Sunday, April 08, 2012

The madding crowd in the Forbidden City

Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 film "The Last Emperor" had some great
shots of the enormous plazas within the Forbidden City.
Beijing's winter wears you down. Every day the high temperature is around 30 degrees, at night it goes down into the teens and the wind from the north can freeze your eyeballs. As recently as last week, there was still some ice on parts of the canals that never get sun on the Tsinghua University campus. 

Lately though, we began to feel spring in the air and now it is in full bloom. The warm weather makes it more inviting to get out and around. Last Saturday we went to the Forbidden City, which was built 600 years ago and was the palace for the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors.

Lining up for tickets. They cost $10.

People had warned us not to go on a weekend because of the crowds. They were right. You get pushed and shoved a lot more in China than you might somewhere else. People don't speak to strangers, so it is rare to hear someone say, "Pardon me" or "sorry."

This couple asked to have their picture taken with us
 outside the Forbidden City. I said we were "meiguo ren"(Americans)
 and they said something back that sounded friendly. Mao's
 huge portrait is just behind my head. 

The scale of the place is breathtaking. Inside the 26-foot-high walls are some 900 buildings on a rectangular site the covers the equivalent of 170 football fields. This was the home of the last emperor, Pu Yi, who abdicated in 1911 and then was permitted to stay until he was evicted in 1924. The site was then converted into a museum.

When I visited Beijing in 1988 with a group of journalists, we were taken to meet the brother of Pu Yi. Evidently the government brought him out to meet foreigners. He talked about how it was good that the empire was overthrown and the people were running the country.

All the roofs have golden tiles, the color of the emperor.

Lots of parents lifted their kids over the railings to touch the lion's head on this bronze water cistern. The woman wearing an army cap with a red star is probably not making a political statement. The caps are a nostalgia item for tourists. You never see them on the streets. Only at tourist sites. 

Tour groups from all over China come to see the old palace.
Most groups don identical hats to keep track of each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment