Fascinating Forbidden City
Legends in the magnificent palace of 10,000 years of monarchs.
No other country can compete with China's population and historical continuity. These two factors explain the difference and richness of China. In 1,000 BC the Chinese were working bronze; in the 4th century BC they were smelting and shaping iron; in the 2nd century BC they were writing on paper; in the 6th century AD they were drinking tea from porcelain. In the 7th century, 700 years be fore the Europeans, they invented printing. In the 10th century they made gunpowder and firearms. Their textile industry was so highly developed that in the 3rd century BC they were exporting silk via Anatolia to Rome. It was not the China of today that fascinated us but its past, especially, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the country's oldest and best preserved imperial residence.
Building of the palaces of the Forbidden City began in 1406 under the orders of Emperor Yong Li and with the expertise of more than a million craftsmen and laborers was completed in 14 years. Golden roofs curling against a background of blue sky, wooden buildings, pavilions supported on low columns and long wide marble steps create a celestial atmosphere. The color of the time and wind-worn walls is seen differently by everyone describing it. To Pierre Loti it was the color of dried blood.
In the east of the Hidden City we crossed the arching Broken Rainbow Bridge upon which sits a stone monkey. On this bridge myth meets reality.
According to an ancient eunuch in charge of the harem the monkey was covered with a yellow cloth each time the emperor passed so he would not be excited by its nakedness.
Another gave a different reason: The emperor was in such a rage that he kicked his son to death in front of the stone. He was so filled with regret that his attendants covered the stone to stop him plunging into grief each time he passed. Out of sight, out of mind.
Yet another story was passed from tongue to tongue concerning the stone monkey of the Forbidden City. Everyday the emperor's favorite concubine would cross the Broken Rainbow Bridge on her way to the Baths of Good Morals accompanied, like the moon and the stars, by many attendants and the head eunuch. They would wait outside the baths while Sianfey bathed. One day a dark figure appeared behind the frosted glass and kept reappearing each time she bathed. When she moved t wards the window the figure would disappear. The frightened concubine did not wish to tell the emperor in case she was forbidden to return to the baths.
One day the shadow appeared very clearly with outstretched arms and the terrified concubine threw a jade pot at the figure. The glass broke but the small dark figure had disappeared taking the jade pot with it. Afraid of the emperor's anger, the attendants were ordered to find the missing object as soon as possible. It was in the paw of the stone monkey on the bridge held so tightly that they could not remove it. To prevent the emperor seeing the cup the monkey was covered each time he passed over the bridge.
In the beginning, after a certain time of day all men with the exception of the emperor's close family and the eunuchs on duty were evacuated from the Forbidden City. At the time of the Ming dynasty the number of harem eunuchs reached 100,000.
The emperors were fascinated by the stories of the eunuchs. They believed that every object and living thing in the Forbidden City had a soul. Every corner of the palace is connected to a legend.
A brick on the steps of the Terrace of Repose is said to cover a footprint of the statue of Emperor Vu which supposedly stopped a raging fire by a hand signal at the time of Emperor Xian Lung.
A stone divan on the terrace of the Pavilion of Eternal Spring was built by a benevolent emperor for the dragons living on the roof of the adjacent Pavilion of Virtuous Justice to rest on after their nightly drink of water from a large golden cup at the Pavilion of Eternal Spring.
As a result of these countless stories everyone in the Forbidden City including the emperor was afraid to venture out at night. At dusk the blood curdling order to lock and bolt all doors would ring through the city followed by deathly silence.
By day the mingling sounds of the city, street sellers and the grinding of wheels would reach the Forbidden City. From time to time one of the "ordinary mortals" from whom these sounds issued would a pear before the emperor, bowing low and offering his respects to the "Lord of 10,000 Years."
All food containers were guarded against poison by silver lids and every dish or drink was tasted by a eunuch before being offered to the emperor. At every meal at least 20 dishes would be placed before him bearing such names as "Sea Hedgehog Cooked in Duck Stock."
In China the state encourages one-child families, or rather, makes them compulsory.
The monarch of 10,000 years would he privately educated in the Pavilion of Virtuous Contentment studying English literature and the works of Confucius and Tao.
Priceless items such as manuscripts, paintings, jade and decorative objects with precious stones were stored in chests in the Pavilion of Basic Happiness. The majority of these were smuggled to Taiwan by Chiang Kai-Shek.