Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

43. Beijing, China Day 4 - Forbidden City -

Day 4 in Beijing, Forbidden City
Entrance to the Forbidden City
With Mao's Picture

In The Forbidden City were 3000 wives, 50,000 young eunuchs and just one man according to our guide. This is how the saying goes in China. Those were the tenants of the Forbidden City in the past, our stop on day four in Beijing. I like history as you can tell. It tells me ways to live I never thought of. It shows me people I would rather not meet in real life. I learn about ways of treating people that are
Beautiful Art Work in the Walkways
deplorable. There are places that are immensely impressive in The Forbidden City, yet underlying the impressiveness is a lot of sadness. There is also grandeur, even beauty here, but at what price?

Tour guides delight in the foibles of the Emperors who lived here, of their peculiar ways. Emperors ruled by traditions, rituals, superstitions and personal beliefs.
More Walkways
These mere men, these emperors, were selected “hybrids” of human-kind. Most emperors were totally out of touch with the common man’s way of living. Artificially refined, pampered and spoiled, most were afraid of being assassinated by their enemies on a daily, even hourly basis. Precautions were installed, of course, but mistrust was bred into their psyche.  Paranoia kept the
Inside and Out, the Walkways are Beautiful
emperors from living a normal life. They were busy with the affairs of state but relied heavily on their close advisers, experts or family. I wonder sometimes if they would rather have been a “normal” man, rather than this artificial, pampered person, protected and revered.

Easy to Admire These Ceilings

Living as an emperor was always dangerous; most of the time your own relatives would kill you. From the 400 plus emperors of China, 85 or so were murdered by family members. Infighting, wanting the position of Emperor, wanting the power, was derigeur. Behind most of the secret power struggles were the women of the court. The eldest son of a favourite wife would be the next emperor
Another One
automatically. There were many rules and the inheritance rules seemed complicated. Yet the women knew them by heart. The struggle to be the favourite wife, the best concubine, the number one wife drove those women. History shows that even women could wield power and that made bidding for the throne even sweeter. The object of this power struggle was always the emperor. He had to be done away with, any way possible. What a life to be an emperor!
Many Tranquil Park-Like Areas

So what good are 3000 wives and many concubines if all they want to do is kill you? Even some of the eunuchs had visions of being in command. The Forbidden City was a viper’s nest.

Crooked Bridge to Prevent the
Evil Spirits From Crossing
But then how true are the stories I am being told? I could not verify the kill ratio of 85 kills to 400 emperors; I tried to Google the answers but Google is blocked in China. I could not confirm the 3000 wives, either, nor the 50,000 young eunuchs. We had a tour guide while we walked some of the grounds of the Forbidden City. He was a smart, 52 year-old man, full of numbers and facts. But how do I verify what he told us? I read the newspaper here in Beijing, translated into English. To my mind the words are massaged, and
Beautiful But New-Looking Buildings
propagandized. I find it hard to believe anything I hear and even see in China. I know for a fact that during the history of Beijing, part or all of The Forbidden City was burned. What we see today is a good replica, a modern antique. I am sure the Forbidden City, as a whole, looked very close to what is being shown. But it also lacks the true antique look of old buildings. Mixed in with the old-
Very Colourful
looking buildings are a modern Kindergarten and  Concert Hall now. Pavarotti sang in this new Concert Hall and it looks like a gray stone wart on the face of the traditional looking, reddish painted, yellow tiled houses and pavilions. The modern look of the Concert Hall does not really fit the Old City. Can I blame the Chinese Government? Millions of people visit this place in a year. How
More Beautiful Buildings
could the Government truly keep this place genuine? How is it possible to display the delicate splendour of years gone by with so many people traipsing in and out? I think this “new” museum, The Forbidden City, brings in lots of money from world-wide tourism. The Forbidden City is a close approximation of what was. With imagination, one can inject more delicate splendour and refinement. The city is a Museum Shell, a focal point of China's diverse history which today, is filled with dishonest tour guides, rich Western tourists and millions of Chinese who like to look at what was once forbidden.
Had a Great View of the Forbidden City
From the Pagoda at the Top
The expanse of The Forbidden City is huge; we walked near the outskirts and never even saw the center buildings. We climbed an artificial hill with a pagoda on top for a bird’s eye view over the Forbidden City complex. Our guide chose the route, we followed. Up and down stairs forever. Or so it seemed. We saw the ‘unusual’, the women's quarters. We were shown typical residences of the upper strata within the Forbidden City.
View of the Forbidden City From the
Top of the Hill 

Like always in China, there was a layer cake of jobs and positions around the Emperor. Some jobs would be close to the man who ruled and those people slept in beds at night. Some just swept the floors or weeded the gardens and slept on the floor wherever they could. Naturally we were not shown the floor where those dirt pushers slept, but did see the nice residences the middle to upper layers had.
Another View of the Forbidden City
We were shown the buildings that held the Gold, Silver and Treasures of the Forbidden City, but they are all empty today, there is not even a nickel left to see. The “dig” from our guide was that the People of Taiwan stole most of it. And naturally I was told by our guide that Taiwan is China, not an independent Republic. And naturally I could not just nod my
Pagoda at the Top of the Hill
head and acknowledge his propaganda. I told him that Taiwan actually did a good thing then. They saved all those treasures from the Cultural Revolution that swept through China under Mao who destroyed immeasurably valuable and extremely rare objects and treasures that were irreplaceable. His mumbles to himself I could not respond to, he probably called me some names.
Inside the Pagoda

We had a weird guide. Very knowledgeable it seemed, but also very much a communist from the olden days. He guided us through back alleys, took us with local buses to hidden sections within the city, promised us ‘free’ tea etc. and lead us further and further afield. After some time I got rid of him, feigning fatigue and being too tired to continue. He left with $20. - U.S. in his fingers.

And we, because it was past lunch time, went for some food.
Carol and I were not too happy with this guide. He seemed only interested in himself. Sure he knew things, knew tons of numbers but were those numbers true? We might go back to the Forbidden City but this time without a guide.

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