Posts tagged ‘Forbidden City’

It’s all about Cixi. Imperial residences, Beijing, China

24th November

Once upon a time in a land far far away there was a little girl called Cixi who always dreamed of being an empress. She dreamed that she would wear fine clothes, order 100 dishes to be made for dinner every day and have 10,000 caged birds released on her birthday every year. Then one day, when she was 15 years old, Cixi was called to the Imperial Palace to interview for a position as one of Emperor Xianfeng’s 10,000 concubines (mistresses).

Like many of the Emperors before him, Xinagfeng felt it was his personal responsibility to place his seed in every woman in the Chinese empire so every night he selected a tablet from a silver plate bearing the name of one of his concubines. The girl was then carried to his room wearing only a yellow cloth wrapped around her. She had to be carried because the bindings on her feet were too tight to allow luxuries such as walking. The servant carrying the girl was always a eunuch.

Despite the fact that the Emperor had his own palace with over 8,000 rooms, he was infected with the same illness as many other men and so many of his predecessors – jealousy. As such, the only men allowed into his palace had to be infertile, to protect the integrity of his many seeds. Thus the palace and its surrounding buildings was given the name of The Forbidden City. This however offered an opportunity to boys of bad blood and low class that they would never have otherwise – to gain entrance to the inner echelons of the Imperial circle. For this, they were willing to sacrifice their testicles and any social standing they had outside of the palace. In the hope that they would be buried whole, albeit apart from their family, they always carried their redundant testicles in a pouch on their belts.
Anyway, once installed inside the Imperial Palace walls, the ambitious Cixi soon became the Emperor’s favourite concubine, bearing him a son who would go on to become head of the empire. As her son was still an infant when Xinagfeng died, Cixi seized her opportunity to rule in his place as Empress Dowager (Queen Mum) for the following 25 years. When her son died of syphilis Cixi had him replaced with her nephew who she swiftly imprisoned, continuing her rule and her extravagant spending spree as China’s coffers got drier and drier.

One of Cixi’s most extravagant gifts to herself was her Summer Palace – a series of lodgings, temples and pleasure grounds set around a massive lake just outside Beijing. Of course Cixi understood that money didn’t grow on trees so, to cover the cost of building a giant marble ship and a series of building with names such as ‘The Hall of dispelling Clouds’, she cut the money that had been intended to build China’s navy.

Protected by all her layers of silk and her army of servants, the regent of China had nothing to do with the little people. It was in a typically misjudged fashion, therefore, that Cixi eventually shot herself in the foot. In response to foreign invasions of the Chinese borders and growing unrest among the population, Cixi collaborated with the racist Boxer Movement, ordering them to kill all foreigners in China, which they happily set about doing. When the western world inevitably retaliated, Cixi and her puppet nephew were forced to go into hiding. When they did eventually resurface there was little to be salvaged of their dynasty. Before she lost her position as Empress Dowager, Cixi did manage to pass one last order – to have her nephew assassinated.

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December 2, 2009 at 3:38 pm 2 comments

There are 9,000,002 bicycles in Beijing

Monday 22nd November

Our first day in Beijing got off to a rough start when we saw a man being dragged by his ankles into a waiting police van by some acne-ridden soilders whose fingertips still hadn’t quite made it to the edge of their coat sleeves. Reserving judgement (and heavily influenced by Katie Melua), we decided to hire some bicycles to get to grips with the city. This, if I may say so myself (and it’s our blog, so I may) was the best idea ever.

First let me explain how the road system works in Beijing. To accomodate the massive amount of people living in the city, the roads range from 4 lanes (for the “tiny” sidealleys) to 12 lanes for the main thoroughfares. On the outside of the road there is a cycling lane – usually around 1 1/2 times the width of a normal lane – which is often closed off by a metal fence. Of course, this being China, it wouldn’t be any fun at all if there wasn’t a little chaos thrown into the mix. With an almost Irish disregard for the rules of the road, people wander in and out of the cycle lanes, bikes dart between 12 lanes of cars and impatient taxis and buses plough through any cyclists that are too slow to outrun them. Crossings are a whole other kettle of fish too. Rather than one filter light turning at a time, cars turning off are given a green at the same time as pedestrians and, with rarely any light to guide them, cyclists tend to just move into a tight formation and dart across the road, relying on the ‘safety in numbers’ principle and hoping that, while killing 1 in 1.3 billion might not raise any eyebrows, taking out 100 might.

So with blatant disregard for our safety, we packed up our baskets and hopped on our bikes. Gary, always the cautious one, took a while to get into the rhythm of things but once I demonstrated the best way to plough through slow pedestrians whilst ringing his bell manically and screaming, there was no stopping him. Barring a few close on calls with buses baring down on us head-on and stopping only 2ft away and a particularly daring u-turn across an 8-lane road, it was pretty smooth sailing.

Having a bike was a blessing as well as an exhilarating near-death experience though because it meant that when we came into contact with the telling odor of a public restroom (you can’t flush toilet paper here so faeces-coated tissue is just piled up in a seldom-emptied bin located a few inches from your squatting, pale green face) we were able to pick up the pace. It gave us a great sense of being removed from the city too, like we could see all the people squatting around cards tables and milling in and out of shops, but they couldn’t see us. Best of all, it gave us the means to visit loads of sites spread out across the city without ever having to sit on a bus with our ankles tucked behind our ears.

First stop was Tian’amen square. With the city’s smog-rating hovering around full scale we could hardly see 10 metres in front of our noses and, as a result, it was a lot more chilling than I thought a vast, empty slab of concrete ever could be. Knowing the history of the square and its massacre, it was pretty intimidating to see child soldier after child soldier emerging out of the clouds. We didn’t linger long though as we were drawing too much attention so, after being approached by two conmen hoping to take us to their “art exhibition” and four people hoping to have their photo taken with the only blonde in Beijing, we located our bikes and got going again – this time heading for the Temple of Heaven.

What can I say about the Temple of Heaven? It was big, round, had a lovely roof and I would imagine, a beautiful rose garden during the summer months. Like so many things in the city, it was a little lost to us in all its barren winter appearance. Maybe Beijing is beautiful and flower-scented during the warmer months but it’s just baltic and smelly right now so we didn’t hang about for too long. Gary took some beautiful photos though.

While we were cycling towards the three artificial lakes in the north of the city, we tripped across this absolute gem – The National Centre for Performing Arts.

It being late in the evening, the sun was setting and throwing the most beautiful orange glow across the glass hemisphere set in its own little lake. Reflected in the water, the Centre looked like a full sphere and, having a positive effect for once, the smog that shrouded the city behind the dome lent the whole scene a really eritheral quality – like a dream in which you can see the outline of your destination but can never reach it. Quite out of the blue (or in this case the smog) we were sold on China’s capital city.

Tomorrow – the Forbidden City!

November 29, 2009 at 9:40 pm 3 comments


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