Day 4: A Perfect Blend of Past and Present

Today we visited some famous cultural spots in Beijing. Our day began early with a trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Our tour guide told us that they only let 80,000 people in the square each day so it was important that we get there early to secure our spots. The city square is surrounded on each side by various monuments, buildings, and gates. Security of the area was probably the most intense out of anywhere in the whole trip; we had to show our passports to get in and all throughout the square there were big security cameras disguised as lampposts. It felt like the Chinese government was begrudgingly letting tourists in. The most memorable site in the square was the north gate with a huge portrait of Chairman Mao. Although it is mostly the older generation in China that has closer ties to the public figure, Mao penetrates innumerable parts of Chinese society through the currency, museums, and monuments.

Tiananmen square flows into the forbidden city and it is difficult to tell when one begins and the other ends. The forbidden city is overwhelmingly massive, there’s no other way to describe it. The complex consists of nearly 1,000 buildings and covers over 180 acres. It’s astonishing to imagine just how luxurious of a lifestyle the emperors in ancient China lived.

It was amazing to me how well preserved the 600 year old wooden buildings were.  You can tell the Chinese government takes great pride in its country’s history as almost all the intricate details on the buildings were painted with a fresh, bright layer of paint. It was also interesting to see this grouping of traditional Chinese architecture surrounded by a sea of more modern buildings in the center of the Beijing.

One similarity between the Forbidden City and downtown Beijing are a pair of lions on either side of the entrance to a building or gateway. We learned that the female lion is always on the right, while the male is always on the left. The female lion is depicted with a cub to symbolize the emperor’s posterity and his love/care for his children. The male lion is depicted with a ball which represents the emperor’s supremisy over the world.

Next on our trip we visited Hutong, which is a historic cultural neighborhood in Beijing. I really enjoyed this visit because I got to experience how the majority of people in Beijing live as well as just how important ancient beliefs remain in current Chinese society. We got to ride on a rickshaw through the small ally streets crowded with discarded items, rusty bikes, stray dogs, and even residents napping in the sun. We stopped to visit the home of a man who explained to us that the layout of his home, and almost all of the other homes in the neighborhood, follow the rules of feng shui; for example, the most respected members of the family are housed in the northernmost room because it gets the most sunlight. From my studies, I was familiar with fung shui and how it is still used in modern-day China, but actually getting to see and experience the meticulous thought process put into the arrangement of a person’s living space was very interesting.

After these stops we traveled to the Temple of Heaven. Again I was taken aback with how well preserved the temple was and how beautiful and vibrant the colors painted on it were. It was astonishing to think that a building made out of wood has lasted hundreds of years.

The temple is in a peaceful park area so after we visited it, we found an area shaded with trees where we took a tai chi class. Haven taken taekwondo, I was not used to all the fluid movements incorporated into tai chi. It almost felt more dance like than what I would normally consider a martial art form to be. Regardless, I enjoyed trying something new, plus it was good to have some exercise after all the food we have been eating!

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