Our tour explores the inner sanctum of China’s last imperial rulers: the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. But the emperors were not alone behind the high red walls of the Forbidden City. The corridors, courtyards, and halls of the palace were a world unto themselves, a realm of princes, concubines, eunuchs, and officials. We will wonder at spectacular architectural spaces while discussing the lives of the men and women who lived and worked here.
Avoid the Crowds
Allows you to explore without having to be shoulder-to-shoulder in a large tour group
Written by a PhD Candidate in Chinese History
Easy-to-follow GPS directions to get you from one point to the next on your tour
Gate of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony
Remote Tour Included
As with all our tours, a remote tour is included that can be enjoyed from home
- First Courtyard/River of Golden Water - We’ll give a short history of the Imperial Palace, describing the “space” of the Forbidden City and how it corresponds to the shape of Beijing.. . Just looking at the buildings doesn’t tell the palace’s whole story. When was the Forbidden City built? Who built it and why? What role does feng shui play in the design of the palace?
- Gate of Supreme Harmony - 24 emperors from two different dynasties lived in the Forbidden City. Here we will learn how to distinguish between the “Ming” and the “Qing” and also how to tell the difference between male lions and female lions in the Forbidden City.
- Courtyard in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony - The largest courtyard in Forbidden City was a good place to hold a coronation ceremony or celebrate an imperial birthday. Let’s investigate this incredible space and learn more about how the Ming Dynasty gave way to the Manchu rulers of the Qing Empire.
- Hall of Supreme Harmony - In the main ceremonial space of the Forbidden City, we will discuss the role of ritual and the architectural symbolism present in the palace buildings and plazas.
- Hall of Middle Harmony - This may be the smallest of the three Outer Palaces, but it was an important place for the emperors to read documents, prepare for ceremonies, and change their clothes. We’ll discuss how changing their clothes allowed the rulers of the Qing Dynasty to build an empire whose legacy continues even into the 21st century.
- Hall of Preserving Harmony - This served as the multi-function room for the Forbidden City. It also hosted the last round of the all-important imperial examinations.
- Gate of Heavenly Purity - This was the dividing line between the Outer Court and the Inner Chambers. It marked the transition point from the bustle of clerks and officials and the secretive
- Hall of Heavenly Purity - Emperors need heirs and they also needed a system to keep all the kids in line. At the Hall of Heavenly Purity, we’ll learn more about how emperors chose a successor. We’ll also find out what happens when the emperor’s own consorts decide they no longer want the emperor around.
- Hall of Union and Peace/Hall of Earthly Tranquility - While checking out the Hall of Union and Peace and the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, we’ll think about the role of Daoism and other religious traditions in guiding the emperors. We’ll also find out what happened to the last emperor to rule from the Forbidden City.
- Imperial Garden - A whimsical counterpoint to the parallelism and symmetry found in the rest of the palace. There’s symmetry here, too, but it is set among rocks, ponds, and ancient trees growing in strange and unpredictable shapes.