Our first stop this morning was Tiananmen Square. It will hold a million people for an event; it is a massive open space with Mao’s tomb located at the south end, 2 massive government buildings on the east and west side and is separated by a street to the Forbidden City. Again, as yesterday, there are massive crowds everywhere. Busload upon busload of tourists showing up; many to make a once in a lifetime pilgrimage. A trip to the Forbidden City for some Chinese equals a trip to the Vatican for some. Our friend, Stephen Cheng, was an excellent guide as he had so much knowledge about each place we went; facts and figures, but also stories that helped provide context.
Across the street is where you begin your journey toward the Forbidden Palace. There’s a link to the right for you to learn more about the details – how many acres, etc. It took 1 million people 15 years to build this palace. Over 60% is closed to the public. Because of the crowds, trying to get close to the viewing areas for the indoors was like a rugby scrum. If you’d like to see the palace in it’s glory, watch Bertolucci’s film, The Last Emperor. There is the massive outer courtyard that surrounds the entire compound. Then there is another courtyard and finally the inner courtyard where the emperor’s buildings to hold court, sleep and other activities are found. There are no trees or flowers anywhere for security reasons; the emperor had issues about his welfare. Toward the back is the ‘small’ Empress Garden which has beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers. The size is equal to the Oval on the Ohio State Univ campus!
An interesting aspect of being out and about in Beijing is watching people as they watch us! Today a grandfather saw Mike and excitedly pointed him out to the grandson. Look at this tall person! Then there’s me. The last time my being somewhere caused this much staring and pointing was when showed up as the first woman participant at the Texas Industrial Arts Association meeting! Many people, especially older ones, stare quite openly. Most smile or nod their head in greeting.
Sue Kent should be here to help write this section because she is so gifted with descriptive prose. In China the use of feng shui is important in the placement and design of buildings. Therefore, the Forbidden City was designed with mountains behind it and a river in front of it. All of the buildings are the traditional Chinese style with roof adornments, bamboo roofs and impressive embellishments on the doors. The importance of the building determines how many roof adornments are on each gable of the roof. Nine is the highest number and are on buildings designed for the emperor; they include dragon, phoenix, etc.
The palace has been looted and burned at different points in it’s history. There are massive urns – over 4 feet tall and across – that were used to store water in case of fire. During an occupation, soldiers cut at the metal leaving slash marks across them. There are many side rooms (across an open space of 40 yards) built into the outer walls. We didn’t have time to explore those – guess that means we’ll have to come back to this amazing place!