|The ceiling of the Hall of Central Harmony 中和殿 (Zhōnghé Diàn) is painted with dragons. There are gilded metal crosses at each of the joints, each with intricate designs.
Under the Qing Dynasty, a document of royal genealogy was maintained and had to be revised every ten years. After it was done, the new one had to be submitted to the emperor to be read in the Hall of Central Harmony. A solemn ceremony would be held for storing it. This was in addition to the ancestor tablets that were used in ceremonies. The genealogy accounted for the relationships among the Eight Banners, defined who was marriageable to whom, and listed the titles, both living and posthumous, conferred upon the various members of the family. When titles were withdrawn, as sometimes happened, the event would also be recorded.
Record keeping was a part of the imperial responsibility as well as a tool for administration. Each of the emperors had a department of history. The inclusion of a historian in the palace went back at least to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). The historian was independent, although emperors tried from time to time to make sure that certain things were included or excluded from the record. Unlike the Nixon tapes, the emperors were not to have access to the histories, they were for posterity. They were also not to be read until long after the emperor died.
Preservation of documents reached a high point with the Ming Dynasty. They built an archive to the east of the Forbidden City. Documents were stored in multi-layer casks that resemble large tombs. Different layers of wood and metal were used to protect the documents from moisture, insects, and most importantly, fire. The stone casks had lids that were five inches thick. They were not to be opened on a whim.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009