Nothing better conveys the Forbidden City’s reputation as both palace and prison than Barmé’s revelation that the fictional Gormenghast of the Titus Groan trilogy owed its hide-bound rituals, if not its architecture, to Mervyn Peake’s upbringing in nearby Tianjin in the early years of the twentieth century. Peake’s creation was another world within a world, another warren of chambers and courtyards in which the fair and the foul cohabited promiscuously. It too was built in alignment with the four points of the compass and the passage of a reluctant sun. And like the infant Groan, seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, the young Puyi – China’s “Last Emperor” as per the Bertolucci film – must have been “suckled on shadows; weaned, as it were, on webs of ritual: for his ears, echoes, for his eyes a labyrinth of stone”.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
At the TLS, John Keay considers a cluster of books about the Forbidden City: