The palace moat, on the east side of the Forbidden City, is restful in the morning light. During the Yuan Dynasty, water was first diverted and controlled to build moats and canals to provide water for the city and for defense. The palace of the Yuan Dynasty was to the north of the Ming palace, but the Ming designers utilized the water courses created during the Yuan dynasty.
In 1368, the Yuan Dynasty had been overthrown by the Ming Dynasty. The capital was moved to Nanjing both because Nanjing was more central to the Ming power base and because the new Chinese dynasty rejected all things associated with the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty.
By the time that Emperor Yongle decided to move the capital to Beijing from Nanjing in 1403, much of the city and the canals had fallen into disrepair. The canals were one of the first things to receive attention when construction began in 1406. The canals were required to transport all of the materials for building the city. The first few years were spent gathering the materials needed for construction. The canals and water courses had to be controlled and repaired first. The actual construction began around 1412 and was completed in 1420.
The moat around the Forbidden City is 2.36 miles long and 170 feet wide. The moat and Golden Water River require constant attention. In 1959, 1963, and 1966 major renovations and clean-ups were undertaken. Finally, in 1978, the beds were paved and in 1999 the moats received new walls and pavement. That effort continues today. Sections of the waters are isolated and repairs are made to the beds. Below, a section of the moat bed near Houhai, northwest of the Forbidden City, was being repaved in 2004.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009