concubines lived. Through the gate is the Palace of Heavenly purity, from which the gate derives its name. It also runs along the central North-South axis of the forbidden city dividing the city into 2 equal parts. During the Qing Dynasty, court was held here and the emperor would hear the announcements of his heads of state.

History

The Gate of Heavenly Purity

The Gate of Heavenly Purity

It was built originally in 1420 and rebuilt in 1655, and served as the place where emperors held court during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). In 1644, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Shunzi, began using the Gate of Heavenly Purity as the location for matters of state. Officials would meet in the morning and wait for the emperor, upon his arrival, a temporary throne would be constructed, and the ministers would present him with memorandums and other matters of state: information concerning boards of revenue, civil offices, and wars. The ministers would kneel on their knees while they presented information the emperor, and after each official finished his piece, he would exit via the stairway to the east. After the emperor had heard what the official said, he would make a decision- an imperial edict- before the minister withdrew.

Despite its successful function as a civil office of the emperor, after the reign of the famously hard-working Kangxi (1662-1722), the use of the gate fell slowly out of practice. After the reign of Xianfeng (1851-1861), it was no longer used any more.

The many buildings and gates of the The Forbidden City are frequently flanked by bronze gilded lions, but the ones in front of this particular gate look slightly different. While most of the lions’ ears in the forbidden city are perky and attentive, the lions in front of the Gate of Heavenly Purity have pushed-back ears. The reason for the pushed back ears is that during the Qing dynasty women were not supposed to be involved in affairs of state. The flat ears of the lions indicate to the emperors courtiers and concubines that they aren’t to partake or listen-in on government affairs. The lions folded ears conversely served to keep the courtiers, ministers, and heads of state out of the inner courtyard of the forbidden city.

Architecture

The Gate of Heavenly Purity is the main entrance to the imperial household. To the east of the gate are the Inner Left gate and the Ministry for Courtiers. To the West are the Office of the Grand Council of State and the Inner Right Gate. It is built along an axis that not only divides the Forbidden City’s inner court from its outer court, but also divides the city along a North-South axis, effectively splitting it horizontally in the middle.

The Gate of Heavenly purity rests on a 1 and a half meter high marble base, and reaches 16 meters high in total. Flanked on either side of the gate are 2 lions, and outside of the gate are 4 enormous bronze vats. Decorative, but functional, the vats were in the forbidden city to fight fires, as each one can contain up to 200 gallons of water.

The gate faces Qiangqingmen square, which like the gate itself, was flanked on all sides by houses for the emperor’s family to stop at while visiting him, waiting houses for various political ministers and officials, duty rooms for the grand council which informed and advised the emperor, and rooms for guards and bodyguards of the important heads of state.

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.