The great courtyard is in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The courtyard is 10,000 square metres in area. The 33 single room-units on each side were used as warehouses for storing such items as fur, porcelain, silver, tea, silks and satins and clothes. Now I have a question for you.
There are no trees here! Beijing is a city well afforested. It is quite strange that there are no trees in such a large place. There are some interesting reasons for this. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperors attended to affairs of state or held grand occassions mostly in the Hall of supreme Harmony, a symbol of the imperial power. The emperors considered themselves sons of Heaven, born to reign over the country, so they should occupy the highest position. Nothing was allowed to tower over the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and trees were no exception. Another reason was that the emperors feared that assassins might use trees as their hiding places. A third reason was related to Chinese characters. A tree in a square represents the word trouble . The emperors were so superstitious that they believed the trees in the courtyard were likely to bring no end of trouble to the monarchy.
The Forbidden City was heavily guarded, but the emperors still didn't feel secure enough and worried that someone might dig a tunnel into the palace. So, they had the ground bricks laid in a very special way: seven layers lengthwise and eight layers crosswise, totalling fifteen layers. The emperors changed the rooms they stayed in almost every night to escape assassins, only their close eunuchs knew where the emperors stayed for each night.
All the buildings in the Forbidden City were made of wood, which was prone to fire. Therefore, fire prevention measures had to be taken. Around the courtyard you can find many iron vats, which were used for storing water against fire. In the whole complex, there are altogether 308 water vats, 18 of them gilded. Unfortunately, the gold has been scraped off by the invading forces of eight allied powers in 1900. Most of the vats made in the Ming Dynasty have bigger openings compared with those made in the Qing Dynasty. In winter, fires were lit to keep the water inside from freezing. On the north side underneath the vats are air vents to fan the fires. Moreover, lightning rods were installed on the roofs of the buildings in 1953.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony stands along the north-south axis on the triple marble terrace. Each terrace is higher than the other, encircled by marble balustrades carved with dragon and phoenix designs. The dragon and phoenix were symbols of the emperor and the empresses respectively. You'll find 18 bronze incense burners, representing the 18 provinces of China during the Qing Dynasty. Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony, there is the Hall of Complete Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Hall of Supreme Harmony towers over the other two.
The double layer roof represents the highest construction rank of all. In ancient Chinese buildings, the roofs were important social status symbols. I will show you some of the different ranks during our visit, and you can surely tell the difference by yourselves. Looking up you can see 11 mythical animals on the upturned eaves of the building. I have heard that in your country, some structures are being built with the eaves turned in the ancient Chinese style.
In ancient China, there used to be big wooden nails to prevent the tiles from sliding. They were replaced by glazed tiles which were later shaped into mythical animals, such as the dragon and the the phoenix. They were considered auspicious animals which could ward off calamities and bring about happiness and unity. Nowadays they serve only decorative purpose.
The heads of mythical animals jut out from the edge of the terraces, 1142 in number, which serve both as decorations and as rainspouts. If you come in a rainy day, you may witness a misty and mysterious scene here. Water pours out from the mouths of these mythical monsters, making the ticktack sounds which echo in the quiet, vast complex.
Take the staircases and get to the terrace. The central one was reserved for the emperor who was carried in a sedan chair over the marble ramp.
In the east of the terrace stands a sun-dial which was used to tell the time when there was sunlight. People looked at the markings of time on its upper part in summer and on its lower part in winter. Who can tell the time by it without looking at the watch? There is a question: "When there was no sunlights what would be used to tell the time? Right! the Water clock! A large variety of timing equipment is stored in the Forbidden City. You will notice that when we visit the Hall of Clocks and Watches after a while. Now see what is in the west side. A little pavilion in which a copper grain measure is kept. It was used as the national standard in the Qing Dynasty. The grain measure and sun-dial were symbols of imperial justice and rectitude. The dragon headed tortoises and storks were incense burners. They were both symbols of longevity.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, the throne hall, built in 1420. It is the largest wooden structure still standing in China. It was used for grand ceremonies such as the celebration of Winter Solstice, the Chinese New Year, the Emperor's birthday and ascension to the throne and the dispatch of generals to battles. On such occasions, there would be an imperial guard of honor standing in front of the Hall and extending to the main gate.
The base and the throne are carved out of sandlewood. The throne was a symbol of imperial power. The floor was paved with Golden bricks which were baked for 136 days and then immersed in tung oil to polish it permanently. Looking up you can see the coffered ceiling, designed to create an aura of solemnity and mystery. In the middle of the ceiling is the design of two dragons playing with pearls. They were made of glass and painted with mercury. The big pearl was called "Xuan Yuan Jing" in Chinese, because according to a Chinese legend, the Emperor Huang Di who was also named "Xuan Yuan Shi", created the first glass. The pearl was said to be able to detect any usurper of the imperial power. If anyone who wasn't the descendant of the Emperor Huang Di took the throne, it would drop down and strike him to death. Yuan Shikai, who usurped the throne in 1912 was so frightened that he moved the throne slightly forward to avoid being hit.
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