Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Symbolism in the Forbidden City of Beijing

Today tourists pass through the imperial gate, once exclusive to the Emperor. His wife was allowed to use it on her wedding day, a special exception to the rule. Represented by rows of brass studs, the number nine means power.

Along the eaves of the numerous palaces within the forbidden city, we see animal figures. Their numbers reveals the building's function and importance. A roofline displaying five animals signified use by civil or military officials, who regularly petitioned the emperor.

The garden pot above contained not plants, but water. In the absence of a mechanical system to fight fire, the palace grounds contained a number of these in strategic locations. The practice arose from feng shui (literal translation: wind water), and the placement of pots of water at strategic locations was believed to prevent fire.

Below we see other examples of symbolism. The lion on the left is an expression of the ancient Chinese idea of yin and yang, which combine in a balanced harmony. Representing yin, a sleeping cub rests beneath the paw of the female lion. On the other side of the doorway, a male lion (yang) rests his paw upon a sphere. The high threshold that must be crossed to enter the palace is a symbolic (and practical) reminder to bow the head humbly before going in.


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