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Zhongnanhai (Chinese: 中南海; pinyin: Zhōngnánhǎi) is an imperial garden in central Beijing, China adjacent to the Forbidden City; it serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the State Council (Central government) of the People's Republic of China. The term Zhongnanhai is closely linked with the central government and senior Communist Party officials. It is often used as a metonym for the Chinese leadership at large (in the same sense that the term White House frequently refers to the President of the United States and his associates). The state leaders, including Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, and other top CPC and PRC leadership figures carry out many of their day-to-day administrative activities inside the compound, such as meetings with foreign dignitaries. China Central Television frequently shows footage of meetings inside the compound, but limits its coverage largely to views of the interior of buildings.
The name of the Zhongnanhai complex, located west of the Forbidden City, means "central and southern seas/lakes", referring to two lakes (the "Central Sea" (中海) and "Southern Sea" (南海)) located within the compound; it is sometimes translated as "Sea Palaces". These two lakes are part of a series of irrigation projects carried out during the construction of the nearby Forbidden City. Also part of the same system is the "Northern Sea", or "Beihai", now a public park. And the "Ten Temple Sea", or "Shichahai", is connected to Beihai at the north.
These three lakes (Southern, Central, and Northern Seas) were originally an imperial leisure garden, with parklands on the shores of each lake, enclosed by a wall. Most of the pavilions, shrines, and temples survive from this period. Whereas the Northern lake had a religious focus, the shores of Central and Southern lakes were dotted with a number of palaces.
During the Jin Dynasty, the Emperor Zhangzong of Jin built the northern lake. The northern section of Zhongnanhai was the Taiye Lake, with an attached palace called the "Palace of Great Peace" (Daninggong). During the Yuan Dynasty, Taiye Lake was included in the Imperial City. It was also expanded, covering approximately the area occupied by the Northern and Central Seas today. Three palaces were built around the lake.
After the Ming Dynasty moved its capital to Beijing, construction on the existing Imperial Palace began in 1406. The Ming palace was to the south of the Yuan palace. As a result, a new Southern Sea was dug to the south of the old lake. The excavated soil, together with that from construction of the moat, was piled up to form Jingshan, a hill to the north of the Forbidden City. At this time, the three lakes were connected and were collectively called the Taiye Lake. The three lakes were divided by bridges. The lakes were part of an extensive royal park to the west of the Imperial Palace.
After the Qing Dynasty established its capital in Beijing, the government reduced the size of the royal park to within a small walled area around the three lakes. Several successive emperors built pavilions and houses along the lake shores, where they would carry out government duties in the summer. During the reign of the Empress Dowager Cixi, the Empress Dowager and the Emperor would often live in the Zhongnanhai compound, travelling to the Forbidden City only for ceremonial duties.
During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the Russian army occupied Zhongnanhai. Almost all artifacts and decorations in the compound were looted. Later, the Eight-Nation Alliance commander also lived in Zhongnanhai. When Puyi was crowned Emperor, his father as the Prince Regent lived for a short time in the compound.
Zhongnanhai attained political significance during the Republic of China era, when the Beiyang Government under Yuan Shikai placed its headquarters in the Zhongnanhai compound from 1911. This decision was made because the regime wished to house its government very close to the historical centre of power, the Forbidden City, but could not use the Forbidden City itself because the abdicated Emperor Puyi still lived there. The current main gate, Xinhua Gate or "Gate of New China", was created by Yuan Shikai. The present "gatehouse" was previously a pavilion located on the southern shore the Southern Sea, close to the southern wall. Entry to the compound was instead directly from the Forbidden City. Yuan wished to create a new entrance from Chang'an Avenue, independent of the Forbidden City. Thus the pavilion was modified to become a gatehouse, with nearby walls cut back, resulting in the angled walls near the entrance today.
When the Republic of China government moved its capital to Nanjing, the Zhongnanhai compound was opened to the public as a park.
Zhongnanhai served as a government centre again since the early days of the People's Republic of China, founded in 1949, which built many of the structures in the compound. The compound housed the Communist Party of China Central Committee, as well as the State Council. Early leaders, such as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping lived in the compound. Chinese maps of Beijing show Zhongnanhai as an insignificant green area with a water body; in contrast, the municipal government, however, is shown significantly with a red star.
The Empress Dowager Cixi and servants on a boat in Zhonghai in the early 1900s.
Since Zhongnanhai became the central government compound, it has been mostly inaccessible to the general public. The exception to this was during the years of relative freedom following the end of the Cultural Revolution, when the compound was open to members of the public, who could obtain tickets to visit the compound from relevant government authorities. Following the political turmoil that culminated in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, security was greatly increased. Access has now been closed to the general public, with numerous plain clothed military personnel patrolling the area on foot. Cars are not strictly prohibited from stopping on stretches of adjacent roadway. Cabs, for example, are allowed to stop unless during important conferences or events.
The most important entrance to the compound is the southern one at Xinhuamen (Xinhua Gate, or "Gate of New China"), surrounded by two slogans: "long live the great Communist Party of China" and "long live the invincible Mao Zedong Thought." The view behind the entrance is shielded by a traditional screen wall with the slogan "Serve the People", written in the handwriting of Mao Zedong. The Xinhuamen entrance lies on the north side of West Chang'an Avenue.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Zhongnanhai.|
- TIME: Walled Heart of China's Kremlin
- Google Satellite picture
- China.org.cn - Introduction to Zhongnanhai
- (Chinese) China.com.cn - Zhongnanhai with images of Zhongnanhai today.