Forbidden City

-- Nine Dragon Screen --

ine Dragon Screen in the Forbidden City The Nine Dragon Screen is one of three famous Nine Dragon Screens in China. This is the largest and the best of them. The glazed tile screen was built in 1771 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, and is 3.5 meters high and about 30 meters long. Composed of 270 glazed tiles, it depicts nine writhing dragons playing with pearls against a background of the sea and clouds. The screen, figured in high relief, is coloured in gorgeous shades of yellow, blue, white and purple.

The number of dragons is significant and symbolises the supremacy of the Emperor. Nine is the highest single number, while five occupies the mid-position between one and nine. Hence, the screen is illustrated with nine dragons, with five further dragons in the border. The Chinese dragon, represented yang, the principle of heaven, activity and maleness in the yin-yang of Chinese cosmology and from ancient times was the emblem of the imperial family. The illustration therefore can be interpreted as representing the emperor as the Son of Heaven.

The belly of the third white dragon has a piece of wood inserted in it. It is said that it broke when fired in the kiln. This would have meant a punishment of death to those responsible. A carpenter repaired it with a piece of wood and so the damage remained undiscovered by the imperial inspector!

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