Chinese palace

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Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City, Beijing

A Chinese palace is an imperial complex where the royal court and the civil government resided. Its structures are considerable and elaborate. The Chinese character gong (宮; meaning "palace") represents two connected rooms (呂) under a roof (宀). Originally the character applied to any residence or mansion, but it was used in reference to solely the imperial residence since the Qin Dynasty (3rd century BC).

A Chinese palace is composed of many buildings. It has large areas surrounded by walls and moats. It contains large halls (殿) for ceremonies and official business, as well as smaller buildings, temples, towers, residences, galleries, courtyards, gardens, and outbuildings.

Main imperial palaces, in chronological order[edit]

Palace children playing, by an anonymous artist of the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

Other Places[edit]

Apart from the main imperial palace, Chinese dynasties also had several other imperial palaces in the capital city where the empress, crown prince, or other members of the imperial family dwelled. There also existed palaces outside of the capital city called "away palaces" (離宮) where the emperors resided when traveling.

Imperial Gardens[edit]

The habit also developed of building garden estates in the countryside surrounding the capital city, where the emperors retired at times to get away from the rigid etiquette of the imperial palace, or simply to escape from the summer heat inside their capital. This practice reached a zenith with the Qing Dynasty, whose emperors built the fabulous Imperial Gardens (御園), now known in China as the Gardens of Perfect Brightness (圓明園), and better known in English as the Old Summer Palace. The emperors of the Qing Dynasty resided and worked in the Imperial Gardens, 8 km/5 miles outside of the walls of Beijing, the Forbidden City inside Beijing being used only for formal ceremonies.

These gardens were made up of three gardens: the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper, the Garden of Eternal Spring (長春園), and the Elegant Spring Garden (綺春園); they covered a huge area of 3.5 km² (865 acres), almost 5 times the size of the Forbidden City, and 8 times the size of the Vatican City. comprising hundreds of halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, gardens, lakes, etc. Several famous landscapes of southern China had been reproduced in the Imperial Gardens, hundreds of invaluable Chinese art masterpieces and antiquities were stored in the halls, making the Imperial Gardens one of the largest museums in the world. Some unique copies of literary work and compilations were also stored inside the Imperial Gardens.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the British and French expeditionary forces looted the Old Summer Palace. Then on October 18, 1860, in order to "punish" the imperial court, which had refused to allow Western embassies inside Beijing, the British general Lord Elgin- with protestations from the French - purposely ordered the torching of this massive complex which burned to the ground. It took 3500 British troops to set the entire place ablaze and took three whole days to burn. The burning of the Gardens of Perfect Brightness is still a very sensitive issue in China today.

Following this cultural catastrophe, the imperial court was forced to relocate to the old and austere Forbidden City where it stayed until 1924, when the Last Emperor was expelled by a republican army.

Summer Palace[edit]

Empress dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) built the Summer Palace or Yiheyuan (頤和園 - "The Garden of Nurtured Harmony") near the Old Summer Palace, but on a much smaller scale than the Old Summer Palace.[1]

More Palaces[edit]

Some other palaces include:

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet was used by the Dalai Lama.

Recently, Chinese archaeologists have announced that they have found the ruins of an ancient Chinese palace in Dadiwan.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ There are currently some projects in China to rebuild the Imperial Gardens, but this appears as a colossal undertaking, and no rebuilding has started.
  2. ^ Origin of Chinese Palaces Found, People's Daily, Tuesday, September 19, 2000