A Visit to the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace

Photo of Tiananmen Square

Today we have the opportunity to visit the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square and later in the day the plan is to see the Summer Palace of the Emperor.

It is morning time in Beijing and the bus ride from our hotel to the famous Tiananmen Square is filled with anticipation to see this place made so famous by “Tank Man” the unidentified man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests by force.

As many as 10,000 students, pro-democracy activists were killed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on that horrific day of bloodshed. The Chinese authoritarian government has long-since hushed-up this event and most of the Chinese population have very little if any knowledge of this historic day.

Wang Weilin, above, has been identified, allegedly, as the Tank Man, but his whereabouts and his fate remain unknown. Many have suggested that his fate was the same as the 10,000 student activists who lost their lives.

Our Chinese guide, who spoke English so well that he would rival anyone born in an English speaking country, gave us the non-political viewpoint of the tour. He was, however, limited in what he could tell us about what actually happened in 1989 in Tiananmen Square or for that matter whatsoever remotely close to anything associated with negativity against the Chinese government. I pressed our guide for information about the Tank Man, Wang Weilin and the events of June 5, 1989, but he confessed that his knowledge was second-hand and much of that information had mostly been obtained from members of foreign tour groups that he had guided.

Above, the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, is the final resting place of Chairman Mao. Mao was Chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the Chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death in 1976. This building sits along the same promenade as the Forbidden City and is an easy walking distance from it.

The Forbidden City was built as the palace of the Ming emperors in the 15th century. The massive complex is located in the center of Beijing and was the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. Since the 1920s portions of it have been opened to the public as a museum.

Above, the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong adorns the wall of the entrance to the Forbidden City and overlooks the famous Tiananmen Square.

An enterprising salesperson offers colorful hats to those tourists who need a respite from the bright sun at Tiananmen Square.

Above, although photographing armed Chinese guards is not forbidden, in the Forbidden City, their stern, intimidating look encourages you to snap your cameras shutter quickly and not linger for very long.

Above and below, the changing of the guard at the Forbidden City is not like others that I have seen in other places in the world. Here, the Chinese populace seems to avoid looking at this intimidating hourly event. This, in turn, makes foreign tourists avoid watching this spectacle as well. I found it interesting and watched (and photographed) the entire event without any issues.

Above, the guard on the far right let me know with his eyes that he was watching me so I quickly rejoined our tour group just after taking this photo.

Foreigners are called “Qweilo” or “Qwai Lo” in China. Gweilo is a common Cantonese slang term for Westerners literally translated as “foreign devil.” Originally it referred to light-skinned people of European descent and has a history of scathing racially derogatory use.

The grounds of the Forbidden City are a labyrinth of alleys and passageways. Our tour began on the southern end, near Tiananmen Square, at the Meridian Gate. We walked in a northerly direction, stopping to take numerous photos and see numerous, wonderful works of Chinese architecture. It is a vast complex, easy to get lost in, but also easy to get unlost. When we were there it was quite hot, and we were glad to have brought extra water bottles.

Above, located throughout the Forbidden City is the swastika symbol. Many tourists were almost appalled to see it prominently carved on massive doors, and on other conspicuous places. Few realize that the geometrical figure is a very ancient religious icon from Asian as well as European cultures. Sadly in the 1930s this symbol of auspiciousness and good luck has turned into an emblem of Nazism, racism, and antisemitism. Thankfully this iconic emblem remains a representation of divinity and spirituality in native European, Indian, and Chinese religions, as well as Mongolian and Siberian shamanisms. According to René Guénon, an influential figure in the field of metaphysics, the swastika represents the north pole, the center and the axle of the world, the activity of the absolute God of the universe shaping the world.

Above, a peaceful reflection while crossing a classicly designed bridge on the Forbidden City grounds.

Above, one of many groundskeepers that works diligently to keep the vast complex neat and orderly.

Above, my wife is almost always happy to serve as my prop to show the size and perspective of an object.

Our walking tour of the Forbidden City ended at the northern end of the complex, at the North Gate, where we mingled with other tourists and waited for our bus to pick us up.

Above, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck in most Asian cultures. In the Chinese zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao, the dragon is the fifth in the 12-year cycle. If you were born in one of these years, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, and 2012, you were born under the sign of the dragon.

Above, at the Imperial Gardens of the Forbidden City is an assemblage of extraordinarily formed trees, most having naturally formed faces in their burl. Here is one shaped as the head of a lion.

Our group finished the walking tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The tour bus was already waiting for us as we boarded for our next destination, the Summer Palace.

Built in 1750, by the Emperor Qianglong, the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, it would be the first Summer Palace, named Qingyi Yuan or “the Garden of Clear Ripples.” The Summer Palace is located in central Beijing on grounds that cover about one square mile, three-quarters of which is water.

In December 1998, UNESCO added the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. It declared the Summer Palace “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.” In 1860, the Summer Palace was destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied Forces and rebuilt in 1886.

The Summer Palace embodies Chinese design and horticulture. Surpassed by the surrounding Kunming Lake and the Longevity Hill, this massive complex serves as a spectacular, yet peaceful horticultural garden.

Dragon boats ply the waters of Kunming Lake taking delighted passengers on excursions that highlight the magnificent complex, wonderful botanical gardens, and extraordinary Chinese architecture.

Kunming Lake is a man-made lake which covers about three-quarters of the Summer Palace grounds. Along with Longevity Hill, the lake is the key feature of the gardens and although large in total space, it is quite shallow, with an average depth of only 5 feet (1.5 meters).

Although large in relative size, and visited by many people, the complex seems rather uncrowded, even peaceful. It seems that there is an unwritten tradition whereby calm and relaxation are the rules.

What could be more peaceful than gliding down a tranquil river which seems to flow right out of a classic Chinese painting of sublime ink wash and flowing brushstrokes?

In 1912, with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, and after being the home of 24 emperors, 14 of them of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty, the Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China.

There were over 230,000 artisans employed and several million laborers who were involved in the construction of the Forbidden City. The vast complex consists of approximately 980 buildings, covering over 180 acres (72 hectares) and was constructed from 1406 to 1420.

There was a time when no one other than the royal family could enter the Forbidden City, hence the name, unless by invitation to commoners, high officials or other members of the imperial families. Now more than 14 million people visit this place annually, but there are plans to limit the number of daily visitors. Perhaps now would be a great time to add this place to your bucket list so that you can enjoy a visit to this very special place and add an important drop in the bucket.

 

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use any photos or for hand-signed, high-resolution copies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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