Despite the crowds, the Forbidden City is so vast that you’re sure to find a semi-secluded spot to reflect or snap a good shot
A scroll painting from around 1844 depicts the Daoguang emperor sitting beside a woman with a pinched faced and calm smile.
Her name was Quan, and she entered the Forbidden City at the bottom of the heap, but was elevated in the imperial harem after giving birth to a boy.
Some empresses had little to no romantic attachment to the emperor, while others formed deep attachments to the monarch.
The Qianlong emperor, one of China’s greatest cultural patrons, married the empress Xiaoxian before he ascended to the throne, and when she died young in 1748 he wrote an aching funeral elegy for her in watery, grief-haunted calligraphy.
This exhibition – like the hit soap opera “Story of Yanxi Palace” – is ultimately not about love but about power: how to get power, how to wield power, and how to maintain power in circumstances not propitious for your gender.
No one did it better than Cixi, the dowager empress and de facto ruler of China for much of the later 19th century.
Almost all the images of other empresses in this show would not have been seen outside the Forbidden City, but Cixi employed the newly arrived technology of photography to burnish her standing; at the dawn of the new century she posed in a resplendent silk robe, towers of plums by her side, the picture of stability.
One bizarre painting depicts her as a bodhisattva, riding through the sea on a bed of lotus petals.
Deathly two-dimensional, the painting shows Cixi in extreme stillness; pearls cascade down her neckline, and on her hands are green press-on fingernails as long as eagles’ talons.
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