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Forbidden City
Gate of Heavenly Purity 乾清门

The Gate of Heavenly Purity 乾清门 (Qiánqīng Mén) is on the left, and the north wall of the Outer Court is on the right. The Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿 (Bǎo Hé Diàn) tops the wall on the right. This is the business end of the Forbidden City.

At the far end of the square is the Gate of Good Fortune 景运门 (Jǐngyùn Mén). People who wanted to enter the gate had to stop 20 paces away from the gate and announce their business to a messenger. If they passed the security check, they might be allowed to enter. Only the highest ministers who had offices in the compound could enter the gate freely. Today, the gate leads to the eastern side of the Forbidden City with some of the most beautiful museums.

The Gate of Heavenly Purity 乾清门 is on the left and next to it, out of sight, is the Grand Council of State (Jun Ji Chu) and behind the camera, to the west, is the Gate of Distinguished Clan (Long Zong Men). Under Qianlong, this became the center of government. The duty rooms for the Grand Councillors 軍機大臣 (Jūnjī dàchén) were on the north side of the Gate of Distinguished Clan and those for the secretaries on the south side. The two gates were a hop, skip, and a jump from the Hall of Mental Cultivation, the residence of Qianlong.

Long Zong Men was so protected that even princes could not enter it. Anyone who had business there had to follow the twenty paces rule and send in their requests by note or messenger. During the 1813 rebellion the rebels actually were able to breach the Gate of Distinguished Clan (Long Zong Men) as well as get into the Hall of Moral Cultivation. I didn't get a picture of it because I had lunch there: a very good and inexpensive vegetable curry.

There were major differences between the administration of the Ming and Qing dynasties. During the later Ming, the emperors depended upon a large bureaucracy to manage the affairs of state. Eunuchs ran a separate hierarchy that took care of the details and gradually developed as much or more power as the ministers. During the Qing Dynasty, the early rulers were determined to eliminate the eunuchs from the government and to gain control of the bureaucracy. One method was to develop smaller advising units. In 1729 Emperor Yongzheng set up the Jun Ji Fang, the Office of the Grand Council of State. He used this smaller body to bypass the bureaucracy while running military campaigns. Qianlong renamed it the Office of the Superintendent (Zhong Li Chu) and then again in 1738 renamed it the Grand Council of State (Jun Ji Chu). The body that had been set up by his father was so successful in responding to the fast pace of military campaigns that Qianlong decided to expand its duties to include the general affairs of state.

The Grand Councilors were drawn from both Manchu and Han scholars, ministers, and military men.. Usually the majority of seats were held by Manchu, but not always. The Council remained in place until 1911. It managed to keep the country running under weak emperors, but devolved into power struggles and dissention. During the last decades of the dynasty the council was divided between the conservatives and the progressives who supported the Self-strengthening Movement and the later reforms proposed by the Guangxu Emperor 光绪 (Guāngxù, 1871-1908).

Guangxu issued a series of edicts in 1898 designed to modernize everything in sight; from the military to education to the budget to industry. He didn't engage in the politics necessary to get support from a significant number of the conservative members of government. The backlash was immediate. Many of the reforms threatened the power base of old families without providing a clear path to a new position in government or the economy. The Dowager Empress Cixi, with the support of the conservatives, staged a coup and imprisoned her nephew and reversed his edicts. These were called the Hundred Days' Reforms. The Guangxu Emperor remained under house arrest until his death in 1908.

China Index >> History of Beijing in Pictures >> Forbidden City >> Gate of Heavenly Purity

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Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009