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Six Eastern and Western Palaces and Outer Eastern Palaces

The six eastern palaces and six western palaces, located on the east and west sides of the three rear palaces respectively, was the residences of imperial concubines. With a surrounding wall each palace forms a compound of 2,500 square meters (3,000 square yards). The main halls stand in the middle and the side-chambers are in the east and west. The hall in the front yard was used for formal ceremonies, and the hall in the backyard served as the bedchamber. The architecture of the 12 palaces, connected by passageways, is more or less the same.

Xiliugong (Six Western Palaces)

Xiliugong (Six Western Palaces) lies north of Yangxindian (Hall of Mental Cultivation), three palaces on each side of an alley running from north to south. The complex was originally built with the Forbidden City. The group of palaces includes Yongshougong (Palace of Eternal Longevity), Yikungong (Palace of the Queen Consort), Chuxiugong (Palace for Gathering Elegance), Taijidian (Hall of the Supreme Pole), Changchungong (Palace of Eternal Spring) and Xianfugong (Palace of Universal Happiness). Every palace has its own courtyard, the front hall and the rear hall, and annexes. They were the residences for emperors' women. Since in feudal China, emperors were polygamists, it was exaggerated that an emperor had 3,000 wives. Since polygamied emperors usually had at least dozens of ladies, these palaces were necessary to lodge them.

Chuxiugong (Palace of Gathering Elegance) is the most famous one among the six since the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi lived here for a long period. When hierarch Cixi was in power, although she was behind the throne, she spent huge amount of money to decorate the palace, making it the most luxurious one to celebrate her 50th birthday in 1884. Now it is exhibited to visitors same as that time.

Outside on the stone stands, there are a couple of bronze dragons and a couple of bronze deer. Inside, original delicate pieces of furniture and decorations now on display are all original pieces when Cixi used.

Dongliugong (Six Eastern Palaces)

Dongliugong (Six Eastern Palaces) consists of Jingrengong (Palace of Great Benevolence), Chengqiangong (Palace of Celestial Favour), Yonghegong (Palace of Eternal Harmony), Jingyanggong (Palace of Great Brilliance), Zhongcuigong (Palace of Purity) and Yanxigong (Palace of Lasting Happiness).

The palace complex stands on the east side of the Inner Court. Most of the palaces were restored in the 17th century. These palaces were also the living quarters of the imperial concubines. Now mostly of them have been turned into exhibition halls where Chinese treasures used to be collected by the imperial family are displayed to the public.

Jingrengong (Palace of Great Benevolence) now holds exhibition of more than 500 pieces Bronze wares of ancient China with other two halls, Zhaigong and Chengsudian. Visitors will see magnificent bronze wares displayed there.

In Chengqiangong (Palace of Celestial Favour) and Yonghegong (Palace of Eternal Harmony), now the Pottery and Porcelain Exhibition Hall, visitors will be privileged to appreciate pottery and porcelain wares dated from the Neolithic Age to the Qing Dynasty.

Jingyanggong (Palace of Great Brilliance) has turned into an exhibition hall displaying lacquer wares, jade wares, stonewares, glasswares and metal wares etc., from the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is now Ming and Qing Crafts Exhibition Hall.

History Information

Empress Dowager Cixi once lived as a concubine in Chuxiugong (Palace of Gathering Elegance), one of the six western palaces, and her son, Emperor Tongzhi was born right here.

The six eastern palaces and six western palaces was restored several times during the Qing Dynasty. To celebrate Empress Dowager Cixi's 50th birthday in 1884, it was completely refurbished at a fabulous cost of silver. She moved in on her birthday and resided here for ten years.

The palace today retains the shape of that renovation. The "Eulogy of Longevity" was presented to Cixi by two scholars on her 50th birthday and inscribed on the wall, which can be seen clearly even today.

Present Palace

The six eastern palaces are now used as exhibition halls for traditional Chinese arts such as bronze and porcelain.

The outer Eastern Palaces

In a separate enclosure further east were palaces called "the outer Eastern Palaces", which were specially built for the retired Emperor Qianlong and later inhabited by Cixi, the, Empress Dowager, before and after her 60th birthday.

Qianlong was the fourth Qing Emperor and reigned from 1736 to 1795. When he was 85 years old, he decided to abdicate and offer power to his son. Emperor Qianlong died in 1798 at the age of 89.

This group of building is independent of the other parts of the imperial palace; however, the general plan is made exactly after that on the central axis. The main building in this area are Huangjidian(Hall of Imperial supremacy), Ningshougong (Palace of Tranquil Longevity) in the front part; Yangxindian (Hall for Cultivating Charater), Leshoutang (Hall of Joyful Longevity) and yihexuan(pavilion of Sustained Harmony)in the back part. At present, these halls are used as an exhibition of treasures.

Reference to: Nine Dragon Screen

At the entrance to the outer Eastern palaces, there is a Nine-dragon Screen, erected in 1773 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong as a decoration. 

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