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Evening of Lantern Celebrations at the Forbidden City

Updated: 2019-02-20 14:49:45

Celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, the Lantern Festival is called Yuanxiao jie in Chinese and was known as Shangyuan jie in ancient times. The festival celebrates the first full moon of the lunar year and is considered part of the greater Spring Festival period. With origins in the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), the Lantern Festival developed throughout China’s history to include the eating of sweet glutinous rice balls (the two varieties of which are yuanxiao and tangyuan), gazing at the full moon, hanging lanterns, setting out food offerings for departed spirits, solving lantern riddles, and performing lion and dragon dances. The many festivities represent an important aspect of traditional culture and the hopes and prayers of the Chinese people.


At the beginning of this Year of the Boar (the jihai year), the Publicity Department of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and the Palace Museum jointly present “Evening of Lantern Celebrations at the Forbidden City” February 19–20, 2019. The celebrations promote the innovative transformation of China’s outstanding traditional culture and displays the influence and cohesion of Chinese civilization. The organizers welcome model workers, exemplary Beijing citizens, delivery men, janitorial staff, officers and soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police Force, firefighters, cadres and police officers of the Ministry of Public Security, and thousands of representatives from other work units from various sectors to the Forbidden City’s Meridian Gate (Wu men) galleries, Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihe men) court, eastern ramparts of the city wall, and the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men) to enjoy festive décor and night views of Beijing’s skyscape. This unprecedented evening event is part of a series of activities and exhibitions in the museum-wide “Celebrating the Spring Festival in the Forbidden City” and fulfils the aspirations of visitors by opening the Palace Museum in a unique way.


Resplendent Lanterns on the City Wall

“Evening of Lantern Celebrations at the Forbidden City” is the first free evening-event for the general public in the ninety-four years of the Palace Museum’s history and the first large-scale evening lighting of the Forbidden City’s heritage architecture. Illuminated and decorated with red lanterns, the Meridian Gate (Wu men), Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihe men), Palace of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian), southeast Corner Tower, East Prosperity Gate (Donghua men), northeast Corner Tower, Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men), and other structures sparkle in an array of color and light as visitors meander through the palace. The spectacle is a testament to the Palace Museum’s aim to bring cultural artifacts alive through innovative approaches.


As visitors approach the Forbidden City from the south, they are met with the glorious view of the central tower and east and west wings of the Meridian Gate (Wu men), through which they enter the palace. Atop the stairs on the west side of that gate, historic art awaits in the galleries of the “Celebrating the Spring Festival in the Forbidden City” exhibition. On the east side of the Meridian Gate, the music of the National Traditional Orchestra greets them with the genius of pipa-lutist Zhao Cong (b. 1976) and her ensemble. Red lanterns ornament the ramparts of the city wall along the route to the southeast Corner Tower, in which the virtual-reality documentary Corner Tower is playing, and the East Prosperity Gate (Donghua men), which currently features an exhibition of the Museum’s heritage architecture. The roofs on the north side of the southern stretch of the city wall feature a projection of the historic painting Life along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival (Qingming shanghe tu). Strolling along the ramparts from the East Prosperity Gate to the northeast Corner Tower, visitors enjoy operatic music resonating from the Belvedere of Pleasant Sounds (Changyin ge), theatrical performances, and sections of illuminated historic architecture as a scenic backdrop. The south side of the ramparts leading to the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men) features vivid projections of the historic painting A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains (Qianli jiangshan tu) on the adjacent roofs. Outside the Gate of Divine Prowess, the restaurant and café beside the city moat offer a variety of refreshments as visitors end their unforgettable evening at the Forbidden City.

Celebrating the Full Moon with Lights and Lanterns

Over the past several years, the Palace Museum has continued to open more of the Forbidden City to visitors as part of the “Safe Museum, Secure Palace” (Ping’an Gugong) campaign. From the thirty percent of the entire area open in 2012, the visiting area was increased to sixty-five percent in 2015 and eighty percent in 2018. This expansion includes the newly opened Furniture Gallery, three-quarters of the city wall, and many courtyards previously closed to the public. Having experienced almost 600 years of history, the Forbidden City is now preserved under the administration of the Palace Museum, which aims to be a center for traditional Chinese culture and provide quality service to the visiting public.


The implementation of “Evening of Lantern Celebrations at the Forbidden City” is a combination of cultural preservation and advanced technological innovation. In order to prevent damage by the lights to the historic architecture, the Museum’s engineers and lighting specialists have installed lights of varying intensity. This design creates a range of visual effects while protecting the heritage structures. The lighting effects for the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihe men) with its white stone stairs and balustrades are produced with 55,000-lumen laser cinema projectors. Meanwhile, red lanterns create a festive atmosphere as ornaments along the ramparts of the city wall. The lighting upon the historic courtyards and the historic painting A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains (Qianli jiangshan tu) projected on the north side of the city add to the auspicious celebrations. Chuntian Media of Tianjin’s Huawen Cultural Communications Company and Shenzhen’s Guangfeng Technologies of the Poly Group Corporation provided support for the lighting and décor.

The Palace Museum proudly presents this evening event and wishes all a Happy Lantern Festival!


Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign, Zhuang Ying, and Kang Xiaolu

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