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Forbidden City 4__Destruction and Rebuilding
    2007-02-15 17:43:30     CRIENGLISH.com

Most of the buildings within the Forbidden City are made of wood. That makes them very easy to catch fire. There are over 50 fires on record during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The first fire occurred only one year after the Forbidden City was completed in 1420.

On May 9th, 1421, lightning struck three great ceremonial halls in the Forbidden City namely the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserved Harmony. The fires reduced the halls to ashes, spread to the treasury and apartments, killing a large number of men and women. Even the imperial throne was burnt to cinders.

Interesting to note that Master Hu, the keeper of the water clock had predicted this event down to the day and hour and the emperor had him imprisoned. If the prediction did not come true, the emperor would have him executed.

However, one hour before the event, the clockmaster swallowed poison and killed himself.

In 1440, that was 20 years after the completion of the palace, the three halls were rebuilt.

In 1557, another fire leveled a big part of the palace to the ground, including the three front halls. Restoration work took four years.

In 1597, one more fire burned down these halls again. This time it took them nearly 30 years to rebuild it.

The worst of all happened in 1644. Peasant uprising leader Li Zicheng who overthrew the Ming dynasty set fire to the palace when retreating. The fire almost burned the entire palace to ruins. Since then, it took several emperors over 100 years to rebuild it.

The most recent and destructive fire happened in 1923, during the reign of the last emperor Pu Yi.

At the night of June 26th, 1923, residents living nearby the palace found the Jianfu Garden in the northwest of the Forbidden City was on fire, which quickly spread to other buildings.

Although firefighters and police came to their rescue, they were stopped by gate guards, saying they didnt have an order from the emperor. So they waited.

Lots of people were sent to look for the emperor. It took about one and a half hours to find him, who still refused other people to enter the palace. With some hesitation, he called for a temporary meeting for this issue and finally let the firefighters in.

However, when the firemen arrived, the Jianfu Garden was almost completely gone. Even some old trees were burnt down.

Even more frustrating was that there was no running water inside the palace, while all the wells had been dry for years.

Helpless people decide to pump water from a river 400 meters away. Finally they found no way out but started to push down houses to stop the fire from spreading. The fire was not put out until about three days later.

The Jianfu Garden was built in 1740 as a place for recreation and entertainment. Excellent design of this garden won preference from emperor Qian Long. He put lots of his favorite antiques, paintings, porcelains, etc in there. But the fire had ruined all of them. Internal affairs official reported that the fire burned down 120 rooms, thousands of Buddha statues, paintings, and ancient books.

In August that year, officers of Internal Affairs began to clear the ruins.

As lots of gold statues were burnt down in the ashes, they decided to invite gold shops to compete for bid of clearing the site. A shop won the bid with 500,000 yuan and found over 17,000 taels of gold out of the ashes.

Emperor Puyi, or the last emperor of Qing Dynasty, who was still living in the Forbidden City at that time, suspected that the fire was started by the eunuchs who stole lots of antiques from the garden and wanted to destroy the evidence. Pu Yi was angry and decided to drive all of the eunuchs out of the Forbidden City.

Later the last emperor took great interest in tennis, and ordered to build a tennis court on the ruins.

In the year 2000, China Culture Relics Protection Foundation spent four million dollars on restoration of the Garden, which took another three years to finish.
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