Jade Spring Mountain

The Walk of Forbidden City

Palace records are similarly fastidious in reference to the shipment of fresh lychees to North China from the south. Every Chinese high school pupil learns the story of how the Xuanzong emperor of the Tang dynasty had lychees transported to the capital of Changan (present day Xian) by means of the imperial pony express system, to satisfy the cravings of the famed pudgy concubine Yang Guifei. In the Qing dynasty, advanced naval technology made it possible for entire lychee trees to be placed on boats in the coastal province of Fujian and shipped by sea to Peking. Palace documents detail the number of boats dispatched, the number of trees on each boat, and the number of lychees growing on each tree. The records also tell us how many lychees were consumed in the palace each day, as well as the number of lychees the emperor presented to each concubine and minister, all of whom are named. These statistics provide historians with a tool for determining which concubines and officials were enjoying the emperor's favor at any particular time.


Drinking water for the palace was drawn from a spring in Jade Spring Mountain (Yuquan Shan) in the north-western suburbs and was transported to the palace daily. Water used for sanitation, fire prevention and construction in the palace was supplied by the River of Golden Water (Jinshui He) that runs along the western wall of the palace and through the courtyard in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Men).


Notes on the Walk: You need not fear getting lost in the Forbidden City, as its symmetrical layout facilitates a quick escape to the exits. But it can be very distressing to lose track of a traveling companion in the maze of buildings, especially if both parties lack cell phones. If you enter the palace from the south, be sure to agree on an emergency meeting place, such as the tall man-made mountain in the Imperial Garden at the north end of the palace near the exit, in case a member of your party gets lost.


Our walk will take us from south to north, proceeding through the Tiananmen, Duanmen and Wumen gates, the Three Harmony Halls, the chronological art displays and other temporary venues for exhibitions, and then the residential section in the north of the complex with its several thematic art collections. We conclude by climbing Prospect Hill, aka Coal Hill, to the north of the palace, although only on clear days is the view from the summit worth the climb.