Life of an emperor


Life of an emperor

Since the construction of the Forbidden City in 1420 the emperors were installed in the inner court of this palace. Although safe from the risks of the city the emperors were also prisoners of the palace, prisoners in the sense that the protocol could not allow them to leave, the uses either. This cloistered life, few people would have wanted, in the end, but these emperors have ... well despite them.


It is a priori the great role of the Emperor, but in reality he did not reign so much. Of course it depends on the periods and characters, some leaders were firmer than others and the story brought a lot of torment, but in practice an emperor reigned but did not rule. The government was a charge of the six ministries that were called "Liu bu", but also the Privy Council of the Emperor and the Council of State (from 1729). Bureaucracy was important in feudal China, which added many administrative layers to the organization of the country. Moreover, within the forbidden city, the group of eunuchs represented a formidable leadership force able to oppose the ministers themselves.

At the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth eunuchs were at the peak of their glories, their powers went so far as to influence international decisions and limiting shipments abroad or, conversely, by promoting exchanges with a given people. This power was reduced under the last dynasty.

Divine Mandate

Unlike other civilizations the Chinese have never believed in the divine essence of their leaders, at least not directly. While the Sun King, Louis XIV, claimed to be descended from God and the ancient Egyptians saw in their king (who is called Pharaoh) a descendant of the Sun-god, the Chinese know that their emperors is a simple man, but who received a mandate from Heaven to direct them. The sky was the main deity of the Chinese pantheon, and since ancient times it was called "Son of Heaven". (Tianzi in Chinese).

The emperor therefore had the right to rule the country in the name of Heaven, he had a "heavenly mandate" (Tianming in Chinese). The popular expression was that if the Emperor's behavior was incompatible with his office, Heaven would recover his mandate and give it to another man. In practice, on Earth, we call it a change of dynasty. But for the people, this new emperor was just as legitimate as the previous one.

Of course, it was a general idea, but depending on the times of the history of China, the population could very well reject the new leader.

Conjugal life

The traditional pattern of the imperial family is no different from that of all Chinese during feudalism. What characterizes it is polygamy, a widespread practice of peasant lands to the gold of the imperial palace. Thus the emperors had a first wife who was the empress, it may be called the official wife, and one or more concubines (the "secondary" wives). The empress was named "Huang hou" and the concubines "fei".

The Empress had an important role in the life of the Forbidden City, and according to her relationship with her husband she could take the ascendancy and get responsibilities in the management of the empire that she should not have had . This role was then increased tenfold if the emperor died, and she generally obtained the regency of the Empire. In the same way the choice of a concubine was primordial, he had to follow a certain protocol. Thus during the dynasty Qing the wives were chosen from the Manchu nobility, the original territory of the dynasty.

The number of concubines was not limited, generally it went from a dozen to a hundred women. Between 1662 and 1723 the Emperor Kangxi had 20 girls and 35 boys, a record. In addition, and as in other civilizations, the staff of the Forbidden City were essentially eunuchs.

Rites of love

Whether with a concubine or with the empress, the sexual act of the emperor had to follow a certain ritual. This codification was intended to record the intimate relationship in order to legitimize any heirs. Thus, once the act had been consummated, the Emperor had to make a small cough, which was captured by a eunuch who was standing near the window of the room. It was the signal for him to mark on his tablets the date of the act.

When the empress was in the bed of the emperor the protocol was lightened but if it was a concubine, the emperor had to make his choice through the presentation of their names on small plates, at the end of the evening meal. The lucky one - if you will - was then summoned, washed, scented and taken to the imperial bed. Curiosity, when one of the two lovers were present in the bed, the entrance and the exit of the other was done by the bottom of the bed, under the covers.

Emperors and the arts

The Chinese civilization is one of the earliest in the world, it shares this state of affairs with, for example, ancient Egypt or Mesopotamian civilizations. But what particularly characterizes it is its capacity to discover techniques, materials, which one does not discover in Europe until much later. The Chinese discovered paper, powder, fireworks, reflexology, printing, and so on.

This is probably related to the fact that this people turned quickly to the arts, the Chinese discovering the art of painting, writing, composing music. The emperor being considered a perfect being, he must have known all these arts, but according to historians the role of depository of the artistic spirit of his people did not need to be constrained: The emperors Chinese were, in their large majority, literate people, in love with beautiful letters and painters in their hours.

In the forbidden city several pavilions were devoted to art. For example, it is in the pavilion of the military prowess, in the western part of the Western external annexes, which were printed literary and poetic works. These works were often of little value, but we still note the very good poems of Qianlong, one of the sovereigns who lived in this palace. Some of them are preserved there.

The emperors collected the works of art, each emperor adding works to those of his predecessor. Thus was formed a large collection that was later split: Part was taken to the palace museum in Formosa (Taiwan) during the flight of Chinese Republicans, another was stolen during the Boxer Rebellion .But enough coins remain in the forbidden city to justify its name of "palace museum", as say the Chinese.

Qianlong Library

The belvedere of literary depth, in the Eastern external annexes, housed the library of Qianlong ("Siku", in Chinese). It contained more than ten thousand works distributed, according to the ancient classification of Chinese books, into four depots or four sections: classical, historical, philosophical works, and varied literature. Qianlong published Confucian texts, historical accounts, and so on.

In order to spread the knowledge, Qianlong had copies made of his library, and he had a catalog of his works published, which he published to the greatest number. There were 6, distributed as follows:

  • At "Yuanmingyuan", the former Beijing Summer Palace. It was destroyed by the French-English expeditionary force in 1860
  • In Jehol, the current Chengde, at the time summer residence of the Court
  • In Mukden, currently the city of Shenyang, cradle of the Manchu dynasty
  • The other three were scattered in various cities

Today, most of these books are available at the National Library in Beijing.

Kangxi's work

The Emperor Kangxi was also a great protector of the arts. It was on these orders that many explanatory texts were compiled in a single book that contained 49,000 Chinese characters. It is considered to be the largest dictionary of the time in the world. This book is named after its promoter, the "Kangxi Zidian".

It was printed for the first time in 1716. In 1725 another book was published, the "Gujin tushu jicheng". It was the largest illustrated Chinese encyclopedia.

See also:

Discover the forbidden city

Architecture of the forbidden city

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