As stipulated in the Rites of Zhou, the Son of Heaven should “reach out to the people by means of grand ceremonies.” According to imperial tradition, grand ceremonies associated with the emperor would involve imperial audience, banquet, title conferral, and classics colloquium. Ceremonies opened to commoners would include wine-drinking rites in provinces. Of all the yearly celebrations, the most important were the “Three Imperial Festivals,” namely, the New Year Imperial Audience, Winter Solstice Sacrifice to Heaven, and the Emperor’s Birthday.
The Qing court would host a banquet in various venues when there was a festival or suitable occasion. To celebrate the Three Imperial Festivals, the emperor would host a banquet at the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian) after receiving the guests’ homage. The idea was to allow imperial clans, key officials, and envoys from tributary states to enjoy festive occasions with the emperor.
Structurally, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was built with eleven by five bays. Compared with other Chinese palaces in the past, the Hall was undoubtedly the most magnificent single structure. In the eighth year of the Kangxi reign (1669), renovation of the Hall and the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong) was completed. The two structures were then viewed as the two jewels of palace architecture in the entire Forbidden City. The “grandeur” of palaces, as the Emperor Kangxi specifically pointed out in one of his mandates, was intended as an “embodiment” of the imperial reign.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony was not only the venue for reception and banquet during the Three Imperial Festivals. But also the venue for events such as the Empress’s investiture and the Ceremony of Chuanlu (honorary roll call of successful candidates), where top scorers of the Palace Examination (both civil and military) were given an honorary roll call. Traditionally, the emperor must entitle an empress to manage the royal household and set a motherly example for the entire empire. If the emperor was enthroned at a very young age, his imperial wedding would generally take place one day before he officially took over the reign of the government. As for civil service examinations, they would involve aspiring scholars partaking in a triennial sequence of pre-Palace Examinations held at prefectural or provincial levels, jointly known as the period of Dabi. The final round, officially known as the Palace Examination, was presided over by the emperor, who would screen out top scorers in the order of excellence. The names of the selected would then be read out loud in the Hall of Supreme Harmony and inscribed on the Golden placard.
This special exhibition showcases archived Grand Secretariat documents housed at the Institute of History and Philology (IHP). The documents in question are divided into the Grand Banquets, the Great Festivals, the Imperial Weddings, and the Imperial Examinations to demonstrate the system of rites and actual practices pertaining to grand imperial celebrations.