Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Beijing Part One: Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

Chris and I have decided that while we are in Shanghai, we will give each other trips as birthday and Christmas gifts.  So in honor of Chris’ birthday, we spent last weekend in Beijing, China.  Our whirlwind weekend included tours of Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, a jade factory, the Great Wall of China, and the Emperor’s Summer Palace. 

Saturday Morning- Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

I will never forget the first time I heard about a place called Tiananmen Square.  I had gone to a sleepover at my friend Megan Mulligan’s house to celebrate my 12th birthday.  After a night of giggles, we watched a man standing in front of a tank in China on TV. I had no idea why he was trying to stop the tank, and feared he was going to be run over.  Now I know the man was fighting for something that I took for granted…the right to have a voice.

The Tiananmen Square that I saw was significantly different than the one I saw on TV many years ago.  Instead of protesters, there were tourists and jumbotrons boasting Chinese scientific advancements.  A huge floral structure planted in the center of the square was a stark contrast to the tanks I remembered.  However, the steel gray government buildings, which line the side of the square, reminded me that this is what I saw years ago. 

This was not the Tiananmen that I remember as a child.  BTW, the flowers are fake.

If there was one word I could use to describe Tiananmen Square, it would be massive.   When Chairman Mao had the square built, he wanted to showcase the size and strength of the Communist party.  Rumor has it that parades of a million people would march in the area. 

This looks like the Tiananmen I remember.

Chris, Tony (our tour guide), and I took a stroll through the cold, wet square towards the Gate of Heavenly Peace that protected the Forbidden City.  There are three entrances in the gate.  According to Tony, the central entrance was reserved for the emperor; if a commoner attempted to go through the central entrance he or she would be beheaded.  We decided to enter through the side gates to beat the crowds.

Chris and I stop for a photo in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  Notice the large Mao portrait on the gate.

Our tour guide, Tony, was awesome!  He knew all the right places to take us, and was very informative.
The emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasty really knew how to design a palace. The city was breathtaking!  I was amazed at how much attention was paid to architectural detail. 

I don't think you can find this drainage system at Home Depot.

  The intricate painting was unbelievable! How did they keep everything so balanced and straight?
Many of the buildings had elaborate imperial roof decorations.  Many dragon boats have the same sculptures on their ends.
All of the ramps leading to gates were designed at a steep incline so one involuntarily bows when climbing them.
This statue of a female lion playing with her lion cub is outside many city and palace buildings.  
I was surprised to learn that guards still live in the Forbidden City. I was able to catch a picture of one of them on the sly.  A basketball court and shoe rack were the only indicators that anyone currently lives there.

I was lucky to get this shot of a guard.  Security was heightened in Beijing because the People's Congress was in session.  

I am surprised they left their shoes outside in the rain.
As part of our visit, we toured the Hall of Jewelry where we saw jade, diamonds and other royal jewels.

I would like the Empress's crown, please.

Back in the day, the Forbidden City must have been a happening place.  
According to Lonely Planet, during the Ming Dynasty there were around 9000 concubines and 70,000 eunuchs who lived in the city.  The Mings believed that surrounding the emperor with young women could rejuvenate his health.  

No, these are not concubines. A group of Chinese tourists wanted a picture with me.  

For the final stop on our Forbidden City trip, we saw the Well of Concubine Zhen, Emperor Guanxu’s favorite concubine.  The Empress Dowager Cixi was not happy that Zhen supported the Emperor’s views on modernization, so she had a Eunuch drown Zhen in the well.  You know what they say about a woman scorned. 

Concubine Zhen must have been teeny.

After our trip to the Forbidden City, it was time to check out a Jade Factory for lunch and a trip to the Great Wall.  To be continued…