How China's imperial palace survived against the odds

When the American writer David Kidd arrived in Beijing in 1981, having not seen China's capital for three decades, he found the city almost unrecognizable.To get more news about last empress of china wanrong, you can visit shine news official website.
The fabled city walls were gone; its temples turned into schools and factories. Only in the vast imperial palace complex of the Forbidden City "could I imagine that the city surrounding it was unchanged," Kidd wrote in his memoir "Peking Story." It created the illusion, he added, "of supernatural space and time."
The Forbidden City, which turns 600 this year, was carefully designed to conjure such an illusion.
It is the world's largest palace complex, covering more than 7.75 million square feet (720,000 square meters) and separated from the rest of Beijing by a 171-foot-wide (52 meters) moat and a 33-foot-high (10 meters) wall, with gate towers guarding its entrances. The fortress-like design was intended to protect the emperor, but also to emphasize his pre-eminence: The emperor was, after all, heaven's representative on Earth and, in its scale, majesty and separateness, his palace was built to ensure that neither his subjects, nor foreign visitors, ever forgot that.
Despite its monumental scale and central importance in Chinese history, however, the Forbidden City's continuing presence at the heart of the country's capital has been a story of survival against the odds. Fires, wars and power struggles have all threatened the imperial complex during the last six centuries.
Even as recently as the mid-20th century, the fate of the Forbidden City looked far from secure. After taking control of China in 1949, the country's communist rulers engaged in fierce debate over this vast area at the center of Beijing. Twenty-four emperors had taken the throne there over the course of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the palace's history and design made it an obvious symbol of the iniquities of feudal rule that the Chinese Communist Party had railed against, and an obstacle to its vision of a new socialist capital.
Yet the Forbidden City survived waves of drastic alterations made to Beijing's architectural layout in the 1950s and 60s, in spite of Communist Party leader Mao Zedong's disdain for old buildings and other remnants of China's imperial past -- as well as suggestions by others in the leadership that the palace should be turned into central government offices.
In these first decades of communist rule, Beijing's centuries-old walls were pulled down to build an underground subway system, while historic ministries and imperial archives (in front of Tiananmen, or the "Gate of Heavenly Peace," just to the south of the Forbidden City) were razed to lay a vast granite square. Between the square and the gate, old archways were torn down, and a broad highway was built in their place.
There is no single reason why the Forbidden City escaped this period of razing and rebuilding, though the cost of redeveloping such a sizable area, combined with the absence of a coherent plan for what would replace it, both played a role. But it was just the latest chapter in an unlikely tale of survival.
The Forbidden City is, today, synonymous with Beijing, but its story actually begins in a city almost 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) to its south: Nanjing. ("Jing" in Mandarin means "capital," with Beijing translating as "northern capital" and Nanjing as "southern capital.") In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty, designated Nanjing -- a city on the Yangtze river, in the economic heartland of China -- as the national capital, building a palace complex, ringed by a vast city wall, from which to rule.
It appeared that Nanjing would remain China's capital for as long as the Ming were in charge, and when Zhu Yuanzhang died, his grandson and chosen successor continued to rule from the city. However, one of Zhu Yuanzhang's sons, Zhu Di, who established a power base in Beijing, had other ideas. In the summer of 1402, after a three-year conflict between Zhu Di and the emperor, the imperial palace in Nanjing was razed by fire, apparently killing the emperor and his family. Zhu Di claimed the throne for himself, becoming known as the Yongle Emperor and establishing Beijing as the national capital.
There he built an imperial palace to dwarf that of his predecessor to the south. The Forbidden City, as it would later become known, was completed in 1420, and required a workforce of hundreds of thousands, using materials from across the country: precious timber from Sichuan in China's far southwest; fine gold leaf from Suzhou, near Shanghai; clay bricks from Shandong to the east. Though the marble came from a quarry only 31 miles (50 kilometers) west of Beijing, some of the largest pieces were so heavy that they could only be transported during the winter, when water was poured onto the road to create an icy surface across which the stone could slide -- when pulled by a team of thousands.