The three rear halls, the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong), the Hall of Union and the Palace of Earthly Peace (Kunninggong), were also the site of lesser State functions. During the Ming dynasty, emperors lived among these buildings, but later the Qing rulers moved to smaller, less formal parts of the Palace. They nevertheless continued to use the Palace of Earthly Peace to consummate their marriages. The last emperor, Puyi, who ascended the throne as a child and formally abdicated in 1912, was allowed to use this chamber on his wedding night. However, intimidated by the color scheme of gaudy red (the traditional color of joy), he fled co his usual quarters.
The east and west sides of the Palace’s rear section contain a dizzying succession or smaller courts where the imperial families, concubines and attendants lived: schemed for power and engaged in their many intrigues. In the far northeast corner of the complex, behind the Palace of Peaceful Old Age (Ningshougong), is the famous well down which the Pearl Concubine was cast. Several of the eastern palaces have been converted into exhibition halls for the collections of the Palace Museum.
Two sections in the eastern palaces are worth seeing. One is the Qianlong Garden, built for the retirement of the aging emperor (reigned 1736-95). It is a quiet, secluded rock garden with a central pavilion made of fine wood brought from the forests of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. One of three smaller pavilions was specially constructed for elaborate drinking games with strong Chinese liquor, a favorite pastime of the emperor.
The Belvedere of Flowing Music (Changyinge) is a three-storey theater, the largest in the Palace, and a favorite haunt of the Empress Dowager Cixi. Magnificently carved and painted eaves set off the stage where dramas often depicted Buddhist worthies and Taoist immortals swarming all over the boards, dropping from ceilings and popping out of trap doors. The building opposite, where Cixi watched the dramas, has a rich display of silk costumes, stage properties and scripts used by the imperial troupe. There are also drawings of famous productions of the 60th birthday celebrations of Qianlong and Cixi. The Latter affair is said to have continued for 10 consecutive days.
Beyond the rear palaces, by the northern gate of the Palace, are the Imperial Gardens. Landscaped with cypress and pine trees that are now hundreds of years old, this is a perfect spot for a rest or a casual Stroll.
Before leaving the palace, you might visit an interesting exhibition of palace architecture and construction located in the tower of the Gate of Divine Prowess. Here there are blueprints, tools, color schemes, roof tiles and old photographs that are highly informative despite the frustrating absence of labels in any language except Chinese.
Tickets for the exhibition are sold in the kiosk on the eastside of the courtyard inside the gate. You reach the tower by a long incline once used by the soldiers guarding the palace.
Although the Imperial Palace in its entirety is regarded as a museum of architectural and artistic heritage, there are specific halls and pavilions within it-collectively known as the Palace Museum-which are used as showcases for the cornucopia of treasures in the palace. As the restoration of the Palace is constantly in progress, new areas of exhibits are opened from time to time. Part of the Palace collection can be viewed at the Royal Academy of Arts, London between 12 November 2005-17 Apri; 2006.
THE HISTORICAL ART MUSEUM
Housed in the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian), the collection here provides a broad conspectus of Chinese cultural development. Arranged chronologically exhibition is in three parts. The first part deals with the period from earliest times to about 4,000 years ago, illustrated by excavated ancient painted pottery, bronzes and sculptures. The fifth to the 13th centuries-the period covered by the second section -saw the emergence of an early modern style of painting as well as significant developments in the art of ivory carving, lacquer ware, weaving and calligraphy. The third part of the exhibition shows samples of the arts during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties; of particular interest is the fine porcelain that was produced in this era.
THE HALL OF BRONZES
This collection is shown in the Palace of Abstinence (Zhaigong), the Hall of Sincere Solemnity (Chengsudian) and the Palace of Revered Benevolence (Jingrengong) includes examples of bronze wine goblets, tripod cooking vessels and pots from the Shang, Zhou, Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods.
THE HALL OF TOYS
An odd and delightful assortment of some 80 mechanical toys manufactured in China and Europe (Switzerland, France, England and Germany) in the 18th and 19th centuries is on display in a hall immediately inside (to the south of) the southern gate of the Imperial Garden, to the northeast of the Palace of Earthly Peace. The automatons include a songbird that sings, a conjuror who performs tricks, a smoker who exhales real smoke, and a boy waving a fan, which functioned as an early form of air-conditioning.
THE HALL OF CERAMICS
The Palace of Heavenly Favors (Chengqiangong) and the Palace of Eternal Harmony (Yonghegong) contain Neolithic pottery from the Shang to the Western Zhou dynasties, with examples of Longshan blackware, incized and glazed pottery from the Han Dynasty on through to the celadon ware of the Yuan, the tri-colored glazes of the Tang and the blue and white of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Many fine examples from the famous imperial kilns of jingdezhen can be seen.
THE HALL OF PAINTINGS
Scroll paintings and calligraphy are displayed in the Hall of Imperial Supremacy (Huangjidian), the Palace of Peaceful Old Age (Ningshougong) and galleries on its eastern, western and southern sides. For a few weeks each autumn, during the dry weather, the rarest examples of Chinese visual arts are brought out for public view.
THE Museum of Imperial Treasures
This superb hoard of ritual and everyday items used by the Qing Court is displayed in the Hall of Character Cultivation (Yangxindian) and the Palace of Happy Old Age (Leshougong). The treasures grouped together in the first hall include silver and gold tableware, jewelled knick-knacks and little Buddhist shrines. The latter, generally made of gold, include one especially made for Emperor Qianlong to preserve a strand of his mother’s hair.
In the second hall, which contains the gorgeous habiliments and attire worn by emperors, empresses and concubines, there are exquisite pieces of jewelry, hairpins and headdresses as well as Court costumes. One of the most outstanding exhibits is Qianlong’s peacock feather-trimmed robe studded with seed pearls and tiny coral beads.
The sybaritic Court amassed a vast number of ornaments and decorative pieces to adorn the palace interior. One kind of curio (which is still popular with collectors today) is the jewelled penjing-artificial miniature potted landscapes composed of precious stones, with leaves and petals carved out of gold, silver and jade-which are shown in the third section.
Note that although the Museum of imperial Treasures is open 8.30 a.m.-4.15 p.m. daily, the ticket office closes at 3.15 p.m.
THE HALL OF CLOCKS AND WAICIIES
A small gallery in the Hall of Ancestor Worship, located to the east of the Gate of Heavenly Purity, houses an extraordinary collection of elaborate clocks, both European and Chinese, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.
EXHIBITION OF HISTORICAl RLLICS FROM THE QING
Several aspects of imperial life and duties are represented by the relics here in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong), for example the imperial seals for giving the stamp of royal approval to decrees issued in the emperor’s name. There are also musical instruments, more ceremonial and traveling regalia plus weapons and arms.