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The Zhongnanhai or Seas Palace is the offical home of all officals of the People's Republic of China and was the seat of the old Beijing municipal government. It forms the southern precinct of a chain of lakes and is a garden-palace complex.

Home of the first leader of the Chinese Republic in 1912, Yüan Shih-kai. During his short 4 year rule, he ordered construction of a chinoiserie confection called Xinhuamen, or New Flowery Gate, that served as a reviewing stand for army parades. Today it is the main entrance to the complex and has been the scene of multiple protests. It is inscribed with a slogan in Chairman Mao's calligraphy that reads "Serve the People."

Inside complex is a series of lakes, the largest being the South Sea with an ornamental island, Yingtai, or Ocean Terrace, where the ill-fated Emperor Guangxu was imprisoned by the Dowager Empress Cixi after his failed attempt to modernize the nation. Despite its infamous past, the spot for a occasional exhibtion or some select visitors.

Few buildings remain from the imperial era. The Palace Steeped in Compassion (Huairentang) was rebuilt for party and government meetings. The Throne Hall of the Effulgent Pole-star (Ziguangge), which once was used to receive barbarian tributaries is now a reception hall for visiting foreign dignitaries. Most of the original decorations are now replaced by an awkard mixture of Soviet design and the landscaping has been destroyed by parking lots and roads.


Sources

http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/99/0927/zhongnanhai.html