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Forbidden City
Meridian Gate 午门

The Purple Forbidden City is not purple, it is red. Red is the color of joy and celebration in China. The combination of red and gold is considered particularly auspicious. It is still a favorite color combination in packaging, advertisements, and decorations.

The color purple is a reference to the astronomical divisions of the night sky. The center of the sky around the Pole Star is divided into three palaces. The stars on the horizon are divided into the four directions with the constellations of the Azure Dragon (east), White Tiger (west), Vermillion Bird (south), and Black Tortoise (north) each broken down into further constellations.

The center circle in the sky is the most important segment of the sky. It is the center of heaven and all things revolve around it. The Pole Star appears to have stars twirling around it through the night. It's logical that that is where the Emperor of Heaven resides. The three regions are: the Purple Forbidden Enclosure (紫微垣, Zǐ Wēi Yuán), the Supreme Palace Enclosure (太微垣, Tài Wēi Yuán), and the Heavenly Market Enclosure (天市垣, Tiān Shì Yuán). The root of these divisions of the night sky began at least as far back as 4700 BC in the Neolithic Era. By the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) there was a rich assortment of mythic tales about each segment. These regions reflect the organization of the dynastic hierarchy on earth, the Purple Forbidden Enclosure being the most important. The concept that earthly government is organized like that of heaven gives its structure and actions legitimacy and supports the Mandate of Heaven. The link between heaven and the emperor allows the emperor to pray for good fortune for his people. If the link is broken or heaven disapproves of the events on earth, disaster follows and a new emperor is chosen.

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Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009