Historically, many stories are attached to it but it is mainly remembered as the Gate where Generals reporting to the Emperor would enter the Palace, and the location where armies who were to move out on campaign against the enemies of the Empire would receive their orders (and perhaps a small pep talk) from the Emperor and would proudly march off to a, no doubt, blessed Victory. Upon their return from the field, the army would once again march through the city to report their successes to the Emperor at this Gate.
In front of the North Gate lies a huge ramp which crossses the wide moat that surrounds the Forbidden City. Inside the Tower on the platform of The Gate of Divine might are a Bell and a Drum, which during feudal days were used to mark the passage of the hours. Dawn and dusk were marked
The Imperial Palace Museum
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North Gate of Divine Might (Shen Wu Men ; 神武門)
HISTORY OF THE GATE OF DIVINE MILITARY MIGHT:
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The view from underneath the Gate of Divine Miltary Might (Shenwu Men) at the Coal Hill (Jing Shan) and today's Jingshan Road underneath.
of Divine Military Might (Shenwu Men ; 神武門), is fairly easily found.
After bringing out your map of Beijing to locate the Forbidden City situated in the center of the old City, simply follow the line of the main structures of the Imperial Palace (the central axis) until they meet with the surrounding walls. The massive gate found here is the Shenwu Men.
To get to ShenwuMen, one must go to Jingshan Road and arrive there either from
Old birds eye view photo of the Palace Museum revealing the Central Line and its main structures. The last one these is the Gate of Divine Military Might.
the East or from the West.
Mind you, one cannot travel to Jingshan Road by means of the Subway/Metro system, as their are no stations anywhere near. The best alternative is to take a taxi to a nearby destination (such as the East Gate or West gate of Jingshan Park (Jingshan Gongyuan)) and walk from there. There is no parking along Jingshan Road, and Taxi's are not allowed to stop in front of the Gate of Divine Military Might.
Naturally, apart from hiring a Taxi one can also try and find a bus line
that comes along Jingshan Road and get off at the Jingshan Road Bus Stop. Alternatively, and surely more fun, one can usually pick up a rickshaw in the area's along the moat of the northern outer wall of the Forbidden City, near the East Gate, etc and drive anywhere including to the vast space reserved for parking and visitors in front of the Gate of Divine Miltary Might.
One of the interesting walks of the Palace Museum is to walk from the south gate of Beihai Park (the location of the earlier Palace of the Mongol Kublai Khan of the Yuan Dynasty) in the East and pass along Jingshan Road and the impressive moat surrounding the Palace to end up at Shenwu Men. During the spring and summer seasons it is usually a busy place.
From ShenwuMen one can follow the Moat and Red Walls further to the north-east corner to appreciate another one of the magnificent and iconic corner-watchtowers.
After appreciating the massive and thoroughly Chinese architecture of the Shenwumen and purchasing a ticket, one can proceed to enter the lengthy tunnel that leads underneath to the south side and the space between the Inner and Outer Walls of the Palace.
This page was last updated on: June 23, 2017
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ARCHITECTURE OF THE GATE OF DIVINE MILITARY MIGHT:
The structure of the Gate of Divine Might connects seemlessly with the red outer walls of the Forbidden City. The walls are thick and squat and were specifically designed to withstand attacks by cannons. And so were the Gates.
Above on the platform stands single massive rectangular Hall which encloses only five-bays. It is topped with a double-eaved roof. A large board carries an insription 神武門 - Shen Wu Men. Below in
Visitors and tour groups flock about undernearth Shenwu Men, the Northern Gate of Divine Military Might of the Forbidden City.
To the east one can browse a number of pavilions with gift and curiosa shops and find the Police Station of the Palace Museum.
black caligraphy on a grey backgrounds is the name "Forbidden City Museum" (故宫博物院) which was added at some time in 1925 when the
Evening shots of the North Gate of the Forbidden City, Shenwu Men. During summer evenings people come down to enjoy group dancing, roller skating or simply the wonderful sights of the Great Gate and the Palace Moat. (Photo: May 2005)
Politics to the much more radical factions of society. With the political forces under the Throne unleashed, the First Republic of China, which had so gloriously risen from the ashes of feudal society fell to the age old traditions of "politics by force". Unfortunately, in a largely agricultural society where over 90% of the populace was a peasant, and usually illiterate at that, lofty ideals such as "Democracy" and "Equal Rights for All" turned out to mean very little. While the first Republic of China faltered after being taken over by the power clique of "Traitor General " Yuan Shikai, the nation disintegrated and far more radical political ideas began to permeate the lower layers of society. Some of these idea's were anarchist, others leaned more and more towards western lines of thought such as Nationalism, and the idea's of Marxism and Leninism.
