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Hall of Preserving Harmony -- Baohedian of Forbidden City

Architecturally, this hall has no supporting pillars in its front part, something typical of Ming architecture. Baohedian, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, sits on the northern end of the three-tiered marble terrace, similar in style but a bit smaller than the Hall of Supreme Harmony and larger than the Hall of Central Harmony. It was first built in 1420, rebuilt in 1625 and renovated in 1765.

Announcing the function of the Hall of Preserving Harmony
In the Ming Dynasty, emperors usually change their clothes here before ceremonies of conferring empress or crown prince.

In the Qing Dynasty, banquets were given on New Year's Eve in honour of Mongolian princes and high-ranking officials. The Hall Preserving Harmony was used as a banquet hall to entertain the princes and envoys of the Mongolian and other nationalities on Lunar New Year's Even.

In 1789, middle of the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong removed Palace Examination, the highest level and final stage of the nationwide imperial examination system, from the Hall of Supreme Harmony to this hall. Emperors would read papers of the top ten candidates to honor them. it was the place for the imperial examinations held once every three years. Three hundreds scholars from all over the country came to this hall and took the exams that lasted three days and three nights.

Details of the imperial examination
The civil service exams in china started in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), and served the purpose of recruiting Confucian scholars to be ministers and high officials, but later it was suspended. The system resumed in the Tang Dynasty and lasted until 1905.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were three levels of exams: the county and prefectural level, the provincial level and the national level. The national level exam was presided over by the emperor himself. The three scholars who passed the exam with the best score would get honorable titles. They would have the honor to ride on horses through the streets and go through the central gate of the palace. This was deemed the greatest honor for scholars in the past.

Secrets of the Marble Ramp Carved with Cloud and Dragon Design (Yunlongshidiao)
This stone carving is part of the marble staircase at the back of the Hall of Preserving Harmony. It is carved with designs of clouds and nine dragons.

This was the biggest stone carving in the palace in the Ming Dynasty, and it was recarved during the reign of Qing emperor Qianlong. The stone slab is 16.75 meters long, 3.07 meters wide, 1.7 meters thick and weighs about 250 tons. It was quarried from Fangshan District, 70 kilometers southwest of Beijing, and the transportation required twenty thousand people. Can you imagine how they managed to carry such a guge stone all the way to the palace without modern means of transport? In winter they sank wells along the way, and poured water on the ground to make a road of ice. And in summer, they used rolling logs instead. The work at that time brought tremendous hardship to the laboring people.

In rainy days, visitors will have chance to see the spectacular scene of a thousand dragons draining water. There are 1,412 marble stone dragon heads under the columns of the three-tiered terrace on which the three main halls are seated. Chinese artisans smartly combined drainage system with architectural art. Once you get a chance to the Forbidden City, please notice the holes in dragons' mouths. However, the ones in the corners have no holes.  

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