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2023

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Architectural Treasures

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According to the year of construction, the buildings of the Shenyang Imperial Palace are divided into complexes in the eastern, middle, and western sections.
 

The eastern section mainly includes Dazheng Hall, Shiwang Pavilions, East and West Zouyue Pavilions, the Imperial Carriage Depository, and other buildings that served as sites for large-scale ceremonies of the Later Jin (Qing) regime and the Eight Banners for the daily affairs of the ruling. After the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing, the emperors made eastward inspections to Mukden and held large-scale banquets and other events here. The complexes of the eastern section are the most representative and typical group of complexes in the Shenyang Imperial Palace.
 

According to the period of construction, the middle section can be divided into several main parts, including the palace halls before the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing, the Temporary Palace, the Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors, and others after the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing. The Great Qing Gate, Chongzheng Hall, Phoenix Tower, and the Five Palaces on the central axis were the main venues for the political activities and daily life of the emperors and their concubines in the Mukden Palace before the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing. Dongsuo and Xisuo, as the additional palaces newly built for Emperor Qianlong in his eastward inspections and ruling affairs, show typical features of imperial garden. Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors, located to the east of the Great Qing Gate, consists of parts including the Main Hall, the Side Halls, and the Gate. It is an architectural structure with special functions in the architectural region of the Shenyang Imperial Palace.
 

The complexes in the western section were built between 1781 and 1783 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, including the Performing Stage and Jiayin Hall for banquets and operas during the Emperor’s eastward inspections and stays at the Mukden Temporary Palace, and the Wensu Pavilion where the Siku Quanshu (lit. ‘Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature’) was collected. With an overall natural and elegant style, the western section of the Shenyang Imperial Palace features architectural complexes with intense and unique cultural flavors and leisurely charm.
 

Dazheng Hall and Shiwang Pavilions

Constructed between 1625 and 1626, Dazheng Hall and Shiwang Pavilions are the earliest architectural complexes built in the Shenyang Imperial Palace, leveraging the architectural form to vividly reproduce the Eight Banners System.
 

Established by Nurhaci, the Eight Banners System was an administrative system integrating political, military, and production functions. In 1601, Nurhaci created the Yellow, White, Red, and Blue Banners, and in 1615, added the Bordered Yellow, Bordered White, Bordered Red, and Bordered Blue Banners, thereby officially creating the Eight Banners System. During the Later Jin dynasty, the Eight Banners had strict regulations on military marching, combating, and hunting, where the Khans would be at the center, with four banners on each of the left and right wings led by the Left and Right Wing Princes.
 

Dazheng Hall was the venue for major events such as the enthronement of the new emperor, the issuance of new decrees, new year celebrations, triumphant ceremonies, and state banquets in the Mukden Palace. Sitting on a 1.5-meter-high sumeru platform, it has a total height of 18 meters, and has an octagonal double-eaves pyramidal roof with heavy timber structure featuring mortise and tenon joints which are connected without using a single nail in its interior or exterior. The roof of the hall is made of yellow glazed tiles with green edges, and is topped with a colored glazed finial. Meanwhile, the architecture itself has eight brick-less walls, each with six partition doors, and on each of the two pillars in the central bay is a golden dragon coiling towards the flaming pearls on the beams and purlins. The under-eave wooden decorations consist of not only the traditional dougong (bracket sets) of the Han Chinese ethnic group, but also features of Tibetan Buddhist architecture such as beehive purlins and animal faces and lotus petal patterns. Also, the ceiling of the hall shows a caisson with dragon statue, exquisite decorations of dragons and phenoxies, Sanskrit characters, and Mandarin Chinese characters fu and shou (lit. ‘happiness’ and ‘longevity’). Its style and decorations integrate the architectural styles of ethnic groups including the Han, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan, demonstrating its remarkable historical and artistic values and distinctive features as a landmark in Shenyang’s history.
 