Thus, the abdication of the Qing Dynasty cleared away the old "dead brush" of the conservative forces, and China began its long road into political modernity. What was next would be the struggle for a new and modern China , a process that would be long and painful and would not be over any time soon.
It is with this background that in the spring of the year 1919, Beijing was a center of much political thought and theorizing, mainly practiced by students of the various Universities and educational institutes of the ancient Imperial Capital. One of those "students" in Beijing was Mao Zedong, at the time a non-person who had come to the city previously, and had now engrossed himself with a group of radical political thinkers who were strongly influenced by the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
While people had had their revolution, it had clearly backfired and so public animosity fermented in a city that was still the nominal seat of Government but was ruled by a lame duck National Party Government that was perceived as corrupt and found itself under continuous public scrutiny. Tensions ran high and while the Provinces had declared their independence under leadership of various local "warlords" North China was being engulfed by encroaching Japanese and other notoriously imperialist nations. While public outrage at the lack of Chinese Sovereignty grew and Foreign infringements continued unabated, the Government of the city of Beijing itself was clearly collaborating with Japanese Interest by that time. Meanwhile, although abdicated, the "Last Emperor" of the Qing Dynasty still held his position near the highly symbolic throne, living within the Palace, almost as before.
On July the 1st of 1917, when (abdicated) "Emperor" Pu Yi is 11 years old, there is even a seemingly successful uprising of elements of the Army leading to a brief restoration of the Qing Dynasty and the renewed rule of Pu Yi as Emperor Xuan Tong Emperor of China. He gladly accepts the opportunity, however, 8 Days later other rivaling armies move in and the revolt is extinguished, leaving Pu Yi no option but to abdicate once more, while offering apologies for his indiscretions. Even then, the court continues to reside within the "Forbidden City" and because the south part of the complex is taken by the Institutes of the Republic of China, the North Gate of Divine Might becomes the main gate for virtually all court affairs.
In the period between 1919 and 1924 AD, the Northern Gate of Divine Might would be the Gate Tutor of the Dragon Emperor, (Sir) Reginald
Although today the platforms atop the "purple walls"of the Forbidden City usually remain empty except for a few red flags flown above the Gate, in the historic past the platforms, the corner towers and especially the four Gates of the Palace would be heavily guarded, day an night. Notoriously, anyone who dared venture beyond without permission could do so only at the pain of death, and anyone who was brave enough to approach close was suspect to the sniping of bowmen posted above. It was a rather unattractive prospect for anyone to try and attempt some sort of break-in. It was sacrilege, technically difficult and the blowback would be enormous. In reality, no one ever entered by scaling the walls or penetrating the Gate and no written records of such an attempt exists today.
SHENWU MEN DURING THE MING DYNASTY (1368 AD - 1644 AD):
During the centuries of the rule of the Ming Dynasty over Beijing and China, the Shenwu Men was named Xuánwǔmén meaning Black Tortoise Gate (Chinese: 玄武門). At the time, keeping with traditional 5 elements theory, this was the traditional name given to the northern gate of a Chinese Imperial Palace and the original Ming Palace in Nanjing had such a Xuánwǔmén Gate.
Throughout the service of the Imperial Palace, since New Years Day of the year 1421, the Gate of Divine Military Might more or less functioned as the main service Gate to the Palace, used for daily exit and entry of the servants. Where the larger Meridian Gate (Wu
In the feudal past the Imperial Palace was a Forbidden City but today Chinese citizens flock to its gates and buildings in huge numbers. Especially in the summer season and during holidays it can be very crowded (Photo: May 2005).
Men) and the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tian'An Men) in the South were the grandiose ceremonial gates reserved as the "gate facing the public", which was the case, the northern Gate of Divine Military Might served as an easy access Gate for the Manchu Officials who lived in the northern half of the City (The Tartar City, now Dongcheng and Xicheng Districts). From their mansions scattered due north of the Forbidden City they could travel to Shenwumen, where they would dismount their horses to leave them there attended by the Palace Staff always on duty. Everyone was scrutinized by the guards as to their purpose, and more importantly, permission to enter. Then, depending on their rank, given privileges and the given situation the officials would travel through the North Gate in a sedan chair or on foot, gaining access to the Gate to the Inner Court (Chastity & Obedience Gate ; Chun Cheng Men) where they could
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View of Jingshan Road, the parking space and crowds of tourist moving about the North Gate of the Forbidden City.
a sort of latter day Marco Polo, being the only westerner allowed to witness- and participate in- the extensive Court Rituals of the Qing Dynasty.
