At the UNESCO meeting held in Suzhou on the 2nd of July 2004, the Imperial City of Shenyang was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, so that now it is recorded together with the Forbidden City of Beijing as one single item: Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Ming Qing gongdian 明清宮殿. Nevertheless, the importance of Shenyang Palace is not at all due to its similarity to the one in Beijing. The part of the Shenyang Imperial City built before the Manchu conquest of Beijing in 1644 mirrors the culture of the Manchu people and the institutions of its rulers in its architectural style. The part built during Qianlong’s reign, on the other hand, is evidence of the devotion of Later Qing emperors (from Kangxi to Daoguang) towards their ancestors and their Manchu origins. At the same time, the palace also reflects the sinicization of the Manchus and the merging of the two different cultures and institutional systems, both in some of its buildings and in its whole. These two aspects clearly distinguish the Palace from the Forbidden City and confer it with immense historical and cultural value.
It is, therefore, from these points of view that I will deal with Shenyang Imperial City in this paper, whose purpose is to demonstrate how the palace is a symbol of the origins and the history of China’s last dynasty.
The most ancient sources I will base my work on are Qing shilu 清實錄 (I will mainly refer to the sections regarding the Qing emperors from Nurhaci to Qianlong) and Manwen laodang 滿文老檔, which is a source of the utmost importance for the study of Qing history before the conquest of Beijing.