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Palace of Gathering Elegance (Chuxiugong)

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Palace of Gathering Elegance, Forbidden City
Palace of Gathering Elegance, Forbidden City

Originally built in 1420, Chuxiugong, the Palace of Gathering Elegance, is one of the Six Western Palaces in the inner court of the Forbidden City. It was where emperors’ wives lived in the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is famous among the Six Western Palaces, since Empress Dowager Cixi had always lived here until she was granted the title of Worthy Lady Lan. When she was 50 years old, she moved back to this palace and spent 630,000 taels of silver rebuilding it.

In fact, Empress Dowager Cixi could have lived in any of the palaces in the Forbidden City in her later years, since she had held the sovereign power of the country through the "Xinyou Palace Coup" in 1861. However, she decided to live in the Palace of Gathering Elegance and spent a great amount of money renovating it. The reason is the Palace of Gathering Elegance was the place where she realized her fortune. Cixi didn’t have high status in the palace until 1856 when she born Emperor Xianfeng a son who later became Emperor Tongzhi in the Palace of Gathering Elegance. In the feudal society of China, mothers were prized for their sons. When Tongzhi ascended to the throne, Cixi legitimately became the Empress Dowager.

The present Palace of Gathering Elegance still keeps its appearance as it was on Cixi's 50th birthday. There is a pair of bronze dragons in the west and a pair of bronze deer in the east at the foot of the steps outside the Palace of Gathering Elegance. It is the only palace with dragons in the Six Eastern Palaces and Six Western Palaces. According to rules in ancient China, dragons could only be placed in the emperor’s living areas. However, dragon sculptures were placed outside the Palace of Gathering Elegance, which reflected both Cixi’s great power at that time and her ambition for more.

The Palace of Gathering Elegance is the palace with the most stories and content for visitors. As well as  the sculpture of the dragons and deer outside, Xinuange (West Warmth Chamber), the sleeping-chamber of Empress Dowager Cixi, is also worth visiting. Although the furniture and decorations are not those actually used by Cixi, they are genuine relics of the Qing Dynasty. The wife of Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, also lived in Palace of Gathering Elegance.

Suifu Hall of Palace of Gathering Elegance was made into the royal telephone office. Ancient style telephones were set up in the hall for visiting. In April, 1910, Emperor Puyi installed 10 exchange and 6 private telephones boards in the Forbidden City. It is the earliest known record of telephone use in an imperial palace in the Chinese history.

Lijingxuan (Pavilion of Beautiful Scenery), in the rear court of the Palace of Gathering Elegance, is now the exhibition area for ‘Puyi’s Life in the Palace. It depicts a scene of when Emperor Puyi had a meal there.

 Go to the Next Attraction: Hall of Mental Cultivation 

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