Shiwang Pavilions consist of ten pavilions that are arranged on the eastern and western sides of the central axis in the front of the Dazheng Hall, with each pair facing the other, forming a pattern of swallow wings. According to the order of the Eight Banners in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, from north to south, in the eastern side of the central axis are the Left Wing Prince Pavilion, Bordered Yellow Banner Pavilion, White Banner Pavilion, Bordered White Banner Pavilion, and Blue Banner Pavilion, while in the western side are the Right Wing Prince Pavilion, Yellow Banner Pavilion, Red Banner Pavilion, Bordered Red Banner Pavilion, and Bordered Blue Banner Pavilion. Before the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing, the pavilions were the offices and a place for ceremonies of the officials of the Eight Banners, which is an architectural manifestation of the interconnected office areas of the ruler and officials in the early years of the Qing Dynasty.


Great Qing Gate

Built during the reign of Tiancong of the Later Jin Dynasty (1627-1636), the Great Qing Gate is a building with a five-bay front width, a flush gable roof, and front and rear porches, serving as the main gate of the Great Inner Imperial Palace. During the emperor’s eastward inspections, it was also used for ceremonial activities such as archery and martial contests, and events where officials express gratitude for the emperor. The roof of the building is made of yellow glazed tiles with green edges, and has yellow bottoms for the ridge, vertical ridges, gable eave boards, and other architectural components, while the relief patterns of moving dragons, treasured beads or pearls, auspicious plants, and others are either green or blue. The northern and southern central bays and the two neighboring bays have railing doors, whereas the two branch rooms have mullioned windows with three three-piece mullion sets. The baotou beam under the eaves which plays a structural role is carved into a three-dimensional dragon shape, with the dragon’s head protruding from the eave columns and the dragon’s body crossing the porch, connecting the eave columns with the hypostyle columns. The four corners of the gables are inlaid with five-colored glazed porch heads, mainly in yellow and blue with red, white, green, and other colors in between. They also show propitious deep relief patterns such as cloud-shrouded dragons, flying phoenixes, auspicious wild animals, and exotic flowers. 


Chongzheng Hall

Built during the reign of Tiancong of the Later Jin Dynasty (1627-1636), the Chongzheng Hall has a flush gable roof commonly seen in northeastern China. The roof of the building is made of yellow glazed tiles with green edges, and has colored glazes for its ridge, vertical ridges, able eave boards, gables, and other components. The baotou beam is carved into a form of leaping three-dimensional dragon, and there is no ceiling to the interior of the hall, fully exposing the structures of the roof beam. It was here that Huang Taiji held court audiences, received diplomatic envoys, and held imperial celebrations of various scales. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, a sundial and jialiang, a device for measuring volume standard, were added to the front of the hall, symbolizing the country’s unification and prosperity.
 

The colorfully glazed corbels at both ends of the gables are in the form of four vertically connected sumeru platform, where their three sides are inlaid with colored glazed pieces in alternating colors including yellow, green, and blue. The upper and lower cymas are in the form of the up-facing and bottom-up lotus flowers, whereas in the contracted waist, from bottom to up are respectively qilin the mythical animal, rising dragons, rosettes, and animal faces, coupled with flames, auspicious plants, and other patterns.


Phoenix Tower

Phoenix Tower was built during the reign of Tiancong of the Later Jin Dynasty (1627-1636). Located to the north of the Chongzheng Hall, it is the gateway to the residence palaces on a high platform. It is a three-storied pavilion-style brick-timber structure with three-layered eaves and a gable-end hip roof. As the tallest building in Shenyang in the Qing Dynasty, it is famous as one of the eight scenic spots in Shenyang for its strategic location to see the morning sun. Huang Taiji and his concubines read, relaxed, and dined here. After the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing, it was used to collect the Commandment and Memoir, the imperial seals of emperors in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, and portraits of the daily activities of the emperors and concubines of the Qing Dynasty.
 

The tower’s top offers a view of the entire city. As a result, after the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing, when the emperors arrived here in their eastward inspections, they would ascend the Phoenix Tower to view the scenery and chant sentimental literary pieces. Up to now, the tower still retains a black-lacquered gold-character tablet of poems made according to Emperor Qianlong’s handwriting. On the lintel of the central bay on the first story is a tablet inscribed with ziqi donglai (lit. ‘Purple Air Comes from the East’, a propitious omen) and dragon pattern. Handwritten by Emperor Qianlong during his second eastward inspection, it symbolizes the rising fortunes of the Qing Dynasty started in the east.
 

