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Palace (Gong)

The Chinese word for "palace" is gong. However, it may refer to anyone of several different meanings.

In the earliest Chinese writings it meant no more than an ordinary house. After the founding of the Qin Dynasty (221- 207 B. C.), gong came gradually to mean the group of buildings in which the emperor lived and worked. At about the same time, Chinese palaces grew ever larger in scale. The Efanggong of the First Emperor of Qin measured "5 li (2 1/2 km) from east to west and 1,000 paces from north to south". The Weiyanggong of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B. C.-24 A. D. ) had, within a periphery of 11 kilometres, as many as 43 halls and terraces. The Forbidden City of Beijing, which still stands intact and which served as the imperial palace for both Ming and Qing emperors (1368-1911) covers an area of 720,000 square metres and embraces many halls, towers, pavilions and studies measured as 9,900 bays. It is one of the greatest palaces of the world. In short, palaces grew into a veritable city and is often called gongcheng (palace city).

Apart from the palace, other abodes of the emperor are also called gong. The Yiheynan Park used to be the Summer Palace; the Mountain Resort at Chengde and the Huaqingchi thermal spa near Xi'an were both 2inggong or "palace on tour. " Then there is another type of gong called zhaigong, where the emperor prepared himself abstinence before he offered sacrifice at grand ceremonies. There is one such zhaigong on the grounds of Beijing's Temple of Heaven.

Inside a great gong, certain individual buildings may also be called gong. The Qing emperors used to live at Qianqinggong (Palace of Heavenly Purity) in the Forbidden City, whereas the living quarters of the empresses were at Kunninggong (Palace of Female Tranquility). The imperial concubines of various ranks inhabited the six gongs or palace quadrangles on either side of the central axis of the Forbidden City. When the monarchs or their spouses died, they were buried in digong (underground palaces ).

The name gong is also used for religious buildings of great dimensions. The Potala in Lhasa is a gong to the Chinese; the lame temple of Beijing is Yonghegong. The temples of Taoist priests are generally called sanginggong ( palace of triple purity).

For thousands of years, the word gong was reserved exclusively for naming imperial and religious buildings. With the passage of time and political changes, many of the old gongs have been opened to the general public for sightseeing. Furthermore, a number of buildings have been named gong or palace. For instance, Taimiao of the Imperial Ancestral Temple in Beijing has been renamed the "Working People's Palace of Culture". On West Chang'an Jie, a comparatively new building serves as the "Cultural Palace of National Minorities". Similar gongs or palaces have been built in many cities of the country for the cultural, scientific and recreational activities respectively for workers and children.  

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