Decoding the Mystery of 'Nine'
An interesting feature of Chinese architecture, particularly imperial
buildings, is the significance of the number nine. Although for most nine is an
ordinary number, for ancient Chinese philosophers it carried a special
philosophical meaning.
The Occult Art of Numerology
In ancient Chinese philosophy, the heaven was Yang
or masculine while the earth was Yin
or feminine. Since numbers were considered a mystical part of the
universe, the ancient Chinese regarded odd numbers as masculine and even numbers
as feminine. Nine, as the largest single digit, took on the meaning of "ultimate
masculinity" and implied the loftiest reverence for heaven. Therefore, the
number nine symbolized the supreme sovereignty of the emperor who was the Son of
Heaven.
For this reason, the Son of Heaven would naturally communicate and offer
sacrifices to heaven from a world composed of nines. Hence, the number nine (or
its multiples) is often employed in imperial structures and designs. Ancient
palaces were usually designed as ninesection architectural complexes related to
the number nine in number or size, with doors, windows, stairs or fixtures also
multiples of nine or otherwise related.
Nine and the Forbidden City

Nails on the imperial doors  The
Forbidden City, located in the center of Beijing and constructed in the early
14th century, served as the imperial palace of the Ming (13681644) and Qing
(16441911) dynasties. The rectangular palace covers an area of some 720,000
square kilometers  961 meters in length and 760 meters in width. It has a
total of 9,999 bays (room space; an area enclosed by four poles); the Gate Tower
of Tian'anmen is nine by nine bays.
The number of gilded doornails on all major gates at the Forbidden City and
imperial gardens are good examples of the nine phenomena. Each door, which is
adorned with nine doornails, both vertically and horizontally (81 nails in
total), represents the supreme power of the emperor. This is also the case with
the Ming Underground Palace marble gates of the Dingling Mausoleum in Beijing
with 81 (9 x 9) studs carved out of the stone.
The Donghuamen (East Flowery Gate) at the Forbidden City, however, is an
exception. It has nine rows, each with only eight doornails. In the past the
gate was called "Ghost Gate" and was used during royal funeral processions of
the Qing Dynasty. Since even numbers belong to the Ying category, the gate had
only 72 (8 x 9) doornails on the double doors.
There are four socalled Jao Lou (Corner Towers) guarding the four corners of
the palace compound which used to be stationed by the emperor's guardsmen. The
rare towers each have nine roof beams, 18 pillars and 72 ridgepoles. They are
ingeniously built using the magic number nine. Each of the three numbers are
either nines or multiples of nine, and the total of the three numbers is 9 + 18
+ 72, which equals 99  a heavenly number reserved for the Forbidden City.
On the roof in the palace are nine mythical beasts
called Wen . These
auspicious animals were installed to protect the imperial home and ward off evil
spirits and fire.

Nine dragon screen  The palace's Nine Dragon Screen is the biggest of the three famous Nine
Dragons Screens (the other two are located in Datong, Shanxi Province and Beihai
Park in Beijing respectively) in China. The screen was built in 1771 under
Emperor Qianlong and is about 3.5 meters high and 30 meters long. The intricate
construction consists of 270 pieces of glazed yellow, blue, white and purple
tiles depicting nine surging dragons playing with pearls against a background of
clouds and the sea. The arrangement  nine dragons in the front and five on the
edge  implies the emperor's supremacy. The number nine, as the largest single
digit, when combined with the number five (the center) represented the Son of
Heaven.
The number nine was sometimes combined with the number five to represent
imperial majesty. The Great Hall at Tian'anmen is nine bays wide by five bays
deep. The imperial throne was named "nine and five" and the emperor was called
the "honor of nine and five."
Nine and Temple of Heaven
Another good place to see the occult art of numerology within architecture is
at the Temple of Heaven where emperors of the Ming (13681644) and Qing
(16441911) dynasties prayed for a good harvest in the spring and offered
sacrifices to heaven in the winter.

Circular Mound Altar  The number nine is ubiquitous in the
architecture of the sacrificial temple, especially at the Circular Mound Altar
(Huanqiutan
). There are three
tiers of staircases made of white marble, each with nine steps respectively on
all four sides. The white marble balustrades around each tier equal nine or are
multiples of nine. The upper terrace is made up of nine concentric rings of
slabs with the innermost ring consisting of nine fanshaped slabs; each outer
ring consists of slabs arranged in increasing multiples of nine, i.e., the
innermost circle consists of nine slabs, the second ring of 18 (2 x 9), the
third of 27 (3 x 9), and so on. The final or ninth ring is made up of 81 or 9 x
9 slabs.
The sum of all diameters of the three tiers of the
Circular Mound Altar is 45 zhang
(an ancient unit of measurement). As a multiple of nine, 45 also
symbolizes the supreme position of the emperor and heaven (5 x 9 = 45).
Along the steps up the Circular Mound Altar in the
center is a round stone slab called Tianxinshi
(CenterofHeaven Stone). During each ceremony the shrine
of god was placed on the CenterofHeaven Stone to symbolize that god lived
above the "nine heavens."

SeventeenArch Bridge  The worldfamous SeventeenArched Bridge at the Summer Palace in
Beijing is also related to the number nine. Counting the arches from either end
of the bridge towards the center, you'll find the largest  the ninth archis in
the middle.
But the number nine was not only used on buildings. A division of ancient
feudal government officials was called "ninelevel," and there were nine capital
armies in the capital city. Annual festival feasts for the royal court of the
Qing consisted of 99 kinds of foods, including fruit, succade (sweetmeats, or
sugar preserves) and snacks. To celebrate an emperor's birthday activities such
as acrobatic performances and the lighting of the eternity spring lamps were
featured. Ideally, there were 9 x 9 (81) forms of entertainment called the
"ninenine big celebration" to wish the emperor good luck and a long life.
Gradually, the number "nine" became exclusively reserved for the emperor and,
as a result, ordinary people, including highranking officials and royal family
members, were prohibited from using the number "nine" in daily
life.
