Qianmen: The Heart of Old Peking’s Nightlife
By M. A. Aldrich
Qianmen has always been the entertainment centre of Old Peking. It provided the yang of good food, fine wine, sublime music, and sultry companionship to complement the yin of the strictures of Confucian propriety performed in the stately halls and palaces of the Forbidden City.
“Qianmen” means the “Front Door.” It refers to the Zhengyang Gate at the south end of Tiananmen Square, which was the official entranceway to the Dragon Throne. From 1403 to 1421, the Yong Le Emperor of the Ming dynasty supervised a massive reconstruction of the city in accordance with traditional Confucian cosmological theories of urban design. The main principle was that the city should be arrayed around a zhong xian (中线) or central axis, running from south to north. Around this central axis, imperial palaces, altars, moats and squares were symmetrically placed to create a capital fitting for the Son of Heaven. Today’s Qianmen pedestrian walkway traces a portion of the original path of the central axis.
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