Posts Tagged With: Forbidden City

MODERN CHINA-2006

With my first digital camera, I visited China in 2006 , when China was in the middle of changing from a Socialist/market economy to a capitalistic economy. As a child, I watched a neighbor dig a deep hole in his lawn. Every few minutes, he’d say, “Look at this?  He’d hand me a penny he’d supposedly found, and tell me “We must be getting close to China.”  He regaled me with fantastic stories about dragons and castles and magic, all happening on the other side of the earth.  Simple things that fostered a dream.

We whizzed through Beijing with 300,000 vehicles in a city of 13 million people. Fifteen percent of families now own cars that intersperse with weird motor driven carts piled high with goods,  and 8 million bikes, motor cycles carrying whole families  and buses and pedestrians all mingling  in a way that you are sure someone is going to get killed at any minute.  I saw a man carrying a baby high above his head as he squeezed between two moving buses. You just have to turn your head away. We stop at Tiananman Square, so huge it defies the camera’s ability to capture it. A flag pole so tall the flag can be seen all over the city.

Just like us, Chinese tourists, something new for China, have their picture taken at their seat of government,  much like us having our picture taken outside of the White House. Sixty per cent of the citizens of Beijing work for the government just like the greatest percent of people in D.C. are under some kind of government employ.

The grounds around the building are beautiful where once there was a forbidding wall around the buildings and the whole city. Chairman Mau tore down the old city walls and built what they call ring roads to replace the  feudal walls of China’s  cities.

This is “modern” China. We were very quickly dispelled of the notion that we would see Chinese men and women in black sack pants and shirts wearing straw hats. This is the infamous square that led to student deaths in 1989, forever giving China a black eye over their aggressive policies. We are mobbed by vendors selling post cards. Capitalism is grasped very quickly.

We move on to the Forbidden City which was built, or finished anyway, in 1420. Eleven Emperors  have lived  in this multiple complex of 980 buildings between 1419 to 1911. It has 9,999 half rooms in the palace. Nine is the supreme number. Nine gates, each gate measures nine x nine. Our guide tells us that the Last Emperor,  the movie, is very accurate about what happened to their last Emperor.

This is one of 18 water pots around the square, (a multiple of nine). They represent the 18 provinces. All must be in harmony.

Soldiers still guard the palace and live here. Notice their boots and shoes  lined up next to their “barracks”. The living quarters of the Emperor  is approached by a series of stairs and nine gates to pass through.  Each gate is a palace with marvelous gold, jade carvings, incredibly fancy decoration as part of the building, with real gold leaf.   The rooms that store antiquities are  not lighted, tall columnar rooms, no windows. Pictures don’t reflect  the glorious treasures inside.

It seems as though every inch of the building is exquisitely decorated like this mantel above a doorway. The complex is a UNESCO site.

My traveling companion, Michal Houston and I posed before this Chinese guard lion. His left foot is crushing some small creature, I think.

His right foot is balanced on this ball. I’ve forgotten the significance of this stance, and its meaning, but it is the same wherever these lions are seen. And, the dog-like face of Chinese lions was rendered by artists who had never seen a lion. They only had a description of lions from explorers/travelers  who passed through China.  I always wondered about that. Now I know and so do you.

The roof of the palaces are  protected, as you can see. It seems a bit strange to us that the superstitions of old are still, if not believed, at least respected and revered. Visiting China  helps to understand many mysteries about the Chinese people’s beliefs that hang on.

This little boy knows nothing of the Ming Dynasty, 1420 to 1644 or the Ching Dynasty, 1644 to 1911, or the turbulent  history of  the gate he is crawling through. Notice you step over the deep thresh hold as you move from one gate , then palace,  to the next.

And I got to see many dragons. This gives you an idea of the size and scope of these carved wall panels, nine of them in all.

Aren’t they gorgeous?  They are depicted along the walk to the Palace of Tranquil Longevity.

We see so much, it is difficult to take it all in and remember it all. The Palaces all have beautiful names, like the Palace of Heavenly Purity, and so on.

More tomorrow.

