The Hall of Supreme Harmony was built in the Ming Dynasty and it is was in ruins at the end of the Ming dynasty.
The hall has received its present name after it was built in the years of Qing Emperor Shunzhi. In 1669, it was renovated and later, large scale reconstruction was done in 1695. The hall’s 9-rooms width was modified to an 11-room width, but the main hall kept its original design, so as to demonstrated the relationship of the number 9 and 5 which refer to the emperor. The floor space of the Hall of Supreme Harmony covers 2,377 square meters and its height is 35.05 meters high. It is the tallest and largest hall among the palatial complexes of China.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties the hall was where grand court ceremonies were held. The grand occasion of Chinese Lunar New Year, the Emperor’s birthday, the emperors enthronement, imperial wedding, the dispatch of generals to battle and the declaration of successful candidates of the imperial examination ceremonies were all held at the Hall of Supreme Harmony. One day before the emperor went to pray in the Temple of Heaven for rainfall, a good harvest as well as for worshipping heaven, he was required to read the sacrificial writings in the hall.
Roof of the Hall
The Hall Supreme Harmony is an example of the highest class of the palace architecture with a double-eave hip-roof style. On both ends of its front ridge are glazed ornaments called dragon mouths which can quench fire. The ornaments are not only decorations; these also have the added function of stabilizing the ridge and preventing rain from leaking into the building. The Hall has the largest dragon mouth existing from imperial times. A dragon month was considered to have magic power. When one was made, the emperor would send first rank officials to greet it at the kiln; when it was installed, a table was placed at the location for burning incense so as to show respect to it. On the upturned eaves of the building, there are two rows of glazed nails where an immortal riding on the phoenix and 10 other mythical animals are placed. According to their traditional order, the ten animals are the dragon, phoenix, lion, sea horse, heavenly horse, Yaya, Suanni, Douniu and Hangshi. The animals and nails are not only decorations;they also stabilize the glazed tiles on the roof. You can find the immortal riding on a phoenix on every upturned eave in the Forbidden City, but the numbers of the animals are different according to the class of the architecture. The animals are added starting from the end of the row according to traditional order and are always odd in number. For example, there is one animal for the Gate of Mental Cultivation; three for the watchtowers of the Forbidden City; five for the Palace of Gathering Excellence; seven for the Hall of Middle Harmony and nine for the Hall of Preserving Harmony. Ten animals were only for buildings of the highest rank:The Hall of Supreme Harmony.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony is supported by 72 pillars with 66 red pillars scattered on two sides. Six gold gilded pillars with coiling dragons are placed on both sides of the precious throne.
The caisson is also called the Heavenly Well or Dragon Well. The one is the Hall of Supreme Harmony is circular at the top and square towards the bottom. Being 1.8 meters in depth, it is composed of upper, middle and lower sections. The lowest section is a square well. The middle is octagonal while the upper section is circular. In the center of the caisson is a coiling dragon holding a precious mirror in the month. The mirror hanging high up inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony represents the present emperor.
Setting a caisson on the ceiling implies the dignity of the emperor. Apart from the Hall of Supreme Harmony,there are caissons inside the most important structures of the Forbidden City, such as the Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Hall of Mental Cultivation. Placement of caissons inside public altars and temples used to show the great power of the Buddha and immortals. In addition, the caisson also has the meaning of conquering fire.
The main exhibit in the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the throne of the emperor. The whole throne is covered with Golden Dragons. Behind it stands seven screens carved with dragons and painted in golden paint. Above the throne is square caisson with a dragon facing downwards. Six dragons carved on the six golden painted pillars on both sides of the throne. The dragons face the throne, showcasing imperial dignity. The throne is on an upraised platform, surrounded by a palace fan, incense burners and cranes.
The throne was left behind by the Ming and successively used in the Qing. When Yuan Shikai restored feudal rule, the throne was removed and substituted with a sofa of an indistinct style. During early time after the liberation, experts on the Forbidden City discovered the original throne in a furniture warehouse. After a year’s repair, the throne was restored to its original condition.