Feng Shui of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, today called the Palace Museum, is located in the northern city of Beijing (bei means north; jing means capitol). The capitol was moved there from Nanjing (nan= south) in 1403 to provide better protection against northern invaders. In 1421, the Forbidden City was completed.

It was so named because access to the area was barred to the average resident. Government officials and even some of the imperial family were not allowed to wander freely. This was a privilege only the emperor enjoyed.

Emperors were considered endowed with a “mandate from heaven” which meant that he was the direct link between heaven and earth. In fact, the throne where he would rule was considered the exact point where this occurred. When he ruled from here, his mandates were considered inspired and insightful and would not be questioned.

Therefore, he needed to rule from a place that supported and sustained such power. Here are just some of the Feng Shui aspects that were included in the Forbidden City plans:

  • The number 9 (or its multiple) is considered an auspicious number and is used frequently in Feng Shui applications even today. There are 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City. It sits on 72 acres. The most important buildings have 9 protective animals sitting on each corner eave. There are 9 brass water caldrons. To name a few.
  • The Forbidden City is situated on a central axis of north-south with the front door facing south. On that same axis, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven was eventually constructed to the south and looking north, the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. Interestingly, in 2008, the Olympic Park was built further north to extend this axis relevance.
  • There is a man-made river in front (Jingshui) which meanders in 180 and 90 degree turns. Water in front of a residence remains to be an auspicious feature.
  • There is a hill in the back called Coal Hill (Jingshan). It, too, is manmade (with coal) to create protection for the emperor and the palace.
  • The rigid Confucian symmetry in the front part of the Forbidden City where symmetry is the theme is juxtaposed by the organic Taoist garden in the back. Yin and yang, heaven and earth.

Integrating and planning for all these features explains why 18 years passed before it was completed. Building heaven on earth is clearly not an easy task.