Our third day in Beijing started with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As we approached Tiananmen Square, Cindy, our tour guide, pointed out to us Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. Many Chinese travel to Beijing to see Mao’s preserved body. They wait in line for at least two hours to see him for only a few seconds as they file by! This was not an activity we participated in! After some pictures in Tiananmen Square we headed into the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City consists of the palaces and “office space” the Chinese emperors. It was occupied until the fall of the last dynasty in the early 1900s.
Fun Forbidden Fact #1: The soldiers chosen to guard this revered area must be exactly the same size (even shoulder width) so as to be perfectly uniform when marching.
Fun Forbidden Fact #2: The Dragon Line is a line running north-south through Beijing on which only the emperor was allowed to walk. It bisects the Forbidden City, Mao’s mausoleum, and the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest built for the 2008 olympics. Like many ancient Chinese traditions, it is still highly respected.
Fun Forbidden Fact #3: The Forbidden City is named such because it was forbidden for any commoner to enter. Any commoner who saw the emperor was killed, even if the emperor was outside the gates of the Forbidden City. To warn the people of Beijing if the emperor was leaving his palace, the palace guards would sound bells if the emperor turned left, drums if he turned right, and both if he went straight.
Fun Forbidden Fact #4: The Forbidden City also contained the residences of the emperor’s concubines. One emperor had over 10,000 of them(!), but the last emperor had only two.
Fun Forbidden Fact #5: Nine was the lucky number for the emperors because it represents heaven, and the emperors are said to come from heaven. They thus built nine gates surrounding the inner palace of the emperor, several of which were palaces or offices themselves. They all looked rather similar, but we were in awe of the ornate details of each gate and the length they went to to protect their ruler.
Fun Forbidden Fact #6: The stone sculpture shown below is along the Dragon Line. It weighs over 200 tons and is made from a single piece of stone. To transport the stone to the city hundreds of horses pulled it along an ice road with men pouring water on the road to decrease the friction. It took them more than two years to get to Beijing!
Fun Forbidden Fact #7: Two giant lion statues, one male and one female, guard the entrance to the inner palace. The male has a silk ball under his paw that represents power, and the female has a cub understand her’s that represents life.
Fun Forbidden Fact #8: In addition to the many gates, there is also a moat surrounding the palace. It used to contain metal stakes to deter people from trying to swim across.
Fun Forbidden Fact #9: The last stop (and many people’s favorite) on our tour was the beautiful emperor’s garden. It had some crazy rock structures (pictured below) and 300 year-old cypress trees.
If you want to get a glimpse of the Forbidden City for yourself, watch the 1987 movie The Last Emperor!
Don’t swim in the moat!