lørdag 19. september 2020

Forbidden City at 600: How China's imperial palace survived against the odds

When the American writer David Kidd arrived in Beijing in 1981, having not seen China's capital for three decades, he found the city almost unrecognizable. The fabled city walls were gone; its temples turned into schools and factories. Only in the vast imperial palace complex of the Forbidden City "could I imagine that the city surrounding it was unchanged," Kidd wrote in his memoir "Peking Story." It created the illusion, he added, "of supernatural space and time."

The Forbidden City, which turns 600 this year, was carefully designed to conjure such an illusion.
It is the world's largest palace complex, covering more than 7.75 million square feet (720,000 square meters) and separated from the rest of Beijing by a 171-foot-wide (52 meters) moat and a 33-foot-high (10 meters) wall, with gate towers guarding its entrances. The fortress-like design was intended to protect the emperor, but also to emphasize his pre-eminence: The emperor was, after all, heaven's representative on Earth and, in its scale, majesty and separateness, his palace was built to ensure that neither his subjects, nor foreign visitors, ever forgot that.

Despite its monumental scale and central importance in Chinese history, however, the Forbidden City's continuing presence at the heart of the country's capital has been a story of survival against the odds. Fires, wars and power struggles have all threatened the imperial complex during the last six centuries.