We spent most of today at the Forbidden City, the home of the emperors of China for nearly a thousand years. Built by the Ming emperor Yongle, it is the largest palace complex in the world -- spanning across more than 180 acres -- and is truly overwhelming. The scale was clearly designed to overwhelm all who came to visit, and we can just imagine how a 14th or 15th century visitor might imagine that the sheer size of the palace must mean that the emperor had at least some assistance from the gods, if he wasn't actually a god himself. This impression was carefully cultivated by the emperors as well, as they were called "Son of Heaven", and treated differently from all other men. Different plates and food, different color clothing, different words of address, and most importantly, the emperor had complete, absolute power over all other people.
The palace complex, housed not only the emperor's living quarters but also government functions for the empire. As you walk through the entrance at Tianenmen Gate, you proceed north over a stylized river with 5 bridges. The center bridge is a carved marble path, reserved for the emperor, although he would never actually walk on it. In this part of the palace he was carried everywhere, as a reminder to everyone that he was the son of heaven. This particular path was carved from a single piece of marble (according to Roger Moore, our audio tour guide). Here, Chris is imagining that he might be carried instead of having to walk across 180 + acres.
The paths then run through several massive "gates", or large rectangular buildings open on the first floor, with rooms upstairs. This is a view of the ceiling of the first gate. Although it has been restored and rebuilt several times since it was first constructed in the 14th century, it is still impressive. Each gate also has massive wooden doors, each with exactly 81 large nails. The number 81 is believed by the Chinese to have the ultimate yin and yang significance and was usually only reserved for the emperor. The doors also have thresholds about 1 foot high, once again to separate the carried emperor from those walking. Hsuang Tung, the last emperor, had all of the thresholds cut away when he was in his teens, so that he could ride his bicycle more easily.
This small palace was completed in 1776, as our forefathers were doing all that democracy stuff. Here, they were just doing some minor improvements for some concubine or retired emperor. While George Washington was shivering in Philadelphia, (you don't think he actually slept up in those huts in Valley Forge, do you?) the Chinese empire was already about the size that the US is today. They had a massive bureaucracy, which was filled through a series of examinations. The highest level of examinations were administered in the Forbidden City, with the Emperor proctoring the exam Sort of like the GMAT's....
The Forbidden City is a small part of Beijing, although it is quite large. Although it is the largest existing palace complex in the world, the "Summer Palace, in the northern suburbs of Beijing, was much larger, almost three times the size, until the Europeans looted and burned it in the late 1800's. Now it is a good sized park, which we didn't visit, so no picture. Beijing, even with these huge parks, Tianenmen, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and many others, still houses a lot of people. Boston has oh, 600,000 residents, with maybe 1.5 million inside the 128 ring highway. Beijing is home to over 11 million people. Sort of makes you wonder exactly what universe Boston is the Hub of, anyway.
this is a Mao's-eye view of Tianenmen Square, from the top of Tianenmen
Gate, where he would address the Chinese people, and where he declared
the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. Imagine looking out over the
square, created by destroying imperial office buildings during the early
years of the PRC, and controlling the destiny of a billion people.
Heady stuff. The building in the distance is actually near the center
of the square, and it is Mao's tomb. The guide book says that it
bears a striking resemblance to the US Lincoln Memorial. Well....
Anyway, onward and upward to our final stop,
Hong Kong. We don't expect to take too many pictures there, because
we expect to spend most of the time shopping. So bear with us, and
thanks for coming along.