|From 2006 to 2008 the Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿 (Tàihé Diàn) underwent its most extensive renovation in over a hundred years. At this point the roof had been finished and uncovered. The entire project was finished on time and opened in July of 2008.
This wasn't the first time the Hall of Supreme Harmony needed work. It was built in 1420 and burnt down about a 100 days later. Some ministers took this as a sign that the capital should stay in Nanjing, but Yongle didn't agree. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was immediately rebuilt. It burnt down three more times, twice due to lightening and once due to the carelessness of a couple hapless eunuchs. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was the tallest building in Beijing and just begged for lightening strikes. Lightening rods were not installed on the palace buildings until 1952. In 1987, lightening struck the Forbidden City once again. Thirty fire trucks and 180 fire fighters fought a blaze caused by lightening for three hours.
The present renovations of the Forbidden City began in 2001. At that time, about 5 million visitors visited the Forbidden City each year. Rhat number has risen to 7 million people. Tourists from all over China make it their first priority. The Forbidden City and Mao Zedong's Mausoleum are the two greatest icons in China. The wear and tear of so many visitors requires creative solutions to maintain the appearance of the City while replacing worn pathways. The Forbidden City had received some attention previous to 2001, but nothing compared to the systematic repair and renewal that will be completed in 2020. The government is budgeting 12 million dollars per year for the restoration, but more resources come from tickets. The cost of a ticket has been reduced from 80 yuan to 60 yuan during the summer and 40 yuan during the winter, but with 7 million sold, the size and scope of the restorations can be understood.
Several modern buildings and museums will be torn down and replaced with copies of the original structures. The restoration of the Jianfugong garden on the north side of the Forbidden City was finished in 2006. It is a small garden complex and illustrates the overall plan of the museum staff. The exteriors are refurbished to their original appearance and the interiors are either restored or converted to modern display areas for the vast store of treasures and artifacts held within the museum's vaults. During the 1990s one of my favorite places was the painting gallery. The display space was dark, the glass of the cases was dusty on the inside, the labels were sometimes confusing, but the paintings were superb. The staff chose well to combine paintings of historical and cultural significance with those of great artistic merit. I haven't seen the new display area, it wasn't open yet. It cannot be but an improvement.
The Palace Museum had created mini-galleries and display spaces throughout the complex. The focused topics of the displays encourages an integration of the information with the larger setting of the grand buildings. In an ordinary museum you are pulled along at a breakneck speed from display to display. The museum staff has slowed the flow of information and thus increased it. Just in case one of them reads this, I want to request more ordinary, everyday objects. I have taken the hint from the museum staff in the arrangement of these pages and broken the flow of buildings with samples of the museum's artifacts.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009