He gained a high rank as a dignitary of the Manchu Court, was the personal political advisor of the
abdicated Emperor, and among things was "given" a residence in the Gardens of the Imperial Palace (The Lodge of the Nourishment of nature), and through his being promoted Grand Guardian of the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) received the rights to another residence there. On top of this he found yet another private retreat in the scenic western hills of Beijing, which he dubbed "Cherry Glenn".
Feng Yuxian, a warlord with strong ties to the new Russian Soviet State, but it was not the last time he would find himself inside its grounds.
In the early 1960's Pu Yi received a special pardon for his war crimes and was allowed to return and life in the Capital of what had become the Peoples Republic of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong.
NORTH GATE OF DIVINE MILITARY MIGHT - TODAY :
The Gate of Divine Military Might still stands proudly overlooking the nortern parts of the Forbidden City and its moat today.
Since at least the year 1999 the ramp in front of the Gate serves as a pick up point, where Buses can collect the tour groups which they have dropped off near the south Gate of the Meridian or at Tian'Anmen Square earlier.
Set along the main tourist route of the Forbidden City and being one of only two available gates, the route through the Gate is very well used. On any given day ten thousands of people pass through here.
View of Jingshan Road underneath the Coal Hill (Jingshan), the parking space and crowds of tourist moving about the North Gate of the Forbidden City.
The North Gate of the Forbidden City bathed in light during a serene spring evening in 2005.
communicate with the Emperor. At other times they could enter one of the Halls of the Inner Court for attending rituals, meetings and answer court summonses. All official state business of lower rank was handled through Ministries which were mainly housed to the South of the Palace and in the outer court of the Palace.
At the end of the Ming Dynasty in the year 1644 AD, the Gate was witness to the final demise of the Era, when Emperor Chongzheng, after having killed his ladies as well as his children, fled from the North Gate in panick. Finding no way out, he ran into Jingshan Park, where shortly thereafter hung himself from a tree.
The now deceased Ming Emperor would have been surprised to see that his beloved Palace was not burned to the ground by the succeeding Emperor. The Manchu, in turn, would also take up residence at the Palace, and as things remained much as they were, the proud Gate of Divine Military Might stood for
SHENWU MEN DURING THE QING DYNASTY (1644 AD - 1911 AD):
The North Gate of the Forbidden City was renamed in the year 1661 AD, when through the throne ascensions of the new Kangxi Emperor (1661 AD - 1722 AD), the name "Black Tortoise Gate (玄武門); Xuánwǔmén ) could no longer be maintained. The cause was that the birth name of the Kangxi Emperor was Xuanye (玄燁), and that thus, according to tradition during the period of his rule this word Xuán (玄) became a sacred taboo. The word could not be used by anyone, and as it was part of the name of the North Gate, the gates name had to be changed.
Thus, after some deliberations, the courts administrators arrived on a new appropriate name, that being "Shenwu Men", as the character "Xuán" (玄) also has the meaning of "sacred mystery", which correlates well with the new character "Shén" (神), meaning "divine". Also, in 5 elements theory the North can not only be represented by the the Black Tortoise, but also by the Warrior (玄武). Thus keeping some of the same meaning while changing the sound of the name entirely.
Although there were 72 wells within the Forbidden City, not the mention a wide moat, eversince the
If you like the crowds, this is a good spot to spend some time and review the many people passing while enjoying the view, the abundant space and perhaps a locally bought drink or ice cream. While children play nearby and street hawkers peddle their various wares (often illegally) endless rows of tourists pass back and forth, most leaving the Palace after a lengthy walk up from the southern Meridian Gate (Wu Men).
Around the north gate there is plenty of space to sit down and get a rest from the rigors of walking and seeing the Palace. To get away almost entirely and see the views, walk along the Moat someways to the West or East where only pedestrians and views of the moat remain.
A Clear View south along the Central Axis of the City. In Front, Shen Wu Men - Gate of Divine Might, in between the Palace Museum and in the Far Distance TiananMen Square (Photo 2003).
the Royal household directly into the hands of arriving barbarian armies.Therefor, north was the way to go out and all had gathered in the back parts of the residence of the Empress-Dowager at the Palace of Peaceful Longevity (Old Age), where, in a fit of rage and vengeance, Empress-Dowager Cixi had the Pearl Concubine (Zhen Fei) disposed off, before giving orders to head out the North Gate and leave the Palace.
