Shenyang’s Manchu Mukden Palace: The other Forbidden City

When one thinks of the Forbidden City, the image of the palace in Beijing comes to mind. However, few know of the other Forbidden City that lies in the city of Shenyang in Manchuria, also known as Mukden Palace. As an ethnic Manchu myself, I decided to go visit this historical site….

Shenyang’s Forbidden City, while not nearly as big as its Beijing counterpart, has a rival history. Built in 1625 by the first Manchu king, Nurhaci, shortly after creating the Manchu nation, which was originally a military federation and political union connecting Jurchen tribes and various groups of Mongolians, North Han Chinese, and Koreans through assimilation and conquest, the palace became the seat of power of the Manchu kingdom. The first three Manchu kings lived in Mukden Palace until Nurhaci’s successors Dorgon and Huang Taiji conquered Ming Dynasty China, formally initiating the Qing Dynasty in 1644 AD.

A stone tablet with decrees written in the Manchu script. Although the script itself is borrowed from the Mongolian alphabet, the spoken language is that of the old Jurchen speech.

For a while, I have been trying to teach myself the language, but the resources are extremely difficult to find on your own unless you study this language in a formal class setting (there are just a few schools in Manchuria that offer Manchu language classes).

Examples of the traditional dress of the Manchu nobility during the Qing Dynasty. The people in this picture, when I asked, were not of Manchu ethnicity, rather they were Han Chinese tourists having photos taken of themselves in royal clothes.

To most Chinese people today, these clothes are simply those of the ruling class in Qing Dynasty, considered just one Chinese national clothing style among others, along with the hanfu, or traditional Han Chinese dress. In the national sense, they are correct, but in the cultural sense, these outfits are part of the Manchu identity, separate from Han Chinese identity represented by hanfu. According to my grandparents, my own ancestors were part of the noble aristocracy in Manchu society; perhaps they wore similar outfits at the time.

Dazheng Hall is the main hall of Shenyang’s Forbidden City. Renovated to exhibit characteristics not only of Manchu and Han Chinese architecture, it also displays Mongolian and Tibetan characteristics, a symbolic representation of unity within the young Manchu empire.

For me personally, this purpose of this trip was to reconnect with my ancestry at one of the last places in Manchuria representing a people who once thrived. This trip was of great worth, for I feel that recognizing and acknowledging the people from whom one came, and feeling pride from one’s origins, is one of the most fulfilling experiences one can ever have.

Yet many people of Manchu descent today don’t acknowledge their ancestry, and some even regard it as insignificant. However, no matter how much a person changes his nationality, language, or even living style, he cannot hide the truth of his parents, family, and identity. After all, ere oci mini buyere bana: This is our beautiful land. And this is who we are.

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