Saturday, March 28, 2015

Forbidden City Exhibition

Since it is #MuseumWeek on Twitter, it is a perfect time to write this post that I've been meaning to do for a long time. Last summer, I visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to see The Forbidden City exhibition. It featured a vast collection of artifacts from the Forbidden City, home to the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasty. Here were some of the interesting things:


This is the ceremonial robe worn by the young Tongzhi Emperor at his coronation. Compare it with the robes worn by Oscar Leung and Pako Au, who both played Tongzhi in The Confidant.

There were different attire for different occasions. On the left is a ceremonial robe worn by the Jiaqing Emperor for the sacrifice ceremony at the autumn equinox. On the right is a ceremonial armour for the Yongzheng Emperor when he performed military inspections.

Here are some styles for imperial women. The left picture shows an Empress's ceremonial summer coat and the right picture shows an informal riding jacket.

This dress was most likely worn by Empress Dowager Cixi, as it is similar to the dress that she was wearing in the portrait on the right.

Even animals got special treatment! On the left is a saddle made for the emperor's horse. On the right is an outfit made for an imperial dog. There were special eunuchs assigned to take care of the royal animals.

Footwear for men versus women in the palace.

Symbols of Authority

This was the setting of the imperial throne in the Inner Court. It was less lavish than the throne in the formal halls of the Outer Court, but still conveyed the Emperor's royal status. It was surrounded by various objects such as fans with elephant stands, crane candle-holders and luduan (a Chinese mythical creature) figures. Compare it to TVB's setting in The Confidant.
Posted Image

Each emperor inherits the set of imperial seals. Originally, there were 39 seals in the set, each with different titles and purposes. However, the Qianlong Emperor found this to be confusing and reduced the set to 25 seals. The remaining seals were placed in a collection at the old Manchurian palace, including this one, which had the inscription "皇帝的寶" ("Treasure of the Emperor").

The Yongzheng Emperor had this special seal made for himself. It had the phrase "為君難" ("being ruler is difficult") to remind himself to be a diligent ruler.

This is an imperial edict issued during the Yongzheng era, written in both Chinese and Manchu.

This is an example of a "tally" that was used by anyone who wanted to enter or exit the Forbidden City. There were two pieces to a tally - one with the words raised and one with the words carved into it. Anyone who wanted to pass through the gates had to have one piece of the tally, which they would hold up against the guard's piece. If the two pieces fit together, they would be allowed to pass.


This is a rare chicken cup from the Ming Dynasty. Emperor Chenghua's mother was particularly fond of small utensils, thus the Emperor especially ordered for this cup to be made for her. The unique thing about the cup is the way the colours were applied. Using a technique called doucai (鬪彩), the colours were painted both under and over the glaze. Only a few of these original cups survive to this day; one of these cups was sold for $36 million in an auction.

These are plates used in Tongzhi's wedding to Lady Alute (Natalie Tong in The Confidant). Tongzhi was one of only few Qing emperors who married while occupying the throne, thus it was a grand occasion for celebration. In particular, 10,000+ wedding wares were ordered to be made. It took five years to make all the pieces before the wedding. They contained symbols of good fortune, such as children playing (left) and the Chinese character for "happiness" (right).

This food basket could hold everything that the Emperor needed for a picnic. It had a silver wine pot, six wine cups, ten dishes, a large silver plate and ten sets of chopsticks.

Arts and Literature

Portraits of the Yongzheng Emperor. Does Ben Wong look like him in Gilded Chopsticks?

When he was still a prince, Yongzheng commissioned a set of paintings of 12 beautiful women. They featured the ladies engaged in various leisurely activities with scenery from the courtyard in the background. The paintings were mounted on a screen in the prince's favourite study. It is uncertain who exactly these women were; they may have been his concubines. (Could it have been Joey Meng from Gilded Chopsticks?)

This is a compilation book of poems that were written by the Qianlong Emperor. Throughout his lifetime, he composed more than 42,500 poems!


  1. So interesting how you found that exhibit in the ROM, I didn't know they had Chinese artifacts! I've always loved your posts and I just started a blog of my own! Please check it out

  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing these pictures! Look at that calligraphy!! I can't write that neatly with a pen let alone a brush and ink!