Disguised as poor peasants, the core of the Manchu Imperial Dynasty was able to flee before the advancing Foreign Forces undetected. Various accounts of this event have been handed down, and as the Book "The Last Empress" by Keith Laidler describes it "Yehonala had earlier claimed she would commit suicide rather than flee from the Imperial City. Now she made the humiliating decision to escape as a commoner. She shed her jewelry, took off the green jade nail castings from her hands before cutting the six-inch long nails of her little and ring fingers, the grotesquely long finger nails that Manchu nobles affected to show themselves a leisured class (I.e. People
with such long nails obviously did not engage in manual labor).
Her immaculately coiffured hair was shorn, and what remained was tied up with a scarf. Then with her court and eunuch attendants bustling and panicking around her she put on the dark blue tunic of a peasant".
In the words of the Empress-Dowager herself, as she told it to an official in the city of Xi'An in Shaanxi Province; "I disguised myself as a maid servant. We escaped immediately. We had no time to take any clothing, but went with empty hands. We walked until we reached the North Gate of the Forbidden City, where we saw a mule cart, the only cart we had seen since we left the Palace".
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Reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1735 AD - 1796 AD) of the Qing Dynasty the Emperors always drank and used spring water from Mount Yuquan (Yuquan Shan), which is situated in the western hills (now suburbs of Beijing). The Qianlong Emperor, being a sophisticated man who loved his tea as much as he loved his art, and who used to combine the enjoying the two in combination, was a man who had a special reason to hold his water dearly.
According to the history attached to the Jade Spring Mountain well today, it was the Qianlong Emperor who insisted on having the best spring water in the nation available to him, hence he ordered the best specialist to come to the Capital in order to conduct an official quality test of all the springs in the land. Thus it was done.
It is said that the Qianlong Emperor had tasted water from every spring and water in- and around the Imperial Capital and, after thorough consideration which included the weighing and checking of the mineral content of the water, the Emperor decided that the water from the Mount Yuquan spring was the clearest and most tasty of all the water found in the regions.
Qianlong honored the spring duly by giving it the new name and honorary title; "First Spring of the World" and henceforth the use of its waters was especially reserved for his Imperial Highness only.
Of course the Emperor would not go fetch this water himself every day, yet he wished for it in abundance. Thus, by the wishes of his
A view of silent waters of the moat and the blazing lights illuminating the Gate of Divine Military Might in the evening (Photo: June 2006).
majesty, a transport chain was organized to get the water to the Palace in order to bring health and harmony to Palace and Emperor. Ever since, every evening a donkey-cart bearing a yellow flag brought water from there to the Forbidden City, and its delivery was made to the Gate of Divine Military Might.
Interestingly, at the time the gates of the outer walls of the City closed at 10 PM every evening, but the donkey-cart laden with fresh water would not arrive at the Xizhimen Gate until around midnight. The Gates would open to no one and almost nothing, but the guards had to open the Gates especially for this high priority shipment to go through. This water shipment was considered that important that the cart was allowed to keep to the middle of the road at all times, and even princes and senior officials with their large retinues had to yield to its advance immediately and at all times.
In one of his accounts written down from when he was a citizen of the Peoples Republic of China, Pu Yi describes his memories of the space between the Gate of Divine Military Might. As the book "Pu Yi My Husband - The Last Emperor of China" relates, in the 1960's Pu Yi and his wife often frequented Jing Shan Park (Jingshan Gongyuan). The Book tells how upon their first visit to Shenwu Men, coming from the (South) Gate of Jingshan Park, Pu Yi turned around a last time before entering Shenwu Men and informed her "I visited Jingshan several times when I lived in the Forbidden City, but back then I had no freedom to walk across this road (Jingshan Road). I was carried across in a Sedan Chair". The same book also relates how Pu Yi, after his becoming a citizen of the Peoples Republic, liked to use the North Gate when visiting the Palace Museum. It is said that in front of the Gate, he usually stopped and looked upon the exterior of this great construction created by the ancient Chinese People while marveling with
by 108 tolls of the bell, while in between there was a beating of the drum every two hours.
