Saturday, January 19, 2013

China - Day 3 - Afternoon - Tienanmen Square & The Forbidden City

As you could probably tell from the photos of our visit to the Ming Tombs and the Sacred Way, we weren't nearly as cold on Day 3 as we were on Day 2. The temperature was a few degrees warmer, the sun was out and it wasn't breezy. Don't get me wrong, it was still cold - just not bone chilling. It was nice to walk around and not be bundled up from head to toe - and to take a photo and be able to see the person's face (and not just two eyes peeking out above a scarf and below a hat). 

We left the Sacred Way and drove back in the direction of Beijing. Lisa took us to another "local" restaurant (the kind of place where, when 7 Westerns walk in, everyone goes silent and stares). Fortunately, we were seated in a screened area in the corner of the restaurant so we weren't everyone's entertainment for the day. The menu had really good pictures of the food on offer so we just pointed and ordered. The food was delicious. We had cleared our plates at lunch the day before, but on this day, we literally licked them clean. While we were eating, Lisa went to a restaurant down the street to get a donkey burger (yes, truly donkey meat) for her lunch. Donkey meat is a product of her hometown and she likes to have it when she can find it in Beijing. She was very generous (?) to share it with us and I think, with the exception of Caitlynne, we all had a taste. The meat wasn't shaped like a "burger" but rather was sliced and served in a pita bread wrap, more like a gyro. I would like to say it tasted like chicken (ha!) but it didn't and I really don't know how I would describe.   

It was about a 15 minute drive from the restaurant to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. The driver let us out at the bottom of the Square and the plan was for us to walk north across the Square and through the Forbidden City to meet him on the other side. As I wrote in an earlier post, the Square was just that, a Square. Just as we arrived, the wind picked up (look at the flag in the background) and it became quite chilly. 
Tienanmen Square (named after the Tienanmen Gate - the Gate of Heavenly Peace) is the third largest public square in the world. It is almost 109 acres large and borders the southern edge of the Forbidden City. The Square has great cultural significance to the Chinese. In addition to being the site of several important events in Chinese history, it also contains the Monument of the Heroes of the Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese History Museum, and the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. Mao Zedong announced the formation of the People's Republic in the Square on October 1, 1949, and its anniversary is still observed there.

Outside of China, Tienanmen Square is best known as the site of the pro-democracy protests in the Spring of 1989. In April of that year, Chinese students began a massive demonstration for democratic reform in the Square. The students were later joined by workers, intellectuals and civil servants until over 1 Million people were assembled in the Square. Although the Chinese Government declared martial law near the end of May, the protesters continued to demand that the leadership resign. On the nights of June 3rd and 4th, the government moved tanks and troops into the Square and violently repressed the protests with the massacre of several hundreds (or possibly thousands) of students and civilians in the Square. Before we arrived at the Square, Lisa told us that any and all of her information about the repression of the protests comes from foreigners. Understandably, the event (or at least the truth about it) is not acknowledged or documented anywhere in Chinese history. In fact, Lisa said there are plainclothes policeman all over the Square who walk among the visitors and listen for any conversation about the repression. I think that was a subtle hint for us not to say anything or ask questions about the incident. 

The photo below is of the granite Monument to the People's Heroes which is at the center of the Square. The monument was built in 1952 and it is the largest monument in China. Chairman Mao's statement "The People's Heroes are Immortal' is engraved on the monument. Eight relief panels (two on each side of the bottom of the monument) show the development of Chinese modern history (according to them). 
At the north end of the Square is Tienanmen Tower.
When the Forbidden City was built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty, the Tienanmen Tower was considered to be the front door of the Forbidden City and was used by the Ming and Qing Emperors and government ministers and officials to enter the City. Official ceremonies were often held on the balcony of the Tower from which the emperor could overlook the masses of common people assembled in the Square. 

I am not sure what the building in the photo below is. The Square was surrounded by many government buildings and museums.
After we reached the northern edge of the square, Lisa took us through an underground tunnel that ran beneath a very busy street and we came up in front of Tienanmen Tower and on the southernmost part of the Forbidden City. On the map below, you can see the layout of this area. Tienanmen Square is south of the Forbidden City and Jingshen Park is located to the very north. Our hotel was to the right of the Forbidden City (on the street that is marked in yellow - Wangfujing Drive). 
The Forbidden City was built over 14 years during the reign of Emperor Chengzu in the Ming Dynasty. It was the imperial palace for twenty-four emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties and fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty reigned there. It was forbidden to enter the palace without special permission of the emperor, hence its name "'The Forbidden City'.

