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Day 42 Beijing

July 8, 2011

July 7, 2011 (Thursday)

Forty-second day in China, tenth day in Beijing: 故宫 The Forbidden City, 王府井 Wangfujing Street, 南锣鼓巷 Nanluogu Alley

I slept late again and ate vegetables on rice with greens and soy milk at the place next door, then took a cab to the Forbidden City. Behind Tian’anmen is another large, red gate, and the massive yellow-roofed gate of the imperial complex. I bought my ticket here and walked in.

The Forbidden City houses the most intact collection of imperial buildings in China, according to the signs, was built about 1400, and served as the permanent residence of the Ming and Qing emperors, until the boy emperor 溥儀 Puyi was forced to abdicate at six years old during the 1911 revolution, having reigned for three years (he remained in the palace until expelled in 1924). The central path presented the most imposing halls, containing thrones, sculptures, and calligraphy. One hall sat atop a three-tiered marble base. The crowds were thick. I spent over three hours wandering the compound. I walked around each regal hall until I came to the garden, and explored the east, then west sides.

The east side exhibited treasures, such as jewelry and gold ewers, and contained many indistinguishable halls, invariably red, with colored eaves and marble approach. Housed in one gallery were 石鼓 stone drums, stones more than two thousand years old on which were engraved writings about the state, the harvest, and such. With these stones scholars have traced the development of Chinese writing, the display read.

The west side contained the former living quarters of the imperial family, notably 慈禧 Cixi and Puyi, and concubines. Puyi, dethroned at six, grew up in the palace. According to the displays, he preferred English lessons to Confucianism, wore Western clothes, and was married in imperial fashion at seventeen. When expelled from the palace two years later, he carried off one of the 三希 Three Treasures, a famous painting, only to have it discovered and confiscated (it’s today in Taipei). Also displayed were chopsticks, spoons, and things made of gold, jade, ebony, and precious stones. Many buildings I could not enter, but peer through glass at a dim interior. Some buildings were galleries. The City comprised much empty space.

Up and down marble stairs, I exited through Tian’anmen and walked along Chang’an Street to Wangfujing. Beverage companies offered outdoor seating arrangements along the wide pedestrian lane, lined by department stores. I wandered through tall, gleaming Wangfujing Bookstore, ate in the noisy food court underground, perused the 外文书店 Foreign Languages Bookstore, and walked north, through a hutong, and up Nanluoguxiang, or South Luogu Alley, a narrow lane covered by trees, lined by bars, cafes, and shops, and full of people. The shops seemed to sell trinkets or clothes, and the cafes offered cozy places to sit. I bought dry fruit and water for my flight tomorrow, and retired to the lively hostel.


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