The main building to the west of the Inner Court is the Hall of Mental Cultivation. It was built in the Ming Dynasty, and Emperor Kang Xi of the Qing Dynasty took this hall as his study. Starting with Emperor Yongzheng (1723-1735), this hall served as the living quarters for the emperors.
Emperor Yongzheng also took the central hall as his office where he could deal with state affairs. As a matter of fact, eight of the Qing Emperors lived and worked here. Emperors Shunzhi, Qianlong and Tongzhi even died here.
The central hall was the office in which the emperor met foreign diplomats, and summoned his officials for consultation. It was also here that the last emperor in Chinese history, Emperor Puyi, announced his resignation.
Emperor Yongzheng named the western hall the Hall of Three Rare Treasures. The Three Rare Treasures referred to the three outstanding calligraphy masterpieces by Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, and Wang Xun, three pioneers in Chinese calligraphy. Emperor Yongzheng, a great calligraphy lover himself, had a collection of the outstanding works by the three Wang's, hence the name "the Hall of Three Rare Treasures".
The Emperor's seat is well arranged for reading and writing, and the writing brushes and inkstones are placed in proper order. Secret talks on political and military affairs also took place here. The partition in front was supposed to stop the secrets from leaking out.
The eastern hall is of historical significance. This was the site of the well known "power behind the throne" or "give audience behind the screen". Most people think that only Empress Dowager Ci'xi gave audience behind the screen, but in fact, this was first jointly practiced by the Empress Dowager Ci'xi and another empress called Ci'an.
The sudden death of Empress Ci'an in 1881 left the power solely to the Empress Dowager Ci'xi. Empress Ci'an was believed to be poisoned to death by Ci'xi. Ci'xi ruled over China for about 40 years from behind the yellow screen.
She had to stay behind the screen all the time because at that time in China women weren't supposed to be in the Outer Palace or to hold any public positions! If you have a close look at the setting here, you will find out that a lot of scenes were shot here for the film "The Last Emperor". If you haven't seen the movie yet, maybe you should consider seeing it some time in the near future.
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