The colored painting of “auspicious grass of three treasured beads” on the inner eaves on the third story of the Phoenix Tower has a simple layout, and is unique among palace buildings before the Qing Dynasty settled the capital in Beijing. There were no jinfang lines (main frame lines to separate each part) on the beams and purlins, and on the center of the wooden structure, there were only three treasured beads, coupled with half a treasured bead on the inside of each of the ends, setting a unified theme for the painting. These treasured beads were gold-flaked. Around the treasured beads are blue and green colors painted into coiled grass and group flower patterns against a crimson background. The colored painting pattern shows a highly fervent and simple hue, and has a strong architectural and decorative style of the Manchu and Tibetan ethnic groups. 


Qingning Palace

Qingning Palace, built during the reign of Tiancong of the Later Jin Dynasty (1627-1636), is a building with a five-bay-width front, a flush gable roof, and front and rear porches. With a gate open in the eastern side bay, it is commonly known as the Pocket House, and in it is a kang (a traditional heated platform for general living, working, entertaining, and sleeping) connecting the southern, western, and northern sides of the palace, whereas in the middle is a place for shamans’ sacrificial ceremonies. In addition, Huang Taiji handled ruling affairs and held banquets to entertain important guests here. The Eastern Branch Room was the residence of Huang Taiji and his empress Zhezhe. In 1643, Huang Taiji “passed away without any illness while sitting” in the East Chamber of Warmth at the age of 52. In the courtyard facing the gate of Qingning Palace towers the Sauron pole, a divine pole with a height of nearly four meters and an object of worship during a sacrifice for heaven held in the palaces of the Qing Dynasty. 
 

The residence area in which the Qingning Palace is located sits on a platform with a height of 3.8 meters, as opposed to the Chongzheng Hall built on a flat ground, resulting in a situation where the residence area is located higher than the ruling palace. This is an architectural form following the Manchu customs in which tribal leaders lived on higher grounds in the mountainous areas.


Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors

Built in 1781 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors consists of buildings including the Main Hall, the Eastern and Western Halls, and the Gate. It is the only group of buildings with entirely yellow roofs in the Shenyang Imperial Palace, and originally the Taoist Jingyou Palace (commonly known as the Three Officials Temple). During Emperor Qianlong’s third eastward inspection to Mukden in between late September and October 1778, to restore the system of the Temple of Imperial Ancestors, he ordered to “renovate the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Earth in Mukden and relocate the Temple of Imperial Ancestors to the east of the Great Qing Gate.”
 

In 1783, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the Qing imperial court sent the posthumous royal seals and royal booklets to the Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors for the first time, including those of the five emperors and eleven empresses during the reigns of Nurhaci, Huang Taiji, Emperor Shunzhi, Emperor Kangxi, and Emperor Yongzheng. Since then, such a regulation formulated during the reign of Emperor Qianlong had been observed by the successors from Emperor Jiaqing to Emperor Guangxu, with posthumous royal seals and royal booklets newly made and delivered for collection with reverence in the Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors, whenever there was a change in regents. In 1888, during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, the posthumous royal seals and royal booklets were sent for the last time to the Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors. At present, the Mukden Temple of Imperial Ancestors collected a total of 32 sets of posthumous royal seals and royal booklets.


List of Emperors of the Qing Dynasty

Nurhaci (Taizu of Qing; Tianming), Huang Taiji (Taizong of Qing; Tiancong and Chongde), Fulin (Shizu of Qing; Shunzhi), Xuanye (Shengzu of Qing; Kangxi), Yinzhen (Shizong of Qing; Yongzheng), Hongli (Gaozong of Qing; Qianlong), Yongyan (Renzong of Qing; Jiaqing), Minning (Xuanzong of Qing; Daoguang), Yizhu (Wenzong of Qing; Xianfeng), Zaichun (Muzong of Qing; Tongzhi), Zaitian (Dezong of Qing; Guangxu), Puyi (Xuantong).


