Huabiao

HuabiaoTian’anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) is the main gate of the For-bidden City. Before and behind Tian’anmen are pairs of sculpted white marble columns called huabiao.

Why were these huabiao erected there? Why did they signify? The answers go back to time of Shun, legendary monarch some 4,000 years ago.

At that time a huabiao was made of wood in the shape of a pillar with a crossbar at the top, and was called feibangmu or bangmu, meaning ‘the wood for commenting upon wrong doings.’ According to “Huainanzi,” a book compiled in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), Shun set up bangmu at major crossroads so that people could write their criticisms on them. The monarch wanted to show his willingness to accept the views of common people.

Bangmu were also called biaomu (wooden sign), and were used as street signs. Bangmu were abolished in the Qin Dynasty (221 -.207BC) but reappeared in the early Han (206 BC-AD 220). They were then called huanbiao and later huabiao.

The new huabiao tended to be made of stone rather than wood. On top was a chenglupan (plate for collecting dew) on which squatted a stone mythological animal called hou; the body of the column was elegantly sculptured.

Huabiao appeared in front of palaces, bridges, city walls, gar-dens and tombs, thus becoming architectural ornaments.
Splendid examples of their kind, the huabiao at Tian’anmen were erected at a time when Chengtianmen, meaning 6Gate of Heavenly Succession’ (presently Tian’anmen) was built during the reign of the third Ming Emperor (1403-1424). The hou (a mythological animal) on the huabiao in front of Tian’anmen, facing south, are called wangjunguz’, meaning ‘a waiting the emperor’s return.’ It was sup-posed that their duty was to watch over the emperor’s behaviour when he went on an inspection tour. If he were gone for too long, the wangjungui would summon him back to attend to state affairs. The hou on the huabiao behind Tian’anmen, facing north towards the For-bidden City, are called wangjunchu, meaning ‘awaiting the emperor’s emergence.’ They were’ to watch over the emperor’s behaviour inside the palace. If the emperor spent too much time with his empress and concubines, the wangjunchu would call him back to court.

Like the early bangmu, the huabiao with their hou supposed to convince the common people that their emperor was on the job.

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