The Forbidden city of China

The Forgotten History of Beijing’s First Forbidden City

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Khitan stele.

Khitan stele. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Most of the primary sources that modern historians have for the Liao period were written under the Song Dynasty. As the Liao’s direct political rivals, the Song sources are often less than flattering about the Liao Dynasty, and its Kitan leaders.

Unfortunately, this attitude towards the Liao has worked its way into later sources, keeping the dynasty in the shadows. This began to change when archaeological discoveries of the late 20th century generated new interest in Liao sites. For instance, the finds at the excavation of the tomb of Princess Chen , changed the way people viewed Liao elite culture.

The Liao-period Tianning Temple Pagoda in Beijing, with industrial chimney in background. (Jonathan Dugdale/ Author provided)

The Liao-period Tianning Temple Pagoda in Beijing, with industrial chimney in background. (Jonathan Dugdale/ Author provided)

Gold and other precious metal artefacts from Liao tombs have become a major draw in public exhibitions around the world. Interest among private collectors is also rising. A small, gilt-bronze, Liao Buddhist statue recently broke the record for an Asian art auction at Christie’s in France, selling for €13,570,500 .

With all of this renewed interest, academic studies of the Liao are reassessing the dynasty’s position in Chinese and wider Asian history. Historical texts are being challenged and progress is being made on the translation of the Kitan writing system.

If you visit Beijing today, just about the only evidence you will find of the Liao city is a single pagoda . An ancient monument – once the tallest building in the city – it is now dwarfed by the industrial chimneys that surround it. The history of the Liao Dynasty, in contrast, has never been more visible.

Top Image: The Forbidden city of China. Source: BigStockPhoto

The article ‘ The forgotten history of Beijing’s first Forbidden City by Jonathan Dugdale was originally published on The Conversation and has republished under a Creative Commons license.

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