Friday, November 18, 2011

Beijing Day 2: Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City

Blog Entry #47: Beijing Day 2: Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Beijing McDonald's photo that brought the reprimand!
Our second day in Beijing began with a visit to another China icon: Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City.  In search of a cup of coffee before we left the hotel, we ended up at the local McDonald’s, of all places, where we replaced soupy tofu and porridge for a McSausage sandwich – and got reprimanded for taking a picture inside the restaurant!  How ironic to patronize a fastfood chain in Beijing that I steadfastly avoid in Missoula!  Yet a sure sign of globalization’s growing impact on China is that McDonald’s and KFC are everywhere.
Street vendors Tian'anmen Square
Lining up for a photo at the Great Hall of the People
Cameras in Tian'anmen Square
Tian’anmen Square is as vast and open in real life as it appears in photos.  Located in the center of the city where the longitudinal and latitudinal axes of Beijing intersect, it is the largest urban square in the world – over 440,000 square meters – and able to hold over a million people.  On one side stands the Great Hall of the People; opposite it is the National Museum of China.  On the other side sits the Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, containing Mao’s mausoleum; opposite it is the Tian’anmen Gate Tower and entrance to the Forbidden City.
Lining up to view Mao at the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall
Lining up to view Mao Zedong
In front of the Gate to the Forbidden City in Tian'anmen Square
It was moving to see at 8:00 am already the long line of Chinese citizens waiting to get of Chairman Mao in his mausoleum there.  And it was sobering to reflect back on the student freedom movement in 1989 that had occupied this square, only to be crushed by soldiers and tanks. Especially sobering when one learns that Tian’anmen means roughly “Gate of the Heavenly Peace.”
Dan in Tian'anmen Square
Father & Childen in Tian'anmen Sq.
Guarding Mao, Forbidden City
After taking the requisite photos with the oversized photo of Chairman Mao over the archway of the Tian’anmen Gate, we entered into the Forbidden City.  

I was not prepared for the vastness of this imperial complex: it covers 720,000 square meters in a series of tall, red-tiled temples, palaces, gates and rock courtyards.  

With our guides, Fuchen & Stephen
Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forgidden City
Home to 24 emperors for over 500 years from 1406 to 1911, construction took 15 years, involving 100,000 skilled technicians and millions of laborers.
Crowds entering the Forbidden City
Stone carving on stairway
The structure and architecture of the city reflect the Chinese principles of yin yang and the Five Elements.  The entire city is surrounded by a walled moat, with towers at the corner.  One feels very small indeed making one’s way through it!
Tower, Wall, and Moat surrounding the Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City
Temple of Heaven
Men playing Checkers at the Temple of Heaven
Superman enters the Temple of Heaven
Following the immense and rather austere courtyards and palaces of the Forbidden City, it was lovely to walk through the grounds of the Temple of Heaven, built at the same time as the Forbidden City under the Ming dynasty, but even more immense in layout, covering 2.73 million square meters, making it the largest-scale temple sacrifice complex in the world.  We were only able to see a fraction of it, culminating our visit with a climb to the beautiful circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
Silk Street Market, Beijing
Old & New: Bicyles and Beijing Skyscrapers
It seemed an odd juxtaposition, though perhaps strangely fitting, that we followed our visit to the Temple of Heaven, center of worship for the imperial dynasties, to the chaotic and energetic Silk Street Market, a paean to our contemporary religion of consumption.  Six floors of every imaginable consumer good and clothing item, from faux Gucci and faux Polo to authentic silk items, our students hit the market with fervor, while Pat and I chose to walk several blocks of downtown Beijing, taking in the architecture of the expanding skyline. 
Beijing Skyscrapers near Silk Street Market
Pat bargaining for Christmas ornaments in the Silk Street Market
We then caught our breath at a local coffee shop before gathering our courage to plunge into the Market.  Once we got into the spirit, we had fun bargaining with the vendors, play-acting heart attacks when we heard their initial sky-high price quotes, and making our way down to something more reasonable.
Walking the tightrope in the Heaven and Earth Theatre
Models at Temple of Heaven
We ended the day watching Chinese acrobats put on a dazzling performance at the Heaven and Earth Theatre.  Initially I was not terribly enthused about going to yet another performance, but the acrobats were simply amazing in the variety of different acts and skills they performed, constantly taking our breath away.  A great way to end a touristy, but fun day.

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