Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-VII.
To both sides of the Qianqing and Kunning Palaces were the East Six Compounds and the West Six Compounds, which were built in the Ming Dynasty and rebuilt during the reigns of Emperors Shun Zhi and Kang Xi in the early Qing period. They were the living quarters of the empress and imperial concubines in the Qing Dynasty.
Among the East Six Compounds, Zhongcuigong (Palace of Gathering Essence), which used to be the residence of the crown prince in the Ming Dynasty, was in late Qing the residence of Empress Dowager Ci An who „took charge of state affairs behind a screen” together with Empress Dowager Ci Xi. Ci An died of illness on a sudden here on the 7th Day, 3rd Month of the 7th year of Guang Xu’s reign (1881). Chengqiangong (Palace of Reception of Heaven) to the south was in early Qing the residence of Emperor Shun Zhi’s favourite concubine Dong E. Jingrengong (Palace of Great Mercy) further to the south was where Emperor Shun Zhi’s empress Tong Jia at fifteen years of age gave birth to the child Xuan Ye (later Emperor Kang Xi). It was later the residence of Zhen Fei, the beloved concubine of Emperor Guang Xu. While her sister Jin Fei, another imperial concubine, lived in Yonghegong (Palace of Eternal Peace). The other two compounds were Yanxigong (Palace of Prolonging Happiness) and Jingyanggong (Palace of Pleasant Sunshine).
Some of the West Six Compounds, as well as Yangxindian (Hall of Mental Cultivation) to their south, now house an exhibition of the bedchambers of Qing emperors and empresses, preserved in their original state.
Yangxindian was built in the Ming Dynasty and repaired in the reign of the Qing Emperor Yong Zheng. In the 200 years or more from Yong Zheng’s time to the end of Qing rule, the emperors mostly lived and handled routine affairs here. The eastern room of its back hall was the emperor’s bedchamber, and the other rooms were his sitting rooms. The central room was connected with a hallway leading direct to the main palaces. On each side of the hallway is a door through which one can enter the courtyards. The back hall was flanked by Tishuntang and Yanxitang, living quarters of the empress and concubines.
Among the West Six Compounds, Taijidian (Hall of the Absolute) and Changchungong (Palace of Eternal Spring) were built in the Ming Dynasty and rebuilt in the 22nd year of Qing Emperor Kang Xi’s reign (1683). The former was originally called Qixianggong and renamed at the time when Empress Dowager Ci Xi moved in. Between Taijidian and Changchungong there is Tiyuandian (Hall of Manifest Origin) with a small theatrical stage at its back where shows were often put up for the entertainment of the Empress Dowager when she lived in Changchungong. Chuxiugong (Palace of Gathering Excellence) used to be her residence when she was still Concubine Yi of Emperor Xian Feng. Here she gave birth to his only son Zai Chun (later Emperor Tong Zhi). In 1884 Chuxiugong underwent thorough repairs for the occasion of the Empress Dowager’s 60th birthday. The coloured wall paintings, the carved hardwood partition and the carved hardwood doors and windows as well as the bronze dragons and cranes in front of the palace were all added at the time and are kept intact.
The furnishings of the rooms in the West Six Compounds are mainly kept as they were in the Qing Dynasty when they were used by the empress and the imperial concubines. The luxurious furniture, toilet articles, potted gardens, lanterns, hanging pictures, artifacts and the many world rarities testify to the voluptuous life of the imperial household, which was devoid of all meaning.
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