The Forbidden City is the world's largest palace complex. It covers 74 hectares and is surrounded by a 52-meter-wide moat and a 10-meter-high wall. I found this photo (courtesy of minicus) to give you an idea as to exactly how huge this complex is.
The Forbidden City has 114 buildings and was designed to have 9,999.5 rooms. The number 10,000 was a number reserved for the gods so having 10,000 rooms would anger the gods and bring bad luck to the emperor. Lisa told us that if one person were to sleep in a different room each night, it would take him/her over 27 years to sleep in every room. The Forbidden City is divided into two sections. The southern section (bordering Tienanmen Square and where we entered the City) is the Outer Court and was where the emperor performed his official duties of running the country. The northern section was called the Inner Court and was where the emperor lived with the royal family.

As for the construction of the complex, one million workers and one hundred thousand artisans were forced into the long-term hard labor to build the City. Transporting the materials needed for construction to Beijing was not easy. From Wikipedia, "The stone needed was quarried from Fangshan, a suburb of Beijing: for 20,000 peasants to be able to move an enormous stone cylinder in winter, engineers created a huge ice path by pouring liquid water on the frozen soil, and thousands of horses pulled the stone across the ice to the centre of Beijing. Wood was even more difficult to move. Giant trees in Sichuan province were felled for the main halls, but it was found that they were too large to move. Workers had to wait until torrential rains washed the logs into rivers, where boatmen steered them into the Grand Canal, from where they were floated north to Beijing and towed into the palace grounds."

Before beginning the tour, we had to use the restrooms. Apparently Beijing uses the star system to rank their toilets. Although these toilets were the "squat over a hole in the floor" kind of toilets, we took comfort in knowing they were rated 4 stars. 
We began our tour of the Forbidden City. There were so many buildings and details that I can't remember what was what so just enjoy the photographs.

 The colors on the building in the photo below were beautiful.

 View of pagoda-style rooftops.
Guardian lions were placed in many areas around the complex.

One of several thrones that we saw.
 Detail on the metalwork on the window frame.
 Another rooftop view.  
Another pair of guardian lions.

This inscription was on a piece of furniture in a room where one of the royal couples spent their wedding night together. It says something about wishes for a long and happy life together. 
 Lisa giving some history of the City to Shiv.
In an earlier post, I included a photo similar to the one below. 
Throughout Beijing we saw animal figures on the roofs of palaces, temples and other important government and royal buildings. These figures are an important feature of traditional Chinese architecture and are not only ornaments but also represent the owner's status in Chinese hierarchy. The figures and the order in which they are arranged can vary but there are two constants - the man riding a chicken is always leading the procession and a dragon (representing the authority of the state) is always placed last. There will always be an odd number of figures in the procession. There are various interpretations of the symbolism behind these decorations but I found this one to be most in line with what Lisa had told us: The man riding the chicken represents the tyrant Prince Min, the head of state of Qi. After being defeated, the Prince was tied to the end of the roof ridge and left there, exposed to the sun and heat and without food or water, until he died. The evil spirits of the prince are kept captive on the roof because the chicken cannot fly and the dragon will not let the chicken escape back over the roof. To repel and ward off evil spirits and deeds, residents will place a version of this procession on the roof.  

Here are a few better photos. These were all taken at the Forbidden City.
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Shea.
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Shea.
Photo courtesy of Avirus.
More thrones.
In the courtyard prior to the exit.
The exit of the Forbidden City.

We still had about an hour before dinner so, after we left the Forbidden City, we asked Lisa to take us to do a little souvenir shopping. We went to what she called a "department store" but I would characterize it more like a market with a lot of stalls & vendors selling anything and everything that you could ever want or imagine. It was crowded and chaotic - very similar to the markets here in Bangkok - and I felt right at home. Lisa gave us some hints about bargaining and let us loose among the stalls. I was looking for two of the Chinese lanterns for Christopher's room back in Virginia and was successful. 
Turns out these are a dime a dozen in Beijing so I was able to buy a couple for a great price. 

Our plan for dinner that night was for us to go to a well-known "hot pot" restaurant that was very close to our hotel. Kevin and I were still full from lunch and decided to stay and have a drink in the hotel bar while everyone else went hot potting. They had a great time - I think the photos from that dinner are on Shiv's phone so I will need to see if I can track them down to post.

Next Up - Xi'An and the Terracotta Warriors.

Have a great Saturday.

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