View of Jingshan and its Park looking North along the Imperial Cities' Central Axis from ShenWu Men, the Northern Gate of Divine Military Might.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, Tai He Dian, is the Ceremonial Centerpiece of the Entire Palace, and the Power Seat of the Ancient Empire. Inside this largest wooden Hall in China, in the exact geographic Center of the (Old) Imperial City, stands the Dragon Throne, China's seat of Emperors and the political heart of the Chinese Feudal Empire.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, Tai He Dian, stands on the central north-south axis line of the Palace, 30 meters high above Supreme Harmony Square, atop a Three-layered white marble Platform, the largest in the Palace. On Top of the Platform, along its balustrade are multiple statues and ritual symbols of Imperial Power (such as the grain measure).
The Tai He Dian is the highest, widest and deepest building of the Palace
The Last and most Northern of the Three Main Halls is the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Bao He Dian). This Large Hall, standing on the same three tiered white marble platform, is the secondary Throne Room of the Palace. Initially it was used as a banquet Hall but later it also served for a long time as the examination Hall of the Highest Level of the (Confucian) Imperial Exams.
From Bao He Dian, White Marble Stairs in between of which a huge dragon-carved stone slab, lead down to the Square. After ceremonies, this was the route along which the Emperors carrying-chair would retreat on its way to the Inner Court. While the carriers were using the stairs, the Emperor would glide softly down over this largest stone-carved slab in China, to cross over the Square and be carried back to his residential Palace inside the Gate of Heavenly Purity of the Inner Court.
In the East and West, there are two minor gates in a purple wall likewise giving access to the Entrance Square of the Inner Court. This is the less grandiose route, currently reserved for the humble Palace Visitor.
Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony, balancing the two Main Ceremonial Halls stands the Zhong He Dian or Hall of Balancing Harmony. This small Ceremonial Hall is in architectural Unity with the Main Halls, but only served minor functions, mainly as a resting place and dressing Room for the Emperor before or in between of holding Court, Meeting Officials or Conducting Grand Ceremonies.
The Zhong He Dian - Hall of Central Ceremony on a snowy day in Januari of 2000 AD.
Behind it the Tai He Dian - the Hall of Supreme Harmony, largest wooden hall in China.
View of of the Hall & Square of Supreme Harmony from inside TaiHeMen - Supreme Harmony Gate.
Within the Outer Court, the Emperor held his Grand Ceremonies and Banquets on
special occasions. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD), on normal days the Emperor would hold court at the Outer Palaces with their Throne-Rooms, and/or receive foreign and Chinese dignitaries there.This was not a daily recurring event however.
During the Qing Dynasty, the Emperors would hold court more frequently and in later Times official State Visits were usually received at the Inner Court (Nei Ting), rather than
The function of Wai Chou, or Outer Court, was first and foremost : to impress.
The enormous size of the Triumphal Meridian Gate, the vast expanses of the outer courts large Square of Supreme Harmony, the gold, glitter and splendor of the surrounding Buildings, and the Impressive Three Central Halls on their high Platforms, all were meant to instill a sense of awe into whomever was regarded high enough or important enough to enter this place. Receiving Entrance was a very high honor, indeed.
The day to day administrations of Empire were generally conducted by high officials from minor offices inside the buildings surrounding the Outer Court.
The Outer Court was reserved for Official State Affairs, including the Grand Ceremonies on the Lunar New Year, coronations of Princes and of course the Imperial Wedding(s).
The Huge Dragon Stone Slab - largest in the Palace, North & Behind BoaHe Dian in the Inner Court Entrance Square.
and measures nine bays wide and five bays deep (bay=space between 4 pillars), the nine and the five symbolic numbers symbolically refering the the Imperial High Grace and Divinity.
On the inside, not surprisingly, the Tai He Dian is the most lavishly decorated Hall of the Palace. Among its features today - giant single-piece Nanmu woooden pillars imported from Sichuan Province, the XuanYuan (Yellow Emperor) Mirror hung from the ceiling by a gigantic golden and coiled Dragon and ofcourse - standing between gold-guilded nanmu pillars, on top of its own platform, The Dragon Throne itself.
On the North Side of the Outer Court and this huge Square, atop their elevated white marble platforms, together also known as the "Dragon Platform", stand the three Main Ceremonial Halls of the (former) Imperial Palace. These Halls were the center of official State Affairs. Behind and to the north the Three Main Ceremonial Halls of the Outer Court lies the Nei Ting, the Inner Court.
Built on a three-tiered marble platform also known as the dragon platform (or table) they form the nucleus of the Imperial Palace eversince its inauguration in the year 1420 of the Ming Dynasty.
The Three Great Halls, the construction of which began in the 18th year of the reign of the Yongle Emperor (Zhu Di) were initially named the Hall of Dedication to Heaven (Feng Tian Dian), the Hall of the Royal Canopy (Hua Gia Dian) referring to the function of the middle hall, and Hall of Circumspection (Jinshen Dian) respectively. They burned down on several occassions, were rebuilt and at other times renovated several times in the succeeding 470 years of feudal rule from the Imperial Palace.
In the 41st year of the Jiajing Reign of the Ming Dynasty, 1562 AD in the Georgian Calendar, the Three Great Halls were renamed to "Hall of the Imperial Exemplar" (also: "Imperial Zenith")(Huangji Dian), the Hall of Perfect Exemplar (Zhongji Dian) and the Hall of Establishing Exemplars (Jian Ji Dian).
