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Notes on the Geography of China: The Grand Axis of Imperial Beijing: Photo 11

world pictures China: The Grand Axis of Imperial Beijing

We've passed through the Gate of Supreme Harmony and are now in the immense courtyard before the double-eaved, hip-roofed Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian). It's the largest wooden building in China, measuring 200 feet wide and 100 deep and high. Behind it are another two audience halls. Behind them is a gate leading to the Inner Court, where a similar trio of buildings once housed the Ming rulers.

The distinctive paving of the Imperial Way is clear here, although one can hardly imagine the shock that the old palace guards and eunuchs would feel if they could see today's throngs daring to walk upon it. The path leads to the triple tiers of a terrace, which extends north under the other two audience halls. In the center of the staircases ascending the terrace, the three white slabs of a spirit staircase can be seen. Nobody ever touched these slabs, not even the emperor, who was carried over them in a chair.

The hall has one of the many Forbidden City throne rooms. They all face south, a direction associated so strongly with good things that one of the emperor's titles was "the face that is turned toward the south." There's color symbolism, too, although you may have to use some imagination. The dark courtyard paving is theoretically black, the marble terrace is white, the walls of the hall are red, its roof is yellow, and the sky of course is blue.

The name Supreme Harmony refers to a concordance of heaven and earth and implies a devotion to good government. Like a football stadium, however, this space was used only rarely and then only for the most important occasions, such as those accompanying the winter solstice, the New Year, the emperor's birthday, and victory announcements.

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