|The Palace of Heaven
In the Forbidden City
Initial construction of Forbidden City begun by Kublai Kahn
|The Han developed the philosophical view that all phenomena can be understood by
using yin-yang and the five agents at work in the universe: (1) movement of the stars
(astrology…personal/public future); (2) workings of the body (acupuncture/poisonous
balances/suction); (3) nature of foods (nutritional balance); (4) the progress of time
(years/time bring evolution to a better life or devolution to chaos) (5) nature of
historical change (Mandate of Heaven which provides legitimacy to the Emperor).
Lose the Mandate, lose your head.
This meant that one needed to be scrupulous in observing events, linking them to
other forces and coming to conclusions as to how to conduct one’s personal behavior
or how to execute government goals and policies.
History became vitally important to China, beginning with the Han Dynasty which
succeeded Emperor Ch’in. The Han wanted to know what to do right and what to
avoid because CORRELATION WAS CAUSATION.
If people were depraved, as the Han saw it, it was because the population had no
choice; economic and social conditions forced them to behave badly. (That’s why the
‘Hood is dangerous in America).
What did people want? They wanted only material well-being. In short form, they
wanted enough to eat and a place to live.
So, for the Han, Yin Yang suggested that the government (Emperor) should make life
better for all by creating an environment in which people can benefit from their labor
and behave better.
Therefore, government in the Han Dynasty was a healthy blend of four views of man
and nature which were widespread throughout China. The four were: Confucianism,
Taoism, Legalism and Yin Yang's sensitivity to the heavens.
The people were to be disciplined for bad behavior (Legalism). Yet the Emperor
should also provide an example for his people, (Confucianism), AND he should also
withdraw from active rule (Taoism).
How could he govern? By providing a living example of benevolence and by
surrounding himself with bureaucrats who had the
people’s interest at heart (Confucianism).
Finally, he must keep a connection to nature so that she provided the onset of
favorable rains, crops, food, income and shelter (Yin Yang...Astrology).
Twelve Hundred years after the Han lost the Mandate of Heaven, Kublai Khan
(grandson of Genghis Kahn) created the Forbidden City in his new capital, Beijing. So
ingrained had this annual plea for harvests become that he constructed a Hall of
Heaven and there he and succeeding emperors of the Ming and Qing (pronounced
Ching) dynasties annually went through a ritual of 3 dozen precise, inescapable
phrases, motions and sacrifices of animals. They asked for plentiful rains, no floods,
good crops and healthy farmers who could feed the nation…and pay taxes.
|An Emperor who was successful in his annual pleas for good harvests
was honored. If he protected his people, taxed them fairly and looked
after their well being through his bureaucracy then he was blessed with
the Mandate of Heaven. Occasional bad events could be explained by
But when people became impoverished and floods destroyed crops; if
enemies took territories while corrupt officials exploited the common
man; if taxes were without perceived reward and there was no view for a
better life; when order disintegrated, and law was unenforced, Emperors
lost their Mandate and were replaced, not through election but through
It was a personal selection levied through a very earthly technique:
rebellion, military battle and/or death by assassination. Once removed, a
new emperor with a new mandate could begin rule and Yang would have
once again balanced Yin.
This Han construct remained a strong governing/social belief system well
into the 20th century, more than 2,000 years, and even today, in
conversation, it remains a fundamental reference to personal and public
There are some easily identified characteristics of Chinese governance
wrapped around these fundamental philosophies:
--the Emperor’s retreat to the life of gardens, court intrigue and ritual;
--Confucian trained bureaucrats who busied themselves with taxes, social
policy, farming issues, foreign policies and issues of domestic and
--concubines to absorb the interest of the Emperor;
--eunuchs who eventually provided the Emperor sexually safe personal
services (no question about whose child a concubine may produce).
All of this constituted a multi-layered insulation from the public, and it
permitted the public to hold a spiritual bond with the Emperor while he
pursued his own agenda.
Without this fundamental Han philosophy, amended a bit and
accompanied by decline and resurgence (Yin and Yang) there could have
been no Forbidden City; the Great Wall would have been too heavy a
human and financial; great projects such as the Grand Canal would have
With great power comes great responsibility, and the Emperors of China
had great power. When they failed, they lost their lives.
Dynasties as lengthy as the Han could be shortened to times as brief as
the Yuan (Genghis and Kublai Khan), a Mongolian dynasty of distant
rulers who moved their capital only reluctantly from Karakorum to Beijing.
Yet, even the Yuan served China. We know Kublai Khan as the Emperor
who received Marco Polo. Moreover, he analyzed and began the first
major effort to transport water from the Yellow River to Beijing via canal.
But he was constantly at war, seeking to absorb Vietnam, Japan, Burma
and Java. This drained revenue, disrupted stability and undermined
markets, especially for farmers, and the Mongols lost the Mandate of
Heaven after a few decades.
(They were succeeded by the Ming Dynasty, perhaps the most accomplished in
all of Chinese history. They finished building the Great Wall and they finished
building the Forbidden City)
|KUBLAI KAHN, GRANDSON OF
|VIEWS OF THE FORBIDDEN CITY
Kublai Khan began the construction of the Forbidden City which now numbers
about 8,000 structures. Its architecture was to represent balance, peace and
harmony, and one can see and feel that it was a successful design. All of these
settings were used in the filming of "The Last Emperor". However, China felt the
filming eroded the setting and will not allow film companies further access.
|In the film, "The Last Emperor", this is the huge assembly space
where Pu Yi was presented to his "troops" and imperial guards
after his elevation to Emperor. He was about 4 years old.
|A COURTYARD PALACE OF CENTRAL
HARMONY FOR THE EMPEROR
|Mongol, Ming, and Qing Dynasties all subscribed to
decorative eaves and roofs, with multiple color combinations
and the reservation of the color "yellow" for the Emperor. No
other person could use "yellow" in architecture or dress or
presentation of their family colors, upon pain of death.
|LINED UP TO PROTECT THE EMPEROR
|IN TIANANMEN SQUARE
BEGINNING OUR "LONG WALK"
|TIANANMEN SQUARE FLAG PLATFORM.
Notice the fire extinguisher just below the feet of the army guard,
partially obscured by the post. There will be no more
self-immolation by Buddhist monks here. Bad Press.
|LINED UP IN TIANANMEN SQUARE TO SEE MAO, PRESERVED
The lines were easily a mile in length and filled with Chinese from all
over China and the world who want to pass by his visage.
|FOLLOWERS OF MAO,
Sculpture in Tiananmen Square reflects the people who followed
him on the Long March to liberation.
|Spanning just over four centuries, the period of the Han Dynasty is considered
a golden age in Chinese history. To this day, China's majority ethnic group
refers to itself as the "Han people".
After 92 AD, the palace eunuchs increasingly involved themselves in court
politics, engaging in violent power struggles between the various consort clans
of the empresses and empress dowagers, causing Han's ultimate downfall.
Following the death of Emperor Ling (168–189 AD), the palace eunuchs suffered
wholesale massacre by military officers, allowing warlords to divide the empire.
When Cao Pi, King of Wei, usurped the throne from Emperor Xian, the Han
Dynasty was ended and the Mandate of Heaven was divided among three
warlords, Wei, Shu and Wu.
|GAO ZU: founded Han, Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD)
One of only three emperors to ascend from dire
poverty. First known as the peasant rebel leader,
|Inside the Forbidden City, there is a long walkway alongside a small
public park. As we went to the Palace of Heaven, we enjoyed soaking up
the song, dancing and card games that were all a part of the hallway life.