Hall of Supreme Harmony is also nicknamed "the Throne Hall". It was first built
in 1406, but the present structure dates back to 1695, during Emperor Kangxi's reign. It
was repaired in 1765 and repainted under Yuan Shikai, a warlord and restored very
recently. Since the Qing Emperors were all Manchurians, the inscriptions on all the palace
halls were both in Chinese and Manchurian, as still can be seen in the inner courts. Why,
then, was the inscription of this hall in Chinese only?
There's something interesting about this. In 1911, after the Qing
Dynasty fell, the last Qing Emperor Puyi was allowed to stay in the Inner Court. The Outer
Court, however, was taken over by the so called "Democratic Government". In
1915, Yuan Shikai, a warlord, wanted to be the emperor. He was preparing for his
enthronement when he ordered all the Manchurian inscriptions in the outer court to be
removed. But he was overthrown only 83 days after he ascended the throne and the
inscriptions here became a witness to his scandal.
Three flights of
marble steps lead up to the terrace; in the middle of the central flight is a Huge Stone Carving in the design of
"dragons playing with pearls", over which the emperors sedan chairs were
carried. On the terrace, at the east corner was a sun-dial; At the west corner stands a
small temple in which the grain measure was kept. The sun-dial and grain measure are both
symbols of rectitude and fairness. Surrounding the hall are 18 bronze incense burners,
representing China's 18 provinces at that time; the 308 water vats around the palace were
used to protect it against fire.
The hall of
Supreme Harmony is 35 metres high, 60 metres wide and 33 metres on both sides. It is now
the largest, best preserved wooden hall in China. Twenty-four pillars support the roof;
the central six are gilded and painted in the design of dragons, the rest are painted red.
The Emperor's throne, which is surrounded by art treasures of symbolic significance, is in
the middle of the hall. Above the throne is a gold painted caisson, or coffered ceiling,
with dragon designs, from which hangs a spheric pearl called the Xuanyuan Mirror . This
pearl was supposed to be able to distinguish right from wrong. The warlord Yuan Shikai was
afraid that the pearl in the caisson may fall and hit him; he ordered the throne to be
moved slightly backward. This is why you see the throne is not directly under the caisson.
This hall was used
for great ceremonies, like the celebration of Winter Solstice, the publication of the list
of successful candidates in the imperial examinations, the emperor's birthday and
Just imagine the
majestic and awesome scene in the past. When the emperor sat on the throne, the ministers
and all their subordinates would kneel down, kowtow and chant aloud "Long Live Your
Majesty", with incense burning and curling up in the hall, and the sound of bells
ringing and drums beating in unison in the corridor.
Each of the 24
pillars supporting the hall was made from one piece of wood, about 18 metres high. What's
more, it took 136 days to bake the floor tiles before they were immersed in tung oil for
another 49 days to be polished.
To maintain the
palace during the Qing Dynasty, 280,000 taels of silver were needed each year. They came
from taxes and royal estate rents. During the Ming Dynasty, 9,000 ladies-in-waiting and
100,000 eunuchs served here. Some eunuchs like Wei Zhongxian in the Ming Dynasty and Li
Lianying in the Qing Dynasty became even more powerful than the emperor.