Monday, April 09, 2007

Tiananmen and Forbidden City (aka the stuff that you've probably seen a million pictures of already)

Well, I figure I need to wrap up Beijing round one before round two begins, so here it is, the main event, Tiananmen and the Forbidden City.

Now aside from the Great Wall, this is probably the most famous place in China, largely due to all that stuff that totally didn't happen on June 4 1989 (and if that date doesn't trigger a key word filter somewhere, I would be very surprised). By the time I made it there I guess I was suffering from camera fatigue, and was pretty well tapped out on Ming/Qing era architecture, so photos are sparse. What there is, is here

The infamous square itself isn't much to look at, (Its the world's largest public square but still, its just a square) though even in the off season when I was there there's a bunch of people milling around and the attendant map/flag sellers and scam artists that prey on them (although, being the off season, the tourists were mostly Chinese so the scammers weren't as thick on the ground as I'd heard they might be).

My great disappointment was that Zombie Mao was not available for viewing, as they were performing whatever dark rituals they must perform annually in order to keep him all nice and composed in his glass sarcophagus(interesting side note, when I told my Chinese friends about my disappointment, they all asked "so you think its a real body?"). So without that macabre gawk fest, all you're left with is a large paved area, a monument to the People's Glorious something or other, some statuary and some nice big Brutalist slabs of concrete that serve as government buildings.




(I bet that guy's job is a hoot)

and, guarding the MAOsoleum (yuk yuk), this fella:


I quite enjoy the thrust of these kinds of Chinese statues, they're all surging forward into... well something.

Anyway, looking to the North, you would be hard pressed to miss the 'Gate of Heavenly Peace' (which, surprise, translates as Tiānānmén). And off course, smack bang in the middle is a mugshot of Mr Heavenly Peace himself.


The characters say (from the left) "Long Live the People's Republic of China" and "Long live the Unity of the People's of the World"

So inside, you have a sprawling (some 440,000 square metres), walled city where the last few centuries of Chinese gliterati made their home, leaving only when absolutely necessary. It was considered to be the very centre of the universe (the universe being of course, China) and is in the dead centre of Beijing. The first thing you learn upon entering, is why its not a good idea to be visiting important Chinese cultural sites in the lead up to the Olympic games:


As I said before, I didn't take all that many pictures, but I did manage to find where they keep the spare stone lions:


Guess they couldn't compete with this guy:


I also found this interesting, a kind of half finished, psuedo-Victorian piece, and the only building in the place (I assume) using iron girders in its construction. There was nothing as useful as a plaque or anything like that to explain it, but it may have been one of the follies of Pu-Yi, the last emperor of China (though basically a puppet of various warlords, then the Japanese). I thought it was neato anyway:


And here is a wall, which illustrates the overwhelming theme of the Forbidden City: RED


Anyway, if you haven't gotten tired of waiting for those images to load and clicked off to more exciting corners of the internet yet, I present to you, the Ben Shaw Guide to Touristing in Tiananmen and avoiding the annoying people trying to sell you stuff or con you into coming to see their paintings or buy their maps or paper Chinese flags or give you a tour or something™

  • Keep your eyes fixed at some non-specific point in the mid-distance, and stride, with purpose, in that direction. Set your face to 'stern'.
  • Do not, at any time, stop moving. This will only invite someone to "help" you. For a fee
  • If possible, wear headphones. That way, when three people are running along beside you waving brochures and yelling "Mr! Mr! Tour! Tour!" you can at least pretend not to see them.
  • Pillars with maps, tourist information, or any kind of vendor stall are to be avoided entirely. These are to tourist scammers what Raccoon feces are to brain parasites.
  • All photographs should be taken whilst in motion, or if not possible you should start moving as soon as the shutter falls
  • Go in Winter.
Last, and most important tip of all: Normally, during peak season, it costs extra to see the Museums that are within the forbidden city. If you are ever there, DO IT. They are easily the best part of the whole shebang. There are museums for ceramics, jewellery and bronze work, each containing works that are up to 4000 years old. I can imagine that during the busy season, they'd be kind of crowded, and you'd have to see them 'Chinese style' (ie, file in one door, move past exhibits at a brisk and orderly pace that doesn't really allow you to actually look at anything, file out other door), but when I went they were largely empty and, even though many of the information cards are only in Chinese, well worth a look.

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