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The Meridian Gate - The Entrance to the Forbidden City

Wumen (午门) in Chinese, the Meridian Gate, is the Southern Gate and the largest gate in the Forbidden City. It now serves as the only entrance to the Forbidden City. Looking out over Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Meridian Gate is centered firmly on the north-south axis of the palace, directly on the axis of symmetry. The Emperors of China believed that, as the sons of heaven, the universe centered on themselves, and the meridian line went through the center- making his residence the center of heaven and Earth.

The gate itself overlooks Tiananmen Square, and through the gate is the Golden Stream Bridge and Hall of Supreme Harmony. There were several purposes of the Meridian Gate throughout history. The first was entry and exit of individuals from the Forbidden City (including the Emperor himself). The second usage was the promulgation/dissemination of the emperors laws, writings, and announcements. The third was the meeting of ministers and officials on special occasions. Corporal punishment was also meted out before the Meridian Gate, officials who had displeased the emperor would be beaten, and there are stories of war captives who were brought to be sacrificed.

History

The Entrance to the Forbidden City

The Entrance to the Forbidden City

The Meridian Gate was completed in the year 1420 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was repaired in 1647 and 1801. Each of its five doors had a special purpose. The main door (in the center) was for the Emperor almost exclusively. The Empress was allowed to use that door on the day of her marriage, and the top three scholars of the triennial service exams (a civil service examination used to select candidates for the national bureaucracy) were allowed to leave through the central door. The smaller door to the east was used by government ministers and officials, while the smaller door to the west was used by the royal family. The remaining two doors at each side were only used for grand ceremonies.

Ordinary people were forbidden from using any of the five doors. Besides announcements of the Emperors decrees and laws, the Meridian gate was where a number of special events and ceremonies were held. The Emperor would meet with officials and ministers on the Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and Chongyang (the 9th day of the 9th month of the Chinese calender) Festival. Past the gates, near the Imperial Way (the route from the entrance of the Forbidden City to the Emperor’s residence) was the place where government officials faced corporal punishment for displeasing the emperor- usually in the form of beatings. Although there are records of executions happening here, the vast majority of executions (of both government ministers and war captives) happened at another place, Caishikou, which is presently the location of a department store in Xuanwu district in Beijing.

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 imposing, symmetrical superstructure of the Meridian Gate is called the “Five Phoenix Turrets” (Wufenglou ) because it is made up of five buildings and the buildings viewed together look like a flying Phoenix. The gate was built around the same time as the rest of the palace, between 1407 and 1420. The central tower is 39.95 meters (124.5 feet) high, 60.05 meters (198 feet) long, and another 25 meters (82 feet) wide- thus composing an enormous structure. The main tower is joined on the east and west by 2 towers, both with raised and covered open-air corridors that go south and end at spired roofs on both the West and East side. The 3 main doors that were used for the emperor, his family, and important ministers are located in the central tower, between the corridors extending south, and there are the 2 side doors that were used for special festivals at the end of each corridor.

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.