In earliest China, palace (gong ) means an ordinary house or a group of people, however, as the development of history, it means a cluster of grand buildings, in which the emperor, empress and royal family lived and worked. The name of Imperial Palace has been attached to it, and usually, in people s mind, the palace indicates Imperial Palace. Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the palaces. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process.
Imperial Palace highlights absolute imperial power and strict social status. During the long Chinese history, emperors of different dynasties kept building palaces. There were numerous palaces, in which some are built to satisfy the emperors' extravagant lifestyles, some to protect the stateliness of their reign.
Palaces of different dynasties have different emphasis and different styles, all of which integrated essences of Chinese architecture. Palaces style, which incorporated elements of nature and emphasized a graceful, reserved and easy-going beauty, is a reflection of the life, wisdom and the culture of the Chinese people.
The great Chinese architecture is an integral combination of its own time, which expresses the culture and technology of the particular period in history. Imperial Palaces emphasized on the splendorous appearance and regular layout. And the structure of Chinese palaces is based on the principle of balance and symmetry and follows the principle that the main structure is the axis.
Offering the palace for dealing with of state s affairs and the living and working palace of loyal family, Palace can be small or large, simple or luxurious, through which the resplendence of that period and the level of development in that dynasty can be learned. The size, scale and decoration depend on the emperor and the economic ability of the state.
Usually, in the imperial palace there are numerous smaller palaces. The most famous palace complex, Efanggong built by and for Qin Shi Huang Emperor (the First Emperor of Qin) measured "5 li (2 1/2 km) from east to west and 1,000 paces from north to south." It is said that its Front Palace, built more than 2,000 years ago, covered 80,000 square meters and could hold 10,000 people.
The Weiyanggong of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B. C.-24 A. D.) had 43 palaces within a periphery of 11 kilometers. The Forbidden City, also called the Imperial Palace, which was set up under the reign of the Ming dynasty and still stands intact, covers an area of 720,000 square meters, embraces many halls, towers as well as pavilions, consists of more than 9900 palaces and other structures.
In short,the palaces grew into a veritable city and is often called gongcheng (palace city) and it is the grandest and biggest palace in the world.
Apart from the palace, other abodes of the emperor are also called gong. The Yiheynan Park used to be the Summer Palace; the Mountain Resort at Chengde and the Huaqingchi thermal spa near Xi'an were both Xinggong or "palace on tour." Then there is another type of gong called zhaigong, where the emperor prepared himself abstinence before he offered sacrifice at grand ceremonies. There is one such zhaigong on the grounds of Beijing's Temple of Heaven.
Inside a great gong, certain individual buildings may also be called gong. The Qing emperors used to live at Qianqinggong (Palace of Heavenly Purity) in the Forbidden City, whereas the living quarters of the empresses were at Kunninggong (Palace of Female Tranquility). The imperial concubines of various ranks inhabited the six gongs or palace quadrangles on either side of the central axis of the Forbidden City. When the monarchs or their spouses died, they were buried in digong (underground palaces ).
The name gong is also used for religious buildings of great dimensions. The Potala in Lhasa is a gong to the Chinese; the lame temple of Beijing is Yonghegong. The temples of Taoist priests are generally called sanginggong (palace of triple purity).
For thousands of years, the word gong was reserved exclusively for naming imperial and religious buildings. With the passage of time and political changes, many of the old gongs have been opened to the general public for sightseeing. Furthermore, a number of buildings have been named gong or palace. For instance, Taimiao of the Imperial Ancestral Temple in Beijing has been renamed the "Working People's Palace of Culture". On West Chang'an Jie, a comparatively new building serves as the "Cultural Palace of National Minorities". Similar gongs or palaces have been built in many cities of the country for the cultural, scientific and recreational activities respectively for workers and children.