Dongsuo

Built between 1746 and 1748 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, Dongsuo is located to the east of the Chongzheng Hall, and from the south to the north are the Glazed Palace Gate, the Ornamental Archway, the Yihe Hall, and the Jiezhi Palace, respectively. It was the temporary palace of the empress dowager accompanying an emperor on an eastward inspection. According to the customs of the Qing Dynasty, when the empress dowager was living here, some ceremonial activities were held here, one of which that is noteworthy was the emperor, before heading to the Chongzheng Hall and accepting the acclamations from his ministers, should lead the princes, dukes, and ministers to Dongsuo and offer their greetings to the empress dowager on the morning of the completion of the grand mausoleum sacrificial ceremony.
 

Yihe Hall is a single-eave building with a gable and hip roof, and a central bay with front and rear gates. In the hall, there are kang near the eastern and western gables, a carved partition separating the central bay and side bays, and a throne in the middle. There is also a pair of couplets that read, “Happiness congeals like the Eastern Sea, adding the calculations of immortal fungus. Auspice surrounds the Western Pool, increasing the longevity like that of cranes,” which was written by Emperor Qianlong to wish for happiness and longevity for the empress dowager.
 

Jiezhi Palace is a building with a five-bay-wide front and a flush gable roof. In it, there are beds and curtains, and a pair of couplets that read, “With ancient commandments learned, good sounds sustain. By nourishing the spirit, tremendous fortunes befall,” which was written by Emperor Qianlong. The three rooms in the middle are open bays. The Western Branch Room is furnished with beds, seats, and other furniture, and was where the empress dowager rests and receives the emperor or ministers who are close to her, whereas the Eastern Branch Bay was used as a chamber for warmth.


Xisuo

Built between 1746 and 1748 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, Xisuo is located to the west of the Chongzheng Hall, and from south to north are the Glazed Palace Gate, the Ornamental Archway, the Diguang Hall, the Baoji Palace, and the Jisi Room, respectively. It was a temporary palace for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty to stay in Mukden during their eastward inspections. Built in a typical “official” style in the mid-Qing Dynasty, the buildings of Xisuo are very different from the palaces with strong ethnic features built during the early years of the Shenyang Imperial Palace.
 

As a single-eave building with a gable and hip roof, the Diguang Hall was the place where the emperors of the Qing Dynasty handled ruling and military affairs in their stays during their eastward inspections. After passing the corridors on both sides of the Diguang Hall, one will reach the Baoji Palace, the residence palace of the emperor. Connected with the corridor of the Baoji Palace, the Jisi Room was the residence of the accompanying concubines of the emperor during his eastward inspections. It has a continuous-span round-ridged roof, and is partitioned like a pound sign, with each room serving as the bedroom, study, Buddhist hall, restroom, and other functional rooms of the concubines.


Wensu Pavilion

Wensu Pavilion was built between 1782 and 1783 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, and is a three-story building that seems like a two-story building from the exterior, imitating the architectural form of the Tianyi Pavilion in Ningbo. Each story was furnished with beds, writing desks, thrones, long tables for incense burners, palace fans with plumes, red sandalwood kang table, table for guqin, square stools, hanging scrolls of painting or calligraphy, and others. The pavilion is named after sujian qiuben (lit. ‘going against the stream to seek its origin’) taken from the Book of Poetry, and was one of the seven pavilions for collecting the Siku Quanshu of the Qing Dynasty. Divided into four bibliographic categories of Confucian classics, histories, miscellaneous schools, and collections, the Siku Quanshu has collected over 79,000 volumes in more than 3,400 varieties of books, making it the largest series of books preserved from the history of China.
 

The roof, walls, doors, and windows of the Wensu Pavilion are mostly black, white, blue, and green in color. The colored painting patterns were selected from the simple and elegant themes of the books, which formed a clear-cut contrast with the other buildings in the palace with red and gold as the main colors. The use of colors is mainly based on the theory of five elements. As a book-collecting building fears fire disasters the most, gold and red colors symbolizing fire were used in this building as little as possible. On the other hand, black as a symbol of water sees its presence in black tiles of the Wensu Pavilion, with the intention of suppressing fire with water.

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