Why stop here:
The Hall and its adjacent compounds witnessed the rise of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) from an average imperial concubine to the power-wielding regent of the late Qing Dynasty. The layout of the compound of the Hall of Gathered Elegance dates back to her fiftieth birthday in 1884, when the entire compound was extensively renovated and expanded by demolishing barrier walls to expose neighboring compounds. The Empress Dowager Cixi lived here after marrying the Xianfeng Emperor (r. 1851-1861) and giving birth to Zaichun, the only son of her husband and the future Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862-1874). This was the starting point of her upward mobilization to a prominent position. She then lived in the nearby Hall of Eternal Spring (Changchun gong) for more than a decade but eventually returned here at fifty as a widow who outlived her husband and son. The rooms today are restored to their former interior decor and furnishings. Although entrance to them is restricted, through glass and opened doors they present the luxurious life of the most powerful woman in 19th-century China.
The Palace of Gathered Elegance is situated in a cluster of living quarters known as the Six Western Palaces (Xi liugong) where imperial wives and consorts lived during the Ming and the Qing dynasties. Different from the grand halls lying in the central route, courtyards in this area are less majestic and understated in magnitude, but shine with delicacy and exquisite detail. Many of the halls’ interiors have been restored and furnished to their former appearance, in contrast to the Six Eastern Palaces (Dong liugong) that were converted into exhibition space.