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Notes on the Geography of China: The Grand Axis of Imperial Beijing: Photo 23

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The last of the three audience halls is the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). It lies at the center of the Forbidden City and was the chief audience hall, not only for envoys and vassals but for the regular audiences held for officials on the 5th, 15th, and 25th of each lunar month. A Dutch ambassador in 1795 was served a banquet here with more than 50 courses, spoiled perhaps by the ambassador's noting that the servants gaped at his big nose and blue eyes.

The axis continues beyond this view to the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen), which leads to the Inner Court or Great Interior (Da Nei). This Inner Court is dominated by three palaces. Like the audience halls, they comprise a symmetrical pair of two large, rectangular structures separated by a smaller, square one. (They're so similar to the audience halls that a novice can hardly tell them apart.) Behind the palaces is the Imperial Rear Garden, which extends to the Forbidden City's north gate.

The flanking areas on the east and west sides of the Inner Court are occupied by a profusion of palaces on a more intimate scale than the grand public spaces we've seen so far. A few are open. A few appear in the next file.

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