It is stated in the "Book of Changes" (I-Qing) "The Preservation of Supreme Harmony ensures benevolence". That is to say, by maintaining harmonious relationships on earth all beings and things would be benifitted. "Supreme Harmony" and "Preserving Harmony" in turn were taken from the ancient tome for the names of two of the three major halls, in hopes of everlasting peace and order prevailing throughout the Empire.
The designation "Complete Harmony" is derived from a Confucian concept described in the "Book of Rites" (also known as "Doctrine of the Mean"). It says: "Joy, anger grief and delight witheld in the heart makes a state of equilibrium; which when displayed with moderation results in a state of harmony".
Within the lines of traditional Chinese thoughts Equilibrium is the prime function of the world and harmony the universal way of conduct. In other words, the world is most efficient when it is in balance, and the way to achieve balance is through harmonious behavior.
As the ancient classics say: "Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, while all things will be nourished and prosper".
By naming the Hall between the two larges ones "Complete Harmony" it was hoped that the auspicious appellation would help maintain law and order in the feudal society of the Dynastic Empire.
The Outer Court is then further subdivided in three parts, the Central Outer Court with the structures of the central axis, the western outer court with the structures with Military Functions and relevance, and in the east the structures relating to Confucian Officialdom, the Literary Classics, Poetry and the Like (this same pattern is repeated across each couryard with structures relating to military in the west and structures relating to the class of Literary Scholars in the East). The Main Palace of the Western Outer Court is the Hall of Military Eminence (or Spirit) wheras its counterpart in the east - balanced according to the geomantic plan of the Palace - is the Palace of Literary Flowers (Wen Hua Dian).
Interspersed with the above mentioned main structures are many more minor ones such as Gates, causeways, pavilions and bridges, all of which can be found on the extra large satellite image of the Palace Museum.
West Section and East Section of the Outer Court :
The Three Central or Main Halls with their side-chambers constitute the center of the Outer Court. This center is further flanked by two groups of buildings placed upon the two wings, the western outer line and the eastern outer line of the Palace.
The two wings are represented by the complex centered around the Hall of Literary Glory (Wen Hua Dian) in the East, and by the group of buildings of the Hall of Martial Spirit (Wu Ying Dian) in the West. Altogether, the Three Central Halls and the before mentioned Halls make up the main structures of the outer court. All other structures are subservient and of lesser importance.
Therefor, apart from the Three Main Halls on the Central Axis of the Palace, there are two more Palaces of the Outer Court.
Hidden somewhat out of sight, outside of the main ceremonial Supreme Harmony Square and away from the center, the Hall of Martial Valor (Wu Ying Dian) stands in the West beyond the West Gate of Prospering Harmony (Xihe Men), on the path north along the western Axis of the Imperial Palace. To the south and across from it stands the Hall of South Fragrance (Nanxun Dian) a place which used to be arranged as the working studios of the court painters and artisans. Behind the main Hall of Martial Valor stands the Jingsi Gong, a Hall which used to be seperated from the Hall of Martial Valor, but which was joined to the Hall of Martial Valor at a time after the abdication of the last Emperor, Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi. In 1914 AD the Hall of Martial Valor and adjoining buildings were renovated from their dilapidated state and turned into what would prove to be the first form of the (organization of the) Palace Museum, a National Museum of History for the new and struggling "First Republic of China", which after a brief presidency by Dr. Sun Yat Sen had been taken over through the power politics of the "Traitor General" Yuan Shikai. Notably, the interest of Yuan Shikai in the Hall was caused mainly that the Hall of Martial Valor had also served as the "Crowning Hall" for the peasant Li Shimin, who had overhrown the Ming Dynasty in 1644 AD only to have himself crowned a "One Day Fly" Emperor (He was dealt with by the Manchu within a year and deposed).
Since this renovation the Hall of Martial Valor has been joined to its adjoining Jingsi Gong.
Last but not least, the many subservient and lesser buildings found in- and around the outer court, all had their own functions too. In the case, many of the buildings of the central southern courtyard were taken up by the Confucian Scholars and Eunuchs who ran the central Government of the Emperor.
According to a well established geomantric tradition, the buildings of the complex on the western axis served a "Yang" role, and were therefor in use as the Place of creation and storage of the official Imperial Portraits of Emperors and their following as well as the location of the manly Hall of Martial Valor. Although in the early stages of the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD) this had been the Palace of the Emperor, during later times and certainly during the Qing Dynasty (1644 AD - 1911 AD) the main Halls were functioning as the Palaces Printing Press and offices.
For this reason one can now find the Palace Museum Exhibitions on ancient books and scrolls at this Hall, with many new items rotating through on a regular basis.
Naturally, balancing the "Yang" of the West, there was the "female", "earth" and "growing" aspect of "Yin" which was reflected in the fact that the Hall of Literary Glory was assigned the "in-active" role of the storage of the very documents printed in its "active" (Yang) counterpart in the West.
The Eastern buildings were further in use as a Center of Learning (hence, the Library) and as a Center of Government decision making and thought. The buildings used as the Offices of the Ministers of the Emperors Cabinet were housed to the south and across from the Library and learning center.
As for the name plaques and nameboards in the Outer Court, all of these were redone previous to October the 10th of 1913, when Yuan Shikai, formerly a Manchu General, formally took office in a ceremony at the Throne Hall of Supreme Harmony. As can still be seen around the outer court today, all name boards and signs are in one language; Chinese only. Beyond in the Inner Court the old name signs can still be found.