With three millennia of history, it’s not surprising that Beijing boasts seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian and the Grand Canal. On our only day left in Beijing before the start of our walk on the Great Wall, we decided to visit Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. I’d been there before but many of our group hadn’t, so that was the plan.
A vast crowd had the same idea, it seemed. Just to get through the security barriers took quite a lot of time. There was time aplenty to compare this visit to those in previous years.
There are several differences it seems to me. The first is the security… I’ve never had to do this before… but that’s more and more common world wide. The second difference is the sheer number of people wanting to get into the area. That also seems to be a phenomena at most well renowned tourist sites world wide now. A third difference is really pronounced; and that’s the number of tourists here who were Chinese… tourists in their own country, eagerly having a look at their own history. In times past, I remember there being many more foreign tourists doing the sightseeing than locals. Now, I estimate that foreigners were outnumbered 100 to 1! Travel for a lot of Chinese must be possible now that their economy is growing.
Eventually we made it through security only to have to share Tiananmen Square with many thousands of others. It was packed despite being the fourth largest city square in the world. It’s huge, having been enlarged a number of times since it was built in 1651. And is even more impressive because it’s entirely open with, usually, not a tree or a seat in sight.
However, the square wasn’t so empty this time. There were vast beds of flowers and an artificial hill put there as part of the country’s recent celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Chinese defeat of the Japanese in 1945. Very impressive… as it was meant to be!
I thought perhaps all the flowers were there to celebrate the anniversary of my birth, 1945.
Not so! Oh well. I could just enjoy them anyway.
And enjoy them we did.
Apart from the artificial ‘mountains’ in the Square at present, all else remains the same. The only greenery for this square are the trees which line the outer eastern and western sides of the square. There are light poles which provide bright light at night. They also serve as CCTV mounting points; you are always being watched! The square is always manned by many uniformed and plain clothed police. To me, these uniformed individuals all looked very young. And, of course, I refrained from photographing them!
Tiananmen Square is a very important and historic place for the Chinese people. Around its perimeter are many nationally important buildings including the Monument to the People’s Heroes of the Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum and Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum which houses his embalmed body.
Whatever we in the west might think of Chairman Mao and his leadership of China, his body is still on show here and his portrait still hangs in great prominence in Tiananmen Square. It was here that Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949, a very important day in Chinese history.
After milling with the throngs we moved on to the Forbidden City. Many thousands of visitors all moved quietly around taking in this historical place. Our lovely guide, Hero, did tell us though, that to see the real Chinese history, one has to visit Japan! Mao and the Cultural Revolution sure had an impact on China, even to this day.
From 1420 to 1912, the 980 buildings that make up “The Forbidden City” were home to the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and, of course, their large households. It was the political centre of Chinese Government and the place of Imperial ceremonies for 500 years. It now houses the Palace Museum and is open to the paying public.
But, as you can see from this photo, taking meaningful photos was almost an impossibility.
Compared to other visits, I found this visit to the Palace Museum very frustrating. These days, with so many people and security at such a high level, visitors find that places of interest and objects they’d like to view, are either roped off, or glassed in, or shrouded in crowds of heads, or obscured by a waving line of cameras held high overhead. However, there are many good photos of this museum on the web and I’ll leave you to find them and peruse them at your leisure. Let me just say that I have good memories of better times.
I was rather relieved when we left the Museum and headed by a short bus ride to a lovely little restaurant tucked in under a pavilion sitting atop a hill. The food was based on the style found in the Yunnan Provence of China. Interestingly, that was where I planned to visit at the end of my Walk on the Wall and before the beginning of my Mongolian adventure. I liked what I ate here, so I looked forward to more Yunnan food in Kunming.
I left lunch early to attend a presentation being given by Alexia Sinclair, Jennie’s first Art Travel Scholarship winner some twelve years ago. My time in Beijing just happened to coincide with her visit, so there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity of catching up with her and hubby James. Apart from Alexia and James, I think I was the only other foreigner in the room. I estimate that there were about 100 attendees.
The photo above is of one of Alexia’s works that we have at home. It’s from her Swedish Series, “A Frozen Tale”. Her works hang in many parts of the world in private and public collections. You can check out her work for yourselves at <www.alexiasinclair.com>
Alexia’s presentation took us through her early interest in ballet, art and photography to where she is today as probably (no she is) the world leader in the digital manipulation and compilation of photographic images. The presentation was a little tedious as everything had to be translated. I remember giving a talk under the same conditions once and the whole affair ends up being very tiring for all concerned. But I was glad I was there to support Alexia.
My next task was to find my way back to the hotel! But, for once, I knew where I was and where I had to go so I walked the couple of kilometres back to my hotel, not taking one wrong turn. Had I deviated from the straight and narrow I would have got lost as the road I had to follow was completely straight! Only move I had to make was to cross the road.
Now the reason I didn’t want to get lost on my way back to the hotel is quite evident in this photo taken looking down from upstairs in our hotel. These are the roofs of the neighbouring houses in this old Hutong area of Beijing. To get lost in those narrow streets may well mean that you would never be seen again! Fascinating though it might be in there, I’m guessing that one needs a guide to negotiate that maze of streets… and I was on my own.
That evening, no-one was interested in an evening meal. I certainly didn’t need one either, so I wandered back up to the local shop and bought a Danish and a can of beer… I needed the fluid, of course, and just a little something to tide me over until breakfast.
By then it was time to pack my bag and get ready for the real purpose of this trip…
the Walk on the Wall.
All photography copyright © David Young of jtdytravels
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