The history of the Forbidden City begins with a bloody coup at the beginning of the 15th century when the ambitious field commander Prince Zhu Di took power. As the Yongle Emperor, he declared Beijing the new capital of China and ordered the construction of a giant palace complex. The building of the architectural symbol of his almightiness, and the perfect reflection of cosmic order, was finished in only a few years. However, Yongle’s destiny was to be intimately tied to the empire’s collapse.
It was the inner sanctum and pulsating heart of the Chinese Empire. Today it is modern China’s greatest tourist attraction: Beijing’s Forbidden City.
This program focuses on the magical site and on two major turning points. The first part, “The Center of the World,” transports us to the reign of Emperor Yongle in the 15th century, the most cosmopolitan period of the Ming Dynasty. Having usurped the throne, Yongle had to rely on his court eunuchs to administer the Empire. Though robbed of their manhood, they rose to occupy the highest posts. This fascinating look at the imperial eunuchs is followed by “The Reign of the Concubine,” which showcases Cixi, the fabled Dowager Empress of the late 19th century. A simple concubine, she became the mightiest woman at court, a masterful manipulator of the Forbidden City’s power structures.
She was the ruthless “dragon lady” that subjected the last regents of the Dragon Throne to becoming her marionettes. The emperor’s widow Cixi was one of the most powerful women in Chinese history. She came to the Forbidden City as a young concubine in 1850, soon winning the favour of the Chinese emperor and becoming the empire’s most important woman. Cixi lead China’s destiny for almost fifty years, and was yet unable to stop the tides of change that would bring down the great Chinese Empire