GSO in China, Day 2: Meeting Mao and The Forbidden City

Posted on January 21st, 2008 by

Xue. That’s Chinese for snow, and that’s what happened in Beijing last night. Oh, not much snow, mind you, especially not by St. Peter’s standards, but enough to make footing a little precarious, whether you’re evading the Beijing police or slithering down steps worn smooth by the feet of emperors. The Gustavus Symphony saw a little of all this and more today, Monday, January 21.

GSO in China, Tian’an Men SquareAfter breakfast at our hotel, we bussed to Tian’an Men Square, the largest outdoor forum in the world and home to Mao Tse-Tung’s tomb. We did not view the chairman’s well-preserved remains, but we did wander—under the gaze of a massive portrait of Mao—midst a heavy presence of army guards, police officers, and determined peddlers offering hats (stocking caps bearing “Beijing 2008” with the Olympic rings, fake fur army headgear) and gloves. A trio of charming and insistent women milled through our group, eventually selling a pair of gloves and an Olympic cap. As we began to leave Tian’an Men Square, the three peddlers bolted past us and hopped the security fence surrounding the square. Judging by their backward glances as they ran and the direction in which they shouted indignations (some language is universal) once safely out of reach, they were evading the Beijing police. We left quietly with our apparent contraband to continue our tour in the Forbidden City.

Entry to Forbidden PalaceThe Forbidden City is the Imperial Palace, a massive complex built by a series of emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties, who first moved in in 1420. It is called the Forbidden City because no one unbidden by the emperor could enter, and that meant most everyone. If, as a woman, you became a member of the royal household (say, a concubine or the actual empress), you never left the Forbidden City. If, as a man, you joined the imperial court (say, a palace guard), you became a eunuch. Long story short: emperors rule.

roof_creatures.jpgOh, and remember that detail about the number nine (see “Day 1”)? The status of a building’s occupants was denoted by how many carved mythical creatures resided on each corner of its roof. Guess how many are on the emperor’s personal dwellings. (Why the critters? Fire protection. The wooden buildings comprising the Forbidden City were protected in a practical way by massive pots of water placed strategically throughout the complex, to be handy in case fire broke out. And they were protected magically by those carvings of mythical creatures placed on the corners of the roofs. It seems that different creatures had different strengths—i.e., one bites, another has power over fire, yet another flies—and this determined where you placed the creatures on your structure. Kind of like Pokemon for true believers.)

GSO in China, Imperial GardenThe Imperial Garden was our last stop before leaving the palace. It is a magical place of ancient cypress trees, fantastic rock formations, intimate gazebos, and blessedly warm tea and souvenir shops.

Photos simply can’t convey the massive complexity of the Forbidden City, but a few panoramic views—populated with members of the GSO—can give an inkling of the scale of the place. Chilly as they were, some members offered their thoughts on the day, and on Chairman Mao’s mole.

GSO in China, hotel lobby signPost-palace, we had lunch at Wahaha Restaurant and then returned to our hotel for a brush-up. Then off to rehearsal, dinner, and the first concert performance of the tour. Details on that tomorrow.


One Comment

  1. Lynn Brown says:

    Thank you so much for the interesting and entertaining updates. What a great idea.