The Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing, is getting a
facelift. As part of a massive $48.2 million rehabilitation program
stretching several years, the 600-year-old palace, home to Chinese
dynasties since 1420, will undergo its first large-scale
reconstruction since 1911. The same year that the Ming Dynasty,
China’s last, was overthrown.
Since then, Beijing’s top tourist spot, attracting more than 7
million visitors a year, has undergone the ravages of the Cultural
Revolution and too many tourists on its cobble-stone roads.
“Beijing has entered an era of unprecedented, massive heritage
renovation,” said Wang Yuwei, an official with the Beijing Cultural
Other attractions near Beijing scheduled for major repairs are
the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Ming
Tombs and the Peking Man ruins.
The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, is a
sprawling complex of villas, chapels, treasure houses and gardens
that cover 178 acres and is surrounded by a 35-foot-high wall and a
170-foot-wide moat. For now, scaffolding covers many of the
outlying buildings where the emperors’ servants were once
So far, the renovation has used 330,000 bricks and 590,000 tiles
to repair the palace’s distinctive mustard-colored rooftops, and at
this time, an estimated 100 bricklayers and carpenters are at work
on the restoration. Some workers are the sons and grandsons of
those who worked on the Forbidden City in 1911, and the workers
still use the same skills that have been handed down for
“It is very important to keep the original look of the palace,”
said Jin Honghui, the Forbidden City’s deputy director. “That is
the first principle of our work.”
To that end, workers have turned to the ancient methods of
construction, including use of mortise and tenon joints in the
wooden structures instead of nails, which involves the careful
fitting of wooden components.
But repairs aren’t always done to tradition. For example,
brushes were used to paint over some of the structures in the
Forbidden City during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
“In ancient times, workmen did not use brushes to splash paint.
Instead, they used silk fabric,” said Li Yongge, director of the
ancient palace section of the Palace Museum.
Work on the Forbidden City is due to be completed in time for
the 2008 Beijing Olympics.