After years of neglect, the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum is finally being opened up and dragged into the 21st century

“It’s so big.” “It’s too crowded.” “Everything looks the same.” Despite being one of the major tourist draws in Beijing, the nearly 600-year-old Forbidden City has sometimes struggled to tell its story. Curator Shan Jixiang and his staff are on a mission to change this.

From 1421 to 1924, the palace served as the home to 24 rulers of the Ming and Qing empires. The court abdicated on behalf of the last emperor, six-year-old Puyi, in 1912 but negotiated a deal with the new Republic of China to allow the ex-monarch to live in the back half of the Forbidden City. Puyi’s residency came to an ignoble end, however, when he and his family were unceremoniously booted by the warlord Feng Yuxiang in 1924.

The Palace Museum, which originated as a set of exhibitions in the southern courtyards of the Forbidden City, expanded to include the whole complex and opened to the public in 1925. The palace suffered during the wars and revolutions of the 20th century; many of the choicest pieces in its collection were removed from Beijing by the Chinese government in advance of the Japanese invasion in 1937. These items ultimately ended up as the centerpiece of the Taipei Palace Museum.

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author Jeremiah Jenne

Jeremiah Jenne is a writer and historian based in Beijing since 2002. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Davis, and has taught Late Imperial and Modern Chinese History for over 15 years. His essays and articles on China have appeared in The Economist, the South China Morning Post, The Journal of Asian Studies, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The World of Chinese. His writings can also be found in China in “2008: A Year of Great Significance,” “The Insider’s Guide to Beijing,” and the 2015 collection “While We’re Here: China Stories from a Writer’s Colony.” Jeremiah frequent speaks and leads workshops on history, culture, and cultural adaptation for students, embassies, companies, and community groups. Along with David Moser, Jeremiah also hosts the podcast Barbarians at the Gate.

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