Reliving the Imperial Rule. Beijing China
As SQ 802 circled Beijing’s airspace for landing, I crane my neck at the window seat trying to get a glimpse of the Great Wall. I am disappointed because at this late midnight hour, there are too many twinkling lights to confuse me in this capital city of modern architecture.
China has been a source of fascination for me. From wondering what the most populace nation in the world was like, to history lessons about ancient dynasties, the Mongol conquest of China (I am a great fan of the Genghis Khan), the strict communist control by Mao Tse-tung, apt quips by Confucius, to walking finally on the world’s wonder, the Great Wall among so much more.
Now, I’m here….
Beijing has a history stretching back three millennia. Today’s Beijing is crowded, clean and completely modern. Tall glass windows of high-rise buildings reflect the sun across the cityscape, unique flowers that line the streets and adorn the city are almost plastic-like, elegant stores display the latest fashions from New York and Paris, the streets are busy with pedestrians always on the go, internationally manufactured luxury vehicles make their way through never-ending traffic, throngs of chattering tourists march from one site to another, and the slightly smoggy air adds to the congestion of this throbbing city.
As all first-time visitors must do, I am at the famed Tiananmen Square.
Gaining notoriety when Chinese tanks rolled into this square to quell the crackdown on the student-led democracy protestors in 1989 which eventually left thousands of protestors dead, this square is a stark reminder of the underlying control of this government.
The Square is vast. On the south side, thousands of visitors, comprising mostly of aging Chinese line up to pay homage to their great Chairman Mao at the Memorial Hall where his body lies in a crystal coffin. At the north end is the imposing Tiananmen Tower, built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty.
At the very center of this Square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes and is considered to be the largest monument in China. It has an engraving by Chairman Mao himself “The people’s heroes are immortal” along with sculptures that depict people during the development of China’s modern history.
At the west end of Tiananmen Square is the Great Hall of the People. This building, erected in 1959, is where the China National People’s Congress holds meetings and provides an impressive site for other political and diplomatic activities. Twelve marble posts adorn the front of the Hall which has three parts–the Central Hall, the Great Auditorium and a Banqueting Hall. The Great Auditorium behind the Central Hall seats 10,000 and the Banqueting Hall can seat 5,000 guests.
Across the street (using the underpass) is the Forbidden City comprising China’s largest and best-preserved collection of historical buildings. Once, home to 24 emperors during 492 years of imperial rule during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1420 – 1912) , this intriguing City covers 0.72 sq km, has 980 buildings in over 70 palace compounds and contains 8,7280 rooms!
The entire City, now a UNESCO Heritage Site, is surrounded by a 10-meter high 3.4 kms long wall with a 52-meter wide moat around it. And, apparently, I am just one of the 80,000 visitors today!
Walking through this once celestial seat of the mighty emperors, I can only imagine the pomp and pageantry with royal retinues of eunuchs and servants, empresses and concubines, intrigue and envy and history in the making.
In 1911, the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor, ending the centuries long dynastic rule of China.
I enter through the Meridian Gate and walk from one vast courtyard to the other, through Gates of Supreme Harmony and across Halls of Martial Valor and Literary Glory, side stepping massive stone lions* and past richly decorated Dragon Thrones and Qing dynasty sedan chairs, peeping into outer houses that were once used for storing gold and silver, carpets and silks, treasures and trophies, and tentatively gazing at ancient Ming vases, until I arrive at The Imperial Garden.
At the northern end of the Forbidden City is this classical 7000 sq meter Chinese garden known as The Imperial Garden. Despite the madding crown, I can see the perfectly landscaped gardens, walkways, pavilions, courtyards, halls, sculptures and statues.
The garden is in full bloom and translucent petals, in shades of pink, mauve and white add a touch of magic to this garden.
The Hill of Accumulated Excellence (Duixiu shan) is a man-made stone hill, situated in the north part of The Imperial Garden. The site was originally the location of the Hall for Enjoying Flowers, until Emperor Wanli (r. 1573-1620) commissioned the construction of an artificial hill in the late sixteenth century. The hill is about ten meters high and has a steep path winding to the top. A plaque hung in the center of the cave door is inscribed with “Accumulated Elegance”. On top of the hill is the Imperial Prospect Pavilion. In front of the hill there is a beast that spurts a column of water almost as high as the mountain itself. It is the only fountain that has survived in The Imperial Palace.
Planted during the Ming dynasty, these ancient cypress trees are about 500-years old.
I then amble on to see the Summer Palace, the cooler playground for the emperors fleeing the heat of the city. Now a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, this is considered to be a masterpiece of Chinese landscape design. This beautiful palace is laid out with pavilions, halls, mini palaces, temples, paintings and murals, bridges and gardens to form a “harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value” and is China’s largest and best-preserved royal garden.
The world’s longest covered promenade, the Long Corridor is 728m (2388ft) long and made entirely of wood. Built in 1750, this Corridor is also a unique art gallery, featuring more than 14,000 paintings of landscapes, flowers, birds, and depicting stories from ancient Chinese classics on its beams and ceilings. It’s registered in Guinness World Records.
The Palace is bordered by the man-made Kunming Lake, a replica of Hangzhou’s famous West Lake. The Lake is about two sq kms and covers three-quarters of the total area of the Palace grounds.
On the northwest corner of the Kunming Lake is a large immobile Marble Boat. Built in 1755, this Marble Boat has a base made from stone and resembles a traditional Chinese-style sailing boat from the Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) era. Emperor Qianlong had the huge Marble Boat fastened in the water to indicate the steadfast rule of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).
In 1860, the wooden pavilion was burned leaving only the hull of the boat. Empress Dowager Cixi had the boat rebuilt in 1893 using a Western design. She financed the rebuilding using funds embezzled from the navy. The boat’s name was changed to Qingyan Fang and provided a venue for Cixi to view the scenery and be entertained.
The day has been long history lesson and I am now ready to taste some authentic Chinese cuisine and sate my hunger in a local restaurant before heading back to my hotel, the Travelers Inn, Huaqiao Beijing, located in the center of the city.
In Chinese culture, the lion is the king of the animals, and is regarded as a symbol of power and strength. Often found at entrances, they are popular as symbolic guardians, and can be seen beside the gates of many Forbidden City palace compounds. The lions are always in pairs, with the female lion on the left with her paw on a cub, and the male on the right with his paw on the globe.
Changing money is a hassle. It is best to take your yuan with you.
Communication in English is still a problem. Download Dear Translate, the perfect language translate app.