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The First Lady's Travel Journal: Touring the Forbidden City

The First Lady, along with her daughters and mother, take in the Forbidden City, which is located right in the heart of Beijing.

Note: This post is part of a series authored by First Lady Michelle Obama to share her visit to China with young people in the U.S. You can read all of the First Lady's posts at

After visiting the Beijing Normal School, Madame Peng took Sasha and Malia, my mother, and me to the Forbidden City, which is located right in the heart of Beijing.

For more than 2,000 years (up until 1912), China was ruled by emperors who descended from many different dynasties, or families, who passed ruling positions on from generation to generation – and for nearly 500 years, the Forbidden City served as the emperor’s home. 

Like the name suggests, the Forbidden City is large enough to be a city of its own – it includes nearly 1,000 buildings and nearly 10,000 rooms. 

In 1925, the new Chinese government turned the Forbidden City into a museum so that visitors like us from all over the world can stroll through many of the beautiful rooms and outdoor spaces. 

Despite its size, some of the most interesting aspects of the Forbidden City are actually very small. Intricate carvings in jade and marble and glazed colored tiles fill the rooms and tell stories about ancient Chinese history. The ceilings are covered with detailed, carved designs.  And miniature sculptures sit on the buildings’ roofs, where they watched over the emperors centuries ago.  

The Forbidden City is far too large to fully experience in a single visit, but highlights include the following: The Hall of Union and Peace has almost 14,000 ornamental dragons. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is where the emperor viewed birthday celebrations and coronation ceremonies from his Dragon Throne. And then there are the Imperial Gardens, where you can walk along the paths and pavilions, admiring the beautiful rock arrangements, flowers and cypress trees.

While we loved our visit to the Forbidden City, we only wish we had more time to see everything. But then again, I’m not sure there could ever be enough time to fully appreciate all of the art and history within this extraordinary place.