In The Forbidden City

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       March 11, 2015


Author  Chiu Kwong-Chiu, edited by Nancy S Steinhardt, translated by Ben Wang

ISBN:                 9780989377607
Publisher:         China Institute in America
Release Date:    


This exquisitely presented history of The Forbidden City, the place of power in China for more than six centuries, allows us to discover and understand a time in China’s history which is no longer. Although The Forbidden City is now a public museum, its history is as complex as the palace itself.

Created by the Design and Cultural Studies Workshop in Hong Kong to keep alive the traditions and history of the Chinese culture in these modern times, the translation into English a has added a further dimension to the mysterious and almost overwhelming culture that is China, ancient and modern, allowing a better and clearer understanding of a nation which has, over time, made such a significant mark on many aspects of the modern world.

Beginning at the Meridian gate, the entrance to the Forbidden City you travel along an exquisitely illustrated time line to the gate of the Divine Prowess at the back, mingling with all and sundry as the history unfolds before you.

The events within the Forbidden City have always been shrouded in mystery, encouraged for many reasons and also largely contributed to by the fact that the Emperor and his Court lived there and this was indeed the seat of immense power.

Moved to its present location in the Third Ming Dynasty the Palace took ten years to design and four years to build. Based on the Feng Shui principals the Palace runs along the Central Axis or the Imperial path which runs from North to South, giving the building immense power. As this was considered such a powerful spiritual force, the imperial ruler’s decided this could only be harnessed by the Emperor.

The past is fascinating and is a fascinating place to play, which you can do as the years unfold through the medium of storytelling and illustration, but not just any illustrations.

Each component has intricate details, some in miniature which can be discovered by using the little the magnifying glass found at the back of the book. Suddenly the details become a crowd and the crowd make up the many aspects of that segment of history. The Last grand Wedding Ceremony is one such l illustration which comes to life as the Court celebrates the wedding of Emperor Guangxu, held in 1889 on the 27th day of the lunar month.

Each courtyard or section of the Forbidden Palace is visited with your tour guide, a cheeky little cat, who as cats were plentiful throughout the palace, certainly knows its way about the corridors and chambers, often interrupted by various Emperors and other people as they have their say about their life and the events which took place over the centuries.


Fascinating and interesting this incredibly intricate and delicate presentation of a history which has influenced the world is unique and should be enjoyed over and over again then put away and revisited over the years, as each time you open the pages more will be revelled in the mysterious manner the Orient has always managed to perfection.