What To Expect
During this three-hour walking tour with a trained sinologist (historian of China), we will provide a basic overview of the most daunting and fascinating sites in China - the Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum - while allowing for time to strategically dig deeper into a few themes of imperial history.
Our tour begins at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Tiananmen Square, built in 1420 as part of the original palace design envisioned by the Ming Emperor Zhu Di. Here we encounter one of main themes of our walk: How successive emperors dealt with the vast, multi-ethnic Chinese empire.
From here we'll dive into the Forbidden City properly. Much of our time will focus on the sequence of courtyards and pavilions, each carefully located and designed to connote imperial power.
Depending on the interests of the group, we'll discuss the symbolism of architecture and orientation, paying particular attention to how the courtyards are arranged around the all-important North-South Axis which ran from the imperial throne through the succession of gates and yards and finally out through the southernmost gate of the city and into the emperor's realm. It is the same axis which, extended north, meets the Drum and Bell Tower a few thousand meters away from the back gate of the Palace complex and, as of 2002, continues even further northward through the middle of the Olympic Green, site of the 2008 Summer Games, and blending Olympic tradition with the symbolic power of imperial geomancy.
Our walk will eventually take us through the Gate of Supreme Harmony and into the massive courtyard where the emperor's civilian and military officials would line up according to rank and position facing the main throne room, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest structure in the Forbidden City that sits atop at 21-foot raised platform. Remodeled in 2008 using plans drawn by the Kangxi Emperor in the 17th century, this is the centerpiece of the Palace complex and provides a sounding board for discussing the role of the emperor through successive dynasties.
Depending on time, our seminar may include either or both of the "Outer Palaces," The Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, the latter a banquet hall used for the final round of the imperial civil service examinations that provide us good place to talk about social structures and how the promise of possible elevation into the civil service corps served to incentivize subjects and dissuade revolt. Our visit may also include the famous Cinnabar Stone Staircase as well as the quieter courtyards of the Eastern Palaces and recently renovated Ningshou Palace, taking us off the well-trod tourist path for chance to see a side of the Forbidden City often overlooked.
Before leaving we'll visit the Inner Palaces, where the Ming Emperors resided, and Hall of Mental Cultivation, where the last several generations of Manchu rulers - including the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi - lived, worked, and held court.
By the time we exit out the backdoor of the Palace we'll emerge with a strong understanding of how imperial rule worked historically in China and the role of the Forbidden City in solidifying that rule. We'll know how to distinguish the most important dynasties and have some understanding of the historical context that underlay the Communist revolution of the 20th century.
Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony
Meals and drinks
Tips and gratuities
Optional activity costs
Entrance fee is 60RMB for Forbidden City at the time of publishing. Prices are subject to change without notice.
Hotel pick-up can be arranged with an additional fee. Please inquire.
All our card payments are protected by thawte to give you peace of mind.