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Notes on the Geography of China: The Grand Axis of Imperial Beijing: Photo 26

world pictures China: The Grand Axis of Imperial Beijing

We've passed the three palaces and rear garden to pass through to the north gate, the Gate of Martial Spirit (Shenwumen). This gate, on the unpropitious north side of the city, was rarely used until the very end of the imperial period. The dowager empress Cixi, however, used it to flee the city on the approach of foreign troops in 1900, and after her death in 1908 it became the working entrance of the Forbidden City.

The sign is modern and reads "Museum of the Old Palace" (Gugong bowuyuan). It's a handy reminder that the Forbidden City was left blank on tourist maps until about 1900 and was not opened to the public until 1925. The Ming Tombs and the Temple of Heaven were similarly off-limits during the imperial period. It's interesting because tourists--Chinese and foreign--have visited Beijing for a long time, but the high points of 18th and 19th century tours scarcely register for today's tourists, who see things that tourists of the past never saw.

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