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Nanjing Imperial Palace Ruins of Ming Dynasty


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Nanjing Imperial Palace has been the ruins at present, but in history it was the blueprint of Beijing Forbidden City. It used be constituted of the Imperial City(皇城) and Palace City(宫城). Two parts together are called Huanggong(皇宫), which used to be the area of Emperors. In scale and level, it is not inferior to that in Beijing at all. Used to be the Imperial Palace of the earliest three Emperors in early Ming Dynasty – Emperor Hongwu(Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of Ming Dynasty), Emperor Jianwen(Zhu Yunwen, the grandson of Emperor Hongwu) and Emperor Yongle(Zhu Di, the son of Emperor Hongwu, and the first Emperor lived in Beijing Forbidden City, and he moved the capital of Ming Empire to Beijing from Nanjing). The whole duration for Emperors’ living is 54 years. In 1421, Emperor Chengzu moved the capital to Beijing, and then the Imperial Palace of Nanjing lost its superiority, but it was still kept by clans of Emperors and the important officials. Over the hundreds of years’ natural undermining and the destruction from the warfare, especially the war between Qing government’s troops and Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s troops, the whole palace complex was seriously destroyed. Today, the Square of Ming Imperial Palace and Wuchaomen Park are built on the base of the Imperial Palace.

At present, Nanjing Imperial Palace is a key site under the national protection. The currently existed historical sites include the Meridian Gate, Donghua Gate, Watchtowers of Xian Gate, Jinshui River, Internal & External Jinshui Bridge, Pillar Plinth, and Tablet Inscriptions and so on. The watchtowers on both sides of the Meridian Gate were demolished during the Republic of China, and the sites of the front three halls on the middle road of the Imperial Palace have been built to be the Imperial Palace Relics Park of Ming Dynasty(明故宫遗址公园), and the surrounding area of the Meridian Gate has been the Wuchaomen Park(午朝门公园, Wuchaomen or Wuchao Gate is the alternative name of Meridian Gate used to be the main gate of the whole imperial palace). The other areas of the Imperial Palace are the sites of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Archive Office of Nanjing Military Area Command, and The Second Historical Archives of China.

The History of Nanjing Imperial Palace

In 1367, Zhu Yuanzhang, called King of Wu, begun to build his palace, historically known as the New Palace of Wu King. At the time, the site of the new palace was chosen at the outside of East Gate of Nanjing, exactly on the south side of Bell Mountain. By the end of September, 1368, New Palace of Wu King was completely built. The width of the whole palace complex is 790 meters from the east to the west, and 750 meters long from the south to the north, and mainly comprised of Fengtian Hall, Huagai Hall, Jinshen Hall, Wen Tower, Wu Tower, Qianqing Palace, Kunning Palace, East-West Six Palaces and Fengtian Gate and so on.

On the four sides, there are four main gates, the south is Meridian Gate, the east Donghua Gate, the west Xihua Gate and the north Xuanwu Gate. The front of the Meridian Gate is Yunji Bridge, and through the Meridian Gate, there was Fengtian Gate. On the both sides of the Fengtian Gate were the subsidiary houses. And the main gates of the subsidiary houses were Left Red Gate and Right Red Gate. The opposite of the Fengtian Gate was Fengtian Hall, which was the main hall, and on the both sides of the hall, there were the Wen Tower and Wu Tower. Huagai Hall and Jinshen Hall were located on the back area of the Fengtian Hall. In the internal area of the palace, there were Qianqing Palace and Kunning Palace, as well as a series of subordinate halls like Chunhe Hall (the East Palace, the residence of crown prince), Rouyi Hall (the West Palace, the residence of the Empress), and East-West Six Palaces.

On the east side of the front square of the Fengtian Gate, it was Zuoshun Gate, and a reading hall was built for crown prince, and the collect books in it were quite rich and treasured. On the west side, it was Youshun Gate, and a series of palaces or mansions were built for the princes like Qin Prince, Jin Prince, Yan Prince, Zhou Prince and Chu Prince before they moved to their vassal states. The northeast side of the Imperial City was the Imperial Ancestral Temple, and the southwest side of the Imperial City was the Altar of Land & Grain or Shejitan.

In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang founded Ming Dynasty and became the first emperor of Ming Empire, and he selected Nanjing as the southern capital(南京), Kaifeng as the northern capital(北京), and in the next year , Fengyang(凤阳, the birthplace of Zhu Yuanzhang) was chosen to be the central capital(中都). The size and scale of palace complex of Fengyang are larger than those in Nanjing. The rites and rules of the palace buildings are also more perfect than the palace complex in Nanjing. The Imperial Ancestral Temple and the Altar of Land & Grain in the whole layout of the palace complex of Fengyang are located on the both sides in the front area of the Meridian Gate. Additionally, there was an exterior forbidden wall was built in the outside of the palace city. Due to all the manpower and material resources amassed in the construction of the central capital‘s palace complex, the extension building for palace complexes of Nanjing was paused again, and in the next several years, there were just the maintenances and resurfacings given to the existed palace buildings, and then the New Palace of Wu King was changed to be the Imperial City.

Nanjing Imperial Palace

In April, 1373, Wenhua Hall and Wuying Hall were built in the Imperial City. Song Lian(宋濂) was assigned to be the teacher to select the brilliant children to get the imperial education in Guozijian(国子监), and these children were historically called Jiansheng(监生). These students got education together with the young princes.

In September, 1375, Zhu Yuanzhang gave up his plan to build the central capital, and focused on the construction of the imperial city and the palace complex. This construction lasted for a long time. In 1392, the whole imperial city construction was completed

During the contraction, Zhu Yuanzhang paid a high attention to the Fengshui. It backs on Fugui Mountain, a part of Purple Gold Mountain, and the Yanque Lake was filled to build the imperial palace. In 1400, during the second years of Emperor Jianwen’s reign, Chengtian Gate of the Imperial Palace was burnt down. Emperor Jianwen adopted the advise of Fang Xiaoru(方孝孺, the teacher of Emperor Jianwen) and changed Jinshen Hall to Zhengxin Hall, the Meridian Gate to Duan Gate. The original Duan Gate was changed to be Ying Gate, and Chengtian Gate was changed to be Gao Gate, and Zhengyang Gate was changed to be Lu Gate. In 1402, Zhu Di, the Emperor Chengzu, attacked Ying Gate, and covered the whole Imperial Palace. Emperor Jianwen burnt down Qianqing Palace, and Queen Ma burnt herself to death. Emperor Jianwen and his crown prince Zhu Wenkui(朱文奎) fled away, and nobody knew where they were. It was said that Zheng He’s occidental fleet adventure was secretly indicated by Emperor Chengzu to find Emperor Jianwen and his crown prince.

After Zhu Di ascended to the Emperor, he still lived in Imperial Palace of Nanjing. Meantime, he changed Beiping to be Beijing. In 1420, the imperial palace was successfully built, and in 1421, Emperor Chengzu moved the capital to Beijing. Since then, the Imperial Palace of Nanjing became the old palaces, and managed by the imperial clans and internal officials. In 1644, due to Qing troop’s southward invasion, Zhu Yousong(朱由菘), the King of Fu, escaped to Nanjing from Luoyang, and the government of Southern Ming Dynasty was established. The whole imperial palace got a large reconstruction. On May 15, 1645, Nanjing was occupied by Qing’s troop.

Since Qing Dynasty was established, Nanjing was changed to be Jiangning. For building more official buildings, the materials of the Imperial Palace were taken apart. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the stone-carvings and building stones were dismantled and moved to build the temple complex on Putuo Mountain. In late Qing Dynasty, the government of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom built its own palace complex near to the original one, and moved lot of the building stones, bricks and tiles to build the palace buildings. Up to the perdition of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the whole Imperial Palace of Nanjing had been ruined. During the Republic of China, there were several official buildings and museums built on the original area of the Imperial Palace.

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 The Travel Guide of Nanjing

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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