Shenyang Imperial Palace
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The Shenyang Imperial Palace and Beijing's Forbidden City are the only imperial palaces in China. The first 3 emperors of the Qing dynasty lived at the imperial palace in Shenyang from 1625 to 1644. Shenyang was the early Qing capital but it was then still named Mukden. The palace is therefore also known as Mukden Palace. It was modeled after the Forbidden City yet it is much smaller (about 1/12th the size of the Forbidden City). Its architecture also incorporates some Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchu style elements. Altogether, the palace is comprised of around 20 courtyards. These are dispersed in three distinct sections that were built during different periods: the eastern section, middle section and western section. There are about 300 rooms in total that served various functions. Visitors will find priceless artworks and cultural relics displayed there such as paintings, calligraphy, pottery, sculptures and lacquerware.
After the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, the Qing rulers moved their official residence to Beijing. The palace in Shenyang wasn't abandoned then however. It was maintained as a regional palace under the name Fengtian Xinggong (the imperial palace for short stays away from the capital). More than a century later in 1780, the Qianlong Emperor had the palace expanded by adding the western section to it. Successive Qing rulers usually stayed there for some time each year. In 1955, it was converted into the Shenyang Palace Museum. The former palace and now museum is conveniently located right in the heart of the city. In 2004, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Shenyang (Liaoning province) and an absolute must-see for all visitors that are interested in Chinese culture and history.
The eastern section of the Shenyang Imperial Palace is the oldest of the three sections. It was built in 1625 during the reign of Nurhaci. The emperor performed his imperial duties from the Hall of Great Affairs (Dazheng Hall). The other ten pavilions in this section were allocated to the Eight Banners, which were the divisions into which the Manchu army (and society in general) was organized.
The middle section of the palace was completed in 1636 during the reign of Nurhaci's son Abahai. Its main buildings are the Daqing Gate, Chongzheng Hall, Phoenix Tower and Qingning Palace which are all in straight alignment from south to north. Abahai held court at Chongzheng Hall and lived with his concubines at Qingning Palace. The three-story Phoenix Tower in between the two palace halls was actually the tallest structure in the entire city at that time.
The western section was added to the palace during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. The main buidings of this section are a theater hall and stage, Jiayin Hall and the Wensu Pavilion. The latter served as a kind of library and contained one of seven copies of the Complete Collection of Four Treasures, the largest collection of books in Chinese history. Compiling such a vast collection of books had taken more than a decade from 1772 on. Only four of the original seven copies of this historic encyclopedia survived, some partially damaged. The surviving copies are now safely kept at the National Library of China in Beijing, the National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Gansu Library in Lanzhou and the Zhejiang Library in Hangzhou.