As the heart of Imperial China from 1421 until 1912, the Forbidden City—a palatial complex in the center of Beijing—represented the divine authority of the Emperors of China for over five hundred years. Built by the Ming Emperor Zhu Di as the centerpiece of his ideal capital city, the palace would host twenty-four different emperors and two dynasties over the course of its history. Even after the subsequent democratic and communist revolutions that transformed China in the early 20th Century, it remains as the most prominent built relic of a cosmopolitan empire. For a millennium, the city of Beijing has served as the capital several empires and dynasties. At the beginning of the 15th Century, however, it was a comparatively unimportant “backwater,” and one which had fallen into ignoble disrepair. Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, known as the Hongwu Emperor, had made his capital at Nanjing – a city situated on the Yangtze River, a little further south. When Zhu Yuanzhang’s fourth son, Zhu Di, began his reign as the Yongle Emperor in 1403, he did so in Nanjing. However, Zhu Di had spent many years in the plains of northern China and had therefore built his power there; having instigated a civil war in order to take control of the empire from his nephew, it is perhaps unsurprising that he sought to center his government in a region more comfortably in his grasp. At the time, his chosen capital was named Beiping (“Northern Peace”); under Zhu Di, the city would, for the first time in its history, be named Beijing (“Northern Capital”).
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