Journey into the Forbidden City

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The Royal Ontario Museum, known affectionately as The Rom, has always been a destination for families looking to discover history and worlds only read about in books. A new exhibit, Forbidden City, invites guests to step behind the walls into the secret world of China’s Emperors.

A collaboration with the Beijing’s Palace Museum, the Forbidden City exhibit runs from March 8 until September 1, 2014. Visitors will get a glimpse into the private and privileged world of Chinese Imperial life, viewing about 250 treasures, some of which have never been out on display before now. 

“The ROM’s exhibition takes visitors on a remarkable journey to the heart of the Forbidden City – once off limits to all but a privileged few,” said Janet Carding, ROM Director and CEO. “Carefully selected by our curatorial team, these extraordinary artifacts from Beijing’s Palace Museum will give visitors an inside view of life within the Forbidden City and immerse them in China’s rich history. The exhibition is the centerpiece of the Museum’s Centennial, bringing to life our promise to connect our visitors with their communities, world, and with each other.”

familytravel rom forbiddencity throne

[Imperial Throne set, Lacquered wood, jade, and other material. Qing dynasty, Qianlong period. (c) The Palace Museum, Gu115711]

The exhibit is designed to take visitors into the city that was strictly off-limits to all but the emperor, his family, and his personal servants, including eunuchs – castrated men who served the imperial families. Starting in The Outer Court, moving into the Inner Court, and ending into the Emperor’s private area you’ll see a child’s Emperor’s ceremonial robe and Manchu woman’s shoes of decorated platforms of up to 10 centimeters tall. Even royal dogs were treated royally, wearing outfits made of silk.


familytravel rom forbiddencity exhibit1

[top: Child emperor’s ceremonial robe (chaofu) embroidered silk and fur. Quing dynasty, Tongzhi perios (c) The Palace Museum Gu43554. Bottom left:Manchu woman’s shoes, silk, wood, cotton, glass beads, Qing dynasty, Guangxi period (c) The Palace Museum Gu61391. Bottom right: Imperial dog outfit, silk, Qing dynasty, Guangxu period (c) The Palace Museum Gu113194.]

You’ll also see household items like a gold-gilt bathtub and fashionable items such as the women’s nail guard, designed to protect the extremely long nails of the elite women in the Forbidden City (a sign that they did no manual labour).

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[Left: Bathtub, Gold-gilt and lacquered wood, Qing dynasty (c) The Palace Museum, Gu115963. Right: Woman’s nail guard, Gilt silver, beads, gemstones, and kingfisher feathers, Qing dynasty (c) The Palace Museum, Gu225579]

My favourite part of the exhibit is the Court Music. You can see the beautiful instruments and hear a recording of their sound.

The Forbidden City exhibit offers great interactive experiences for families too in the form of Family Trails. The two Family Trails invite kids to explore and interact with the exhibits, search for symbols and learn their meaning, colour pages of the characters introduced within the exhibit, even touch bells, badges and nail covers.

Visit the rom.on.ca for more information and to plan your visit to the Forbidden City.

Image courtesy of The Royal Museum of Ontario.

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