Friday, May 02, 2008

Day 2 –Forbidden Beijing

Tiananmen Square
It’s so big you can’t really appreciate it as a square, yet its empty and sterile appearance is matched by a warmth in the people. A walk around brings you into contacts with every type of Chinese citizen. May have clearly never seen a foreigner, and will stare, stop and listen and ask for photographs. They are, to a person, cheery and polite. The police presence, even those that are visible, is considerable, as several Falang people have tried to set light to themselves. It has seen battalions of Red Guards wave their little red books only to unleash terror and violence, demonstrations, and in 1989 the crushing of a student and worker democracy movement. It is
China’s epicentre.

It can hold half a million people and to the north is the gate into the high-walled Forbidden City below a huge portrait of Mao. It was here that he proclaimed the republic on 1 October 1949. This was also where the Emperor would lower his edicts in the mouth of a Golden Phoenix down from the wall. Mao, was, in effect, as Colin Thurbon calls him, the last Emperor.

Forbidden Walled City
The Forbidden City is aligned north to south pointing to the pole star, the source of heavenly authority for the Emperor. After crossing one of the five marble bridges the crimson city reveals courtyard after courtyard in a precisely planned, ordered and repeated series of symmetrical buildings and courtyards with orange/yellow, tiled roofs. Ceramic talismans lie at the corners of the roofs, in odd numbers, 5/7/9, to give good luck. To build this place the Ming Emperor built a 1000 mile canal from the previous capital Nanjing, measured the old capital palace, and built one even larger.

Structurally it reminded me of the temples of Egypt, particularly Karnac, with its carefully aligned (east to west) series of pylons and enclosures, forbidden to the population, with the Pharaoh, the link between heaven and man, who left to renew agricultural prosperity every year. The similarities don’t end there. Both civilisations kept themselves, fairly hermetically sealed, and both had continuous 400 year dynastic histories. Both dynasties had more than their fair share of despotic men, hapless youths and poisonous women. More importantly, the Emperors/Pharoahs were seen to control the cycles of time.

The buildings have burned to the ground, deliberately and accidentally, many times, hence the huge bronze cauldrons next to every substantive structure. The buildings were built of wood on stone platforms to satisfy the eternal urge of balance between ying and yang, despite the obvious problems with fire. Made of iterlocking wooden beams, without nails, they are particularly resistant to earthquakes. The dragon paths are huge, single blocks of marble, transported on ice during winter. The columns are made of huge timbers that were transported trasported from the south by water.

Here, tens of thousands of eunuchs ran the show. Their penis and testicles 'treasures' were cut off and kept in jar. This tradition continued until well into the 20th century. Concubines were another large group, 13-25 year old virgins, who could never leave the city. The place had lots of gifts, most notably a giraffe.

Even today this centralised state can command huge building projects to be completed to tight timescales. The cadres are the new eunuchs. Then, as now, there were state police and pogroms that happened then, as in recent Maoist history. Taianmet Square has see its massacres and so has te city where thousands of eunuchs and concubines were torn to shreds after rumours of illicit relations between the two.

Walled Hutongs
We left the Forbidden City via the North entrance, over the moat, and went to the Hutongs where we had a rickshaw ride. These tightly packed walled courtyard houses are hidden from view. Stopping off at a market we saw live fish in tanks being bashed to death inside plastic bags for customers and the usual array of hen, chicken and quail eggs. Every street had its community volunteer with a red armband.

Afterwards we had lunch with a family in a hutong house. The guy brought t his fighting crickets. They had their own little cage with a bed, water and furniture. Their living room had a Buddha and Mao statue next to each other.

We all went to an acrobatic show, and although the audience was small, it was jaw dropping. All the usual stuff, but the hat routine was fantastically choreographed.


At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Rina said...

This is sick, why would some one do this? India has such a gentle History with such humane rulers like Ashoka, Vikramaditya and Buddha , who was a prince that this seems animal-like. After the Mughals India began closing up and had these woman-opressing trditions like purdah coming up. The History here is so interesting, what all has happened in this short span of human race. Great post.


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