Thursday, 18 April 2013

From China (11)

Thursday 18 April 2013 – Beijing, the essentials
This morning's tour was of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City followed by a look-see of the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan).

They say that they can fit a million people into Tiananmen Square, and although this seems to be slightly optimistic, it felt as though the number of tourists was getting somewhere close. Just why they were all there wasn't entirely clear to me: sure, it's a square, and there's a monument and flagpole to look at, and Mao's portrait looks down on the scene from Tiananmen Gate, but more than that? I suppose it is significant because it's where Mao proclaimed the founding of the PRC in 1949 and of course it's where "that" event occurred in 1989 (the first of these was mentioned by our guide but the second wasn't!) 

Of course, a lot of Chinese were there to queue to go through Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, but our tour guide told us that it can 3 hours to get to the head of the queue. Whether this was so his morning or not, I don't know. I noticed that it moved along quite quickly.  This may be because, as one guidebooks puts it, "visitors are herded past Mao's corpse by brusque soldiers who brook no lingering".

Forbidden City

Forbidden city
Having mentioned the comments made by our guide in a different context, for completeness I need to add that he was quite open about Mao as being respected for his role in establishing China as it is today, but that he made "some mistakes".

Across the street is the Forbidden City. Lots of courtyards, pavilions, bridges, urns ..... it was even more extensive than my reading had led me to expect. Also, lots of tourists, many in tour groups, as we were, but perhaps to a greater extent than some of the others, we were given quite a lot of "free time" at various junctures.

All very interesting and I did my best to absorb it all, but I will have to revert to the guidebooks to appreciate it to the full.
The visit to the Temple of Heaven was also interesting.  It's located in a large park, which is used by the locals for all sorts of activities.   I'm afraid that the "theological" explanations given at the Temple were a bit lost on me! I also detected a note of ambivalence in the captions, which seemed a little torn between the complex being a celebration of historic Chinese architecture as against the beliefs represented being a feudal hangover, supposedly left behind in 1920 or thereabouts.

Tomorrow we tick the final box:  the Great Wall.    Apparently this involves an early start to avoid the worst of the traffic.  Oh well, after that, we set our own timings until we leave on Sunday.

[Edit - images added]

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