Why Is It Called the Forbidden City?

Why Is It Called the Forbidden City?

By Chris QuanUpdated Sep. 14, 2021

The Forbidden City is the English translation of the Chinese name Zijincheng (紫禁城 ‘Purple Forbidden City’). The Forbidden City got its name because it was forbidden to ordinary people.

The Origin of the Name of Purple Forbidden City

The name ‘Purple Forbidden City’ is related to ancient Chinese philosophy and astronomy.

Forbidden CityForbidden City

Why ‘Purple’?

There are two reasons.

Reason One:

In traditional Chinese culture, purple is a noble color. It is a symbol of high status, and is considered to be the color of auspice, representing the emergence of sages, emperors, and treasures.

An ancient saying goes “the Purple Air comes from the east — a propitious omen”.

Reason Two:

In ancient China, the philosophical concept of "the unity of man and nature" was emphasized, and the location of stars in the sky were used to correspond to the planning of the palace. The aim is to highlight the legitimacy of the regime and the supremacy of the imperial power.

In traditional Chinese astrology, the Ziwei Star (‘Purple Forbidden’ Star, i.e. the North Star, Polaris) in the middle of the northern sky is considered the abode of the Celestial Emperor.

The emperor regarded himself as the "Son of Heaven", and his residence should correspond with the Heavenly Emperor.  

Thus, the Zigong (‘Purple Palace’) became the name of the emperor’s residence.

Why Was the Forbidden City Forbidden?

Forbidden City

The feudal emperors of China paid much attention to hierarchical order. They considered themselves the sons of Heaven.

Imperial bodyguards were stationed outside the gates of the palace, keeping out ordinary people, both to protect the safety of the emperor and his royal family and to demonstrate the power of the emperor.  

Therefore, it was called ‘Forbidden City’.  

Gugong — Used by Chinese People

Instead of Zijincheng, the Chinese translation of the Forbidden City, Gugong (故宫Gùgōng /goo-gong/) is what Chinese people call the palace complex nowadays, which means ‘Former Palace(s)’.

The Forbidden City is more widely used among English users.

The Forbidden City Is Not Forbidden Now

In 1925, the Forbidden City was no longer the home of the emperor and it became the Palace Museum, which was open to the public.

Now it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Beijing, even in China, or the world.

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