Dokodemo Door!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Journey to Beijing, Day 4

I would have preferred spending more than a few more hours at the places where we went on the last day, but we had a flight to catch.

Moat at the NE corner of the Palace Museum

We started-out at the southwestern corner of Tian'anmen Square, made our way through the crowds and posed for a few pictures. Security was heavier than 10 years ago, complete with X-ray machines at the entrances. This was possibly in reaction to sporadic bombings by Uyghur separatists, but I can't speculate on that.

Tian'anmen Square is the world's largest public square, and Mao Zedong wished it to be the world's grandest; it is capable of accommodating about 600,000 people, but I've heard the estimates vary. It was the site of numerous historical events, such as the May 4th Movement in 1919, the declaration of the foundation of the People's Republic in 1949, and the violently-suppressed June 4th protests of 1989. It's really not a good idea to bring-up that last item when you're there.

Mao's Mausoleum at the southern end was constructed of materials taken from every province around mainland China, including stone from Mt. Everest. I've never felt the need to go in there, seeing as how you're required to stand in a long line to see Mao's crystal coffin and you can't take pictures. Besides, it was closed.

Standing in the square, one readily gets the sense of the power of the state and the insignificance of the individual; and that's really the point.

A quick stroll through the urine-smelling underpass gets you to the southern gate of the Forbidden City (which, in Chinese, is currently called the Palace Museum.)

Strolling around the complex is the most pleasant way to spend the day in Beijing, but perhaps not at the peak times of the year.

You go north from here, go through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, up to the Hall of Supreme Harmony. And that's where it starts getting really cool.

LinkUp there, you can enjoy the throne room which was reserved for special ceremonies and the greeting of foreign dignitaries. It is my understanding that it was here, in 1793, that the British envoy George Macartney refused to bow before the Qianlong Emperor. And Qianlong wasn't exactly the kind of dude you'd really want to screw around with.

Beyond that, you can also see the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, where the wife of the Emperor Chongzhen, the last of the Ming emperors, hanged herself in 1644.

Finally, you exit through the Gate of Divine Might at the north; the sign displays calligraphy written by the hand of the esteemed historian Guo Morou. Sorry if that doesn't mean anything to you, but I've got one of his books.

After that, it was back to the airport and home again. With the exception of the pickpocketing, it was a pretty easy trip.


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