In the entire history of China, each Dynasty that has ruled through the ages has had an emperor. And Beijing has been the capital of China, the seat of power in this incredible civilization, for almost six and a half hundred years. That would be enough time for about 30 emperors to sit on the throne in Beijing.
The capital is built in a style with concentric circles around Tiananmen Square (read Kieran’s post: The Largest Square in the World) and the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was a grand place and very important to China at the time. It is to China as the White House is to the United States, Buckingham Palace is to England, Versailles is to France, and Kremlin is to Russia.
The Forbidden city is a palace (as big as a small town, so you could call it a city) that was a restricted area for only the emperor, his wife, and very high ranking officials. The Southern half was a bit more open, available to high ranking military officials, officers, and other people bringing special demands, proposals, or urgent news. The Northern half though, much farther away from Tiananmen Square, was only for the emperor and his family, as well as people that just needed to be back there, for repairs, or for protection. From Tiananmen Square, we entered under the arch that was for the emperor only. Even his wife only got to go through that arch on her wedding day. There were many arches, each one for a certain class of people.
It was built with a gate or large building, an open area in front of it, and then another structure. It goes on like that. There is quite a lot of symetry on the outside of the buildings, and if you look at a map, the East and West sides look virtually identical. Everything inside of the Forbidden city was built for China and the emperor. In the Southern half of the Palace/City, there is an extremely important building where the emperor would recieve visitors or news. But before he got there, he had to get prepared. As you can probably imagine, the emperors didn’t get a whole lot of physical exercise. In pictures they were often depicted with particularly round bellies. As they would walk from their chambers to the place where they would greet the visitor, they would enter a small lounge area, wipe the sweat from their foreheads, get dressed, and then proceed to welcome the visitor.
The tile roofs and vibrant colors along the roofs of the palace’s buildings just showed how wealthy China must have been. I looked at a map. When China was united under the Ming, all glamorous and prosperous, Europe was a mess. Ottomans in Anatolia and Bulgaria, Italy, France, and Germany fractured into 30 different groups. Spain hadn’t even finished reconquering Iberia yet!
And the Forbidden city is so big and has so many rooms that the emperor could sleep in a different room each day for an entire year, and still not be done. It would take him 27 years to sleep in every room. Isn’t that crazy? There was even a huge garden with trees that are supposedly 500 years old. They brace the trees today with metal and wires to keep the trees standing. China was able to build stuff like this in addition to the biggest cities in the world for their time and wonders like the Great Wall of China.
One of the great aspects of this trip is learning about things and then spotting them in other places. In the Forbidden City, they had these 20 ton pillars with little dragons on top. We found out that these were not dragons, but something called a Hou. In fact, Mushu from the disney film Mulan was a Hou. The Hous were meant to guide the emperor just as Mushu guided Mulan.
I find China extraordinary. Only in the last 200 years, their civilization has not been the leading world power. No wonder they have long thought they were the center of the universe. It is incredible!
Below: Forbidden City Pictures