I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing on the 14th of November 2011. The above picture displays the marvellous Nine Dragon Wall (九龙壁 – Jiǔ Lóng Bì). It was build in 1773 during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796).
The screen was apparently built to provide privacy by blocking the view through the Gate of Imperial Supremacy into the Palace of Tranquil Longevity. Such walls also denied access to evil spirits, which must travel in straight lines.
There are two other nine-dragon screens in China: one in Beijing in Beihai Park (which is very special because it has nine dragons on the front and back) and the oldest one in Datong.
The image was created by stitching 6 different images together. This wall is indeed huge (20.4 meters long and 3.5 meters high), look at the picture to the right to compare a fragment of the wall with one of the many tourists pretending not to notice me and standing in my way while I was attempting to take the 6 pictures.
Nine beautifully colored dragons play with a pearl. The number nine is considered a good number in China because it sounds the same as the word for ‘long-lasting’. The dragon often symbolizes the Emperor.
The face of the wall has 270 pieces of colored glaze. 270 is both a multiple of 9×5. In China the number five is also considered auspicious: it is associated with the five elements (Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal) and connected with the emperor.
I read about this too late to check the legend, but apparently there is a piece of wood at the bottom of the third dragon from the left. According to legend a workman carelessly broke a tile just before the inspection by Emperor Qianlong and replaced it with a wooden part. Indeed, if the work was not finished on time, all craftsmen would be executed. Fortunately, the emperor did not discover it.
Here are some details of all nine dragons:
The Nine Dragon screen alone was well worth the kilometers of walk trough the Forbidden City!