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GOING BACK TO CHINA

My tendency has been to forge through life, swiftly, do everything, don’t allow a stone unturned.  Say yes!  Let’s go, let’s do it.  Influenced by my partner, Jim, my new philosophy is stop and smell the flowers.  While home in Murphys these past weeks, an unfinished travel journal of my trip to China in 2006, nudged me. Jim says this summer promises to be slower paced,so I think I’ll go back to China.

I traveled with my friend, Michal Houston. After a long flight, we landed in Shanghai tired and weary only to be  shuffled to another plane that took us to Beijing. Our assigned room had one bed instead of two as requested. Her name spelling, Michal translated as Michael. Exhausted, we tumbled into bed and straightened it out the next day.

Beijing was in the middle of changing from a Socialist/Market Economy to a Capitalist Economy back in 2006. Beijing is a modern city of  only thirteen million people. I say only seriously because Chinese Cities can be,  and are, much larger than this home to International Government, political,  and financial centers of China. You find modern condos and 200-year-old homes side by side. Sixty per cent of the people in Beijing work for the government, kind of like Washington D.C.

Tiananmen Square is so huge it dwarfs any mall we have in the U.S. Soldiers on guard are always visible. And, surprising to us, we saw “modern” Chinese tourists; older people visiting their own iconic places and young people with cell phones in their ears.  This is the infamous spot where protests during National day 1989 led to the deaths of students and gave China a black eye over their aggressive policies. The poster of  Chairman Mau in the background looks small. In reality it stands  about twenty-five feet high. We have a group photo taken here and get our first taste of the new capitalism with vendors selling post cards and junky trinkets. Some of them starve on the new system and intrude, shove things under your nose, begging you to buy their trinkets and post cards.

One side of the square is this lovely government building and gardens, always statues and memorials from every preceding dynasty that governed China except maybe the Mongolians. Chairman Mau tore down the old city walls and opened things up with a ring road inhabited more and more by modern cars but  still madly outnumbered by eight million bicycles on the roads, the most common form of transportation in Beijing.

China has a love affair with dragons.  Their most favored and positive sign is everywhere in China.  As it turned out, I was born the year of the dragon.

We move on the Forbidden City where we see soldiers congregated in the square and their boots lined up outside of their barracks which were built in 1406 and finished in 1420. The Palace has 9,999 1/2 rooms. Nine is the supreme number. So, there are nine gates, each gate is nine by nine and has nine knobs. You can extrapolate that process through out the Imperial Grounds and Palace. It has served Eleven Emperors.

The “building” is actually one of the nine gates we pass through to reach the palace. The emperor has a resting place inside the gate where he emerged to address his people. He stood on a stair high above them.  This complex is a series of high gates, (stairs up stairs down)  and open space between them.

The walls here are made from 15 thicknesses of bricks to avoid tunneling into the Imperial Grounds.  There are 18 water pots around the grounds one for each of the 18 provinces. (Notice the multiple of nine.)

One side of the palace wall is made up of four panels of huge tiled dragons, approximately twenty feet tall.  Among the palace antiquities, marvelous gold, huge jade carvings, a gold Buddha, marvelous crystal, precious jewelry and marvelous treasures. I’m unsure why no pictures inside the palace. We may not have been allowed flash photography inside.  At one place we passed the shrine (inside) devoted to one of the Emperor’s favorite concubine. She was forced to jump into a well by the eunuchs of the jealous empress. Inside the court-yard we had a Starbucks coffee and cookies. The Starbucks was protested by Chinese activists and removed after our visit.

These  Chinese lions, one with his left foot on the ball, the other with his right foot on the ball have some significance in their stance which I’ve since forgotten. But, what I do remember is there are no lions native to China and  Chinese illustrators drew what a lion looked like from verbal descriptions of those brave explorers from “olden” times. Thus lions have fierceness, clawed feet, a mane and a ferocious face that much resembles a dog.

We went on to visit a couple of grouchy, lethargic Panda bears at a very seedy looking facility and then do not wonder much why there are only 1,000 of them left in captivity and the wild. The Chinese were not very conscious of environmental concerns in 2006.  We  finished our day with a famous Peking duck dinner. (More tomorrow.)

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