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Fleming Johnston would take to enter the Palace and proceed to the Hall of Bringing Forth of Blessings for his early afternoon appointment, the teaching of Emperor Xuan Tong, a.ka. Pu Yi. Every afternoon, around 1:30 PM he would arrive, most often on horseback at the outer Gate. Tie-ing his horse at one of the available white marble poles with ritual stepping-off stone, as only the Emperor was allowed to ride on horse-back within the Forbidden City). Reportedly there were stables to the east of Jingshan, just across the road and to the East of Shenwu Men.
From the outside of the Gate the Tutor would always be accompanied by one or more courtiers, and walk or travel by Sedan Chair through the inner Chastise
The Jingshan Road Bus stop with Shenwu Men behind . (Photo: November 2004)
Obiedence Gate and Palace Garden (Yuhuan Yuan), to be taken to the teaching Palace. It is possible that this was the Gate nearest Johnstons residence in Beijing, but at any rate, by that time it would have been impossible for him to enter the Palace through the main south gate, as the Southern End of the Palace was already occupied by the Forces and President of the (first) Republic of China. Besides the practicalities, as a mandarin of the highest court and a Qing Dynasty Official it would be improper for him to have anything to do with the Republic, nor enter through that part of the Palace, if it were at all possible.
Johnston would be Tutor to the Emperor between 1919 AD and 1925 AD, when -after having been evicted from the Imperial Palace- the latter moved to set up a new residence in the Japanese concession in the City of Tianjin. During these five years Johnston truly became
melancholy about the centuries of Feudal Rule that were by then finally and clearly a thing of the past.
North Gate of Divine Military Might (Shen Wu Men ; 神武門) - Location coordinates: 39° 55' 15'' North, 116° 23' 26'' East.
The gate itselfs has three openings, the middle one traditionally reserved for the Emperor and his sedan chair only. A large space lies in front and to the north of the gate with a huge ramp leading across the palace moat to Jingshan Road and across of it the Jingshan Park (Jingshan Gongyuan), which the past was regarded a practical expansion of the Palace itself.
To the East, underneath but outside of the Gate of Divine Military Might, a paved walkway leads east and one can have a stroll along the base of the outer Wall of the Palace to reach as far as the north-east corner, its pavilion overlooking the Moat and its watchtower riding atop the Wall.
Briefly further on the story continuous with Yehonala entering the confines of the Mule Cart.
"I entered within it with the Emperor and ordered the carter to drive quickly forward. Others with us hired carts as they walked along. When we got out of the North-West Gate of the City (Deshengmen) we gathered together; but we dared not stay there fearing that the foreign soldiers may come after us. We traveled day and night."
In the end the Empress-Dowager and the captive Guangxu were saved. Initially Yehonala had intended to flee through the Great Wall of China to the ancestral Manchu Homeland beyond, however the ensuing Russian invasion and "annexation" of Manchuria thwarted these plans, and instead the "two thrones" (The Empress-Dowager and the captive Emperor Guangxu)
Early 20th Century Photo of the Deshengmen Gate.
and their retinue escaped to Datong in the rough lands of north-Shanxi Province, from whence they continued south-ward through Taiyuan and onwards to the ancient Capital of Xi'An (formerly Chang 'An). In Xi'An they found sufficient safety from pursuing foreign forces to sit out the conflict and bide their time at the famous Huaqing Palace before being able to return home to Beijing. In 1902 AD, the Empress-Dowager, with a grandiose following and a huge parade returned triumphantly to her Capital and the Imperial Palace, arriving back at the Shenwu Men, the north Gate of Divine Military Might. As history would prove however, the whole "Boxer" affair which left the palace and throne desanctified - had dealt a final blow to the Dynasty. in 1900 AD, after a full 60 years of various sorts of humiliation by Foreign invaders, the Chinese Nation had stirred. The Dynasty had been eroded beyond repair and its end would come soon after the Empress-Dowagers grip on power would come to an end.
SHENWU MEN AFTER ABDICATION OF THE QING DYNASTY (Jan' 1912):
The Empress-Dowager died in 1908 AD, through her last malversations leaving the throne to child Emperor Pu Yi. Only four short years later he, the Emperor Xuan Tong, was forced to abdicate, leaving the field of National
Palace was turned into a Museum for the first time.
Eastern walkway outside of Shenwu Men, underneath the exterior wall of the Forbidden City (Photos: May 2005).
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Walkway leading east underneath the exterior wall of the "Forbidden City".
Satellite Image Map of Shenwu Men and surrounding area of Beijing, by AsiaReport.com