Ming Palace

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The Meridian Gate (front gate) of the Ming Palace, viewed from the northern (inner) side.

The Ming Palace, also known as the Forbidden City of Nanjing (Chinese: 明故宫; pinyin: Míng Gùgōng), was the 14th-century imperial palace of the early Ming Dynasty, when Nanjing was the capital of China.


Zhu Yuanzhang, who became the founder and first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, began building a palace in what was then known as Jiankang in 1367. At the time, he was self-styled "King of Wu". The palace was built outside the existing city of Jiankang, and was completed by 1368, when Zhu proclaimed the Ming Dynasty with himself as the first emperor (known as the Hongwu Emperor) and Jiankang, now Yingtian, as the "southern capital", or "Nanjing", of his empire. For the next few years, few changes were made to the palace in Nanjing as the Emperor focused on building the "middle capital", located in his home town, Fengyang.

In 1373 the Hongwu Emperor shifted his focus back to Nanjing, with a substantial program of expansion and refurbishment of the palace which was completed in 1375. Further expansion occurred in 1392. In 1398 the Hongwu Emperor died, and was succeeded by his grandson, the Jianwen Emperor. A civil war soon ensued as Zhu Di, son of the Hongwu Emperor and uncle of the Jianwen Emperor, sought to take the crown from his nephew. In 1402, Zhu Di took Nanjing and ascended the throne as the Yongle Emperor. The Jianwen Emperor disappeared amid a fire at the imperial palace.

The Yongle Emperor was keen to return to Beiping (now Beijing), where he was enfeoffed as a prince. To accomplish this, he raised Beiping to the status of capital by adding a Jing suffix, therefore becoming the "northern capital" (Beijing), and began building a palace there. The Nanjing palace lost its position as the emperor's main residence to Beijing's Forbidden City in 1420 when the Yongle Emperor officially relocated the imperial capital to Beijing. Nanjing retained the status of the "reserve" capital throughout the almost three centuries of the Ming era, with its own "reserve" court and "reserve" ministries, and the palace was placed in the care of officials of the Imperial Household Department. However, the palace was afflicted with a series of fires, which caused damages that were, for the most part, not repaired. In 1449, the three main halls of the Outer Court (the ceremonial seat of government) burned down and were never rebuilt. Other fires destroyed other parts of the palace.

After the fall of Beijing to Li Zicheng's rebels (and, soon thereafter, to the Qing Dynasty) in 1644, the Nanjing Ming Palace briefly became the seat of the Prince of Fu, who was crowned the "Hongguang Emperor" in Nanjing in an attempt to continue the Ming Dynasty (one of a series of short-lived regimes known collectively as the Southern Ming Dynasty). By this time only a small portion of the palace was intact, and the Hongguang Emperor set about rebuilding some sections of the palace.

However, the following year (1645) the Qing armies reached Nanjing. The Hongguang Emperor fled and officials of the "reserve" court surrendered. Under the Qing dynasty, the former imperial sector of Nanjing was garrisoned by the Manchu armies of the Eight Banners, with the palace itself becoming the yamen of two military commands. Throughout the Qing dynasty, the Ming palace was gradually demolished, with stone and carvings taken away to be used as building material and decorative elements on other projects. By the time of the Kangxi Emperor and the Qianlong Emperor's tours of Nanjing in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Ming palace was already in ruin, and the two emperors both stayed elsewhere in the city.

When the Taiping Revolution rebels declared Nanjing to be their capital, they also chose not to use the Ming palace but to build a new palace (today's Presidential Palace in Nanjing). In this process, they sourced a large amount of construction material from the remains of the Ming palace. By the time the Taiping Revolution was defeated by the Qing government, almost nothing remained of the buildings and walls of the Ming palace.

The Republic of China established Nanjing as its capital in 1928. The planned development of the capital called for a new central executive zone to be built around the former palace. The plan was never completed. In 1929, a major road (East Zhongshan Road) was built in an east-west direction across the palace site, dividing it into a northern and a southern portion. In the 1930s, a series of buildings were built in and around the northern portion of the palace site, including the offices of two Kuomintang party organs in a traditional palatial style placed symmetrically near the east and west gates of the palace respectively, as well as the National Central Museum (now the Nanjing Museum), also in a traditional palatial style. The southern portion became a small airstrip. The building of the airstrip resulted in the demolition of the two protruding arms of the Meridian Gate, the front gate of the palace.

The Ming Palace today[edit]

No building within the palace survives today. Among other structures, the gate platforms of the Meridian Gate (the southern, front gate of the palace), Donghua Gate (the Gate of Eastern Glory, the eastern gate of the palace), and the Xi'an Gate (the Gate of Western Peace, the western outer gate of the palace) survive, though none of the wooden gatehouses survive, and the protruding wings of the Meridian Gate have been demolished. The inner and outer bridges of the Golden Water, which lie on the main north-south axis just inside and just outside the front gate respectively, survive. A number of isolated column elements and stone carvings also survive, and a number of foundations have been excavated.

The site of the three halls of the Outer Court has been established as a commemorative park, while the area around the Meridian Gate is also a park. Many of the remaining stone carvings and architectural components of the palace have been moved to the latter park and are arranged for display.

Large parts of the former palace are now occupied by various agencies and organisations such as the Aeronautical and Aerospace University of Nanjing, the Archives of the Nanjing Military District, and the No. 2 Historical Archives of China.


Coordinates: 32°02′17″N 118°49′03″E / 32.03806°N 118.81750°E / 32.03806; 118.81750