Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-IV.

Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-IV.

ROUTINE AFFAIRS.

The emperor attended to routine state affairs mainly at Qianqingmen, Qianqinggong, or Yangxindian (Hall of Mental Cultivation).

Qianqingmen, the five-compartment hall of the gate to the inner court, with its roof of yellow glazed tiles, stands on a terrace surrounded by white marble balustrades. In the early Qing period, the emperor sometimes administered affairs of state (known as „Yumen Tingzheng”) here. This practice grew till it was regularly done during Emperor Kang Xi’s reign. But then it fell into decline and finally stopped altogether after the reign of Emperor Xian Feng.

Qianqinggong, the golden-portaled, doubly-eaved and nine-compartment palace, reached by a raised pavement lined with white marble balustrades north of Qianqing Gate (Qianqingmen), was built in 1420 (18th year of Ming Emperor Yong Le’s reign) and repaired in the early Qing period. Prior to Kang Xi’s reign, the emperor lived and handled routine affairs here. When Yong Zheng came to the throne, he moved his living quarters to Yangxindian but ordinarily still received officials and foreign envoys here. According to Qing custom,, the emperor often read in Qiangqing Palace (Qianqinggong) memorials which were submitted by officials and forwarded to the throne through the Outer Chancery at Jingyunmen (Gate of Great Luck), the Inner Chancery in the West Gallery of Qianqinggong, and the eunuchs in charge of the presentation of memorials. The emperor’s directives on the memorials were handed down through the same channel in reverse order.

In the central room of Qianqinggong is a throne flanked by shelves of books of classics and history and backed by a screen on which there are inscriptions of mottos extracted from classics and written by Emperor Kang Xi. Above the throne is a tablet engraved with four big Chinese characters, „Zheng Da Guang Ming” (meaning „Upright and aboveboard”), written by Emperor Shun Zi. It was said that Emperor Yong Yheng hid behind this tablet his testament regarding the choice of a son as his successor. He did this in view of the failure of Emperor Kang Xi’s public naming of the crown prince.

Yangxin Hall (Yangxindian) is located within Zunyimen (Gate of Following Justice) to the west of Qianqing Palace (Qianqinggong). It was built in the Ming Dynasty (the 15th century), and repaired several times after the Qing Emperor Yong Zheng’s reign, and used as the emperor’s living quarters. After the 8th year of Emperor Yong Zheng’s reign, its front hall gradually became the place where the emperor handled routine state affairs because it was near the Office of the Grand Council, situated outside of the Inner Right Gate, which had grown in importance, and the emperor could call in the grand councillors to discuss military and political affairs at any time.

The emperor would receive officials in the central room and would read, and write orders on, the memorials and received the senior officials in the eastern and western rooms. The eastern room originally served as the emperor’s bedchamber and his place for fasting, but became the place where the empresses dowager Ci Xi and Ci An „took charge of state affairs behind a screen” after Ci Xi staged the coup d’etat of 1861. In the center of the room was the throne for the child emperor, and behind the yellow screen at its back there were the chairs for the empresses dowager. Ci Xi, in particular, ruled the country for as long as 48 years in this fashion over the heads of the young emperors Tong Zhi and Guang Xu.

The Qing emperors also handled state affairs in the imperial gardens and palaces away from the Forbidden City, such as Qinzhengdian in Yuanmingyuan near Beijing and certain halls in the Imperial Summer Resort in Chengde.

(Next